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Students Engage in Health Policy Research for Schaeffer Center’s Summer Internship Program

The Schaeffer Center’s 2nd Annual Summer Internship Program draws to a close as the nine student interns, working with faculty mentors, presented the findings of their independent research projects. Student research ranged from an investigation into factors causing the gender gap in U.S. life expectancy to an econometric analysis focused on the role Alzheimer’s disease plays in insurance plan choices.

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Julie Zissimopoulos provides an overview of the center at the Schaeffer Center Summer Internship orientation.

“The program encourages all levels of students- from high school to doctoral—to delve into a research project with one-on-one faculty support and walk away with a better understanding of what health policy and economics is all about,” said Schaeffer Center Associate Director Julie Zissimopoulos. Zissimopoulos directs the program as one of the seven education and training programs at the Center.

The design of the program gives students hands-on experience in health policy research and data analysis as well as an introduction to the broader field of health economics. Mentors provide data and research skill development, advice, and guidance as the project progresses. Weekly, the students meet with Zissimopoulos to discuss their progress as well as address any concerns or issues. They are also invited to presentations that showcase various research initiatives and programs at the center. Reflecting on these weekly meetings and presentations, USC Dornsife Senior Durga Ghosh said they were a highlight and exposed her to an array of possibilities within the realm of health policy.

“Through this internship I have learned about different facets of medicine and health policy in a language that I can understand,” Ghosh said, drawing on her previous assumption that all health and medicine research was based in labs and clinics.

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Students discuss their research projects with their peers at weekly meetings. At the end of the four week program they are invited to present their findings to the group and the faculty mentors.

The foundation of the program though is its individualized approach– offering students the opportunity to create an independent research project in conjunction with their mentor. Hanke Heun-Johnson, a Ph.D. student studying neuroscience at the Keck School of Medicine at USC, decided to apply to the program because she is interested in health policy and data but does not have the opportunity within her program to dig into it. Her project focused on the correlation between health triggers and labor participation. When discussing the opportunity, she said, “its hard for scientists to get experience in health policy. Dealing with big data is out of reach most of the time, but this allowed me to get my feet wet in that field.”

For many students, their internship allowed them to not only dig into a research area but also gain concrete analytical skills. Ghosh worked with Seth Seabury to investigate the effect traumatic brain injuries have on economic outcomes and costs. An economics major, she pursued the opportunity because of her interest in the intersection of health and economics. Learning basic methods of data research were a highlight of the internship. “Its been great because Seth has taken the time to show me other ways to analyze data and how to take data and use it appropriately. I’ve learned a lot of skills and a lot of platforms that will be really helpful in the future,” she said. She is looking forward to being able to apply the skills she gained in data analysis to her honors thesis next year, which is on the economics of cancer.

Nine students participated in the program this year, which lasted from mid-July through mid-August. For more information about internship opportunities at the Schaeffer Center, visit the website at http://healthpolicy.usc.edu/your-interest.aspx

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