Since its inception, the National Academy of Social Insurance has worked to create a bridge between today’s leaders in social insurance and the next generation. The Academy’s internship program places students at various organizations in the Washington, DC area for a 12-week paid internship experience. As part of the program, interns attend weekly seminars led by experts on social insurance topics. Interns also receive mentorship or supervision by an Academy Member while working at their placement.
The Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC), where Academy Member Anne Schwartz is Executive Director, has hosted a number of students in the Academy’s internship programs. She shares her thoughts on the benefits of the program for interns as well as placements.
Q: Why do you participate in the Academy’s Internship Program?
A. From our perspective, the Academy’s Internship Program works really well, because it makes getting a high quality summer intern so easy for us. I love being able to say, ‘We only consider hiring interns through the National Academy of Social Insurance program. If you want to apply, here’s the link.’ We’re a small organization, so the Academy gathers all of the information and we’re not inundated with transcripts and teacher recommendations. Then the Academy makes a match based on intern qualifications and our needs. The ease wouldn’t be worth it, however, if we weren’t getting high quality interns.
Cal Ernst (one of the eight current Academy interns) is the seventh Academy intern we’ve hosted. We’ve also had a couple of interns who lived in the local area who stayed on as research assistants during the school year on a part-time basis. This should tell you something about how we value the Academy interns.
Q: What is a typical project at MACPAC?
A: We usually have more than enough for our intern to do. We definitely think ahead and have projects lined up. A typical assignment may require the intern to dig in to state-level documentation about Medicaid. It may be somewhat tedious work, but it’s a good way to understand Medicaid at the ground level. We often ask an intern to do literature reviews in areas we anticipate working on, so we can be sure we’re not missing anything. In addition, we’ll make sure he or she understands how their research will feed into a larger project.
We pick a project where we feel they can succeed. For instance, one project was creating a compendium of Section 1115 demonstration evaluation plans and evaluation measures. We show them how to find documentation and how to search. Then they show us what they’ve learned so we know they’re on track. We don’t want to put them in a position where they feel they don’t know what they’re doing. We’re also such a small place that it’s easy to ask for help.
Q: Is there a unique aspect of the Internship Program you appreciate?
MACPAC is a small organization and takes only one intern a summer. We have a couple of younger staff members, but — at least to the interns — the rest of our staff may seem extremely old. The cohort the Academy provides, as well as the seminars, helps provide structure and support for the interns. While some interns have friends who are also interning in DC, others may have made a big leap by themselves. So it’s good for them to have peers who are having similar experiences, both for sharing ideas about how to be in the workplace, as well as figuring out the substantive content of their work.
Q: Does your intern have other opportunities?
A: We encourage interns to go out to other seminars around town, like those at the Alliance for Health Policy or at the Bipartisan Policy Center. They may have to take notes and share what happened with the rest of the team. We have them participate in our team meetings—both small teams and a bigger team of all of our analysts—so they can hear the conversations and get a sense of how decisions are made. They’re not just off in a cubicle doing research, unconnected to the rest of the work that goes on here.
At the end of the internship, we like the intern to have at least one polished written project that they can use later as a writing sample. Even if they work on a number of projects, we want them to be able to say, ‘This is what I’m most proud of’, or feel they have achieved some mastery in a topic.
Writing is one thing we really stress with interns. At the welcome reception for interns last year, I had a conversation with some of them about graduate school. I suggested that it doesn’t matter too much whether you study health policy, public policy or public health. What matters to employers will be your ability to think and write. Some people may be naturally more talented at writing, but the only way you get better at it is by doing it. So the more you write, the better you’ll get at it. Writing is our bread and butter here. Even the data analysts have to be able to write.
More about Anne Schwartz
Anne Schwartz is Executive Director of the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission (MACPAC). MACPAC is a non-partisan legislative branch agency that provides policy and data analysis and makes recommendations to Congress, the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the states, on issues affecting Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). She previously served as deputy editor of the journal Health Affairs; vice president at Grantmakers In Health; and special assistant to the executive director and senior analyst at the Physician Payment Review Commission, a precursor to the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission. Earlier, she held positions on committee and personal staff for the U.S. House of Representatives. Anne Schwartz holds a doctorate in health policy from the School of Hygiene and Public Health at The Johns Hopkins University. She has been a member of the Academy since 2002.