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Amanda Ferguson headshot

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Ferguson brings focus on health equity to Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellowship

Amanda Ferguson, Pharm.D., has been named the American College of Clinical Pharmacy-American Society of Health-System Pharmacists-Virginia Commonwealth University Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow for 2022-23.

This fellowship offers pharmacists an opportunity to gain insight into health care policy analysis and development through immersion in the congressional environment. Over the course of the year, fellows are mentored in legislative evaluation, policy development, research and writing.

Ferguson earned her Pharm.D. from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy after completing undergraduate requirements at Howard University. She is currently completing her master’s degree in public policy at Georgetown University. Between earning these degrees, Ferguson served as an active duty commissioned officer in the U.S. Department of the Air Force and Defense Health Agency (DHA) for almost a decade. Her domestic and international experiences cover a broad range of clinical and operational pharmacy practices, academia, defense health care, and health care policy. Toward the end of her tenure there, she served as the director of operations for a military treatment facility (MTF) in the initial year of the military health reform.

“As a part of this reform, all MTFs were mandated by Congress to transition from self-management to the authority, direction, and control of DHA,” she said. “Such overhaul required complex coordination and policy rewrites to standardize health care delivery across all services of the entire military. It was through this experience I became more involved in health policy and, by the completion of this assignment, I was clear on the extent to which policies can impact people and how important representation is to these policy discussions.”

Ferguson was originally inspired to pursue pharmacy because of pharmacists’ involvement in her mother’s care and treatment for sickle cell anemia. Their frequent interactions with her and her family and the attentiveness they showed to her mother’s care regimen made her realize just how impactful pharmacists can be in their patients’ lives.

“Being her advocate throughout my life made me realize I wanted to pursue a career in health care,” she said. “I found pharmacy most interesting as a child because of how accessible we are to our patients and how integral we are in their care, both in the hospital and when they return to their homes. To be in a position to help restore a person’s health or quality of life is truly a privilege.”

As the next fellow, Ferguson hopes to use her background to better advocate for inclusive health care policies at the national level and provide a pharmacist’s perspective to lawmakers and other relevant constituents.

“Innovation really needs to be married up with policy change,” she said. “We can make efforts at the tactical level to continuously try to innovate operations, but if the policies aren’t updated and aligned, there will continuously be bottlenecks.”

The fellowship begins in July and consists of one week at the Brookings Institution and three weeks each with ACCP’s and ASHP’s government affairs offices. Afterward, Ferguson will begin her placement within a congressional office or on a congressional committee staff in Washington, D.C.

After completing the fellowship, she hopes to continue working in health policy development in some fashion.

“My dream job would be at the intersection of health care, policy, innovation and social welfare,” Ferguson said. “That could be a position on The Hill, a position with a health care consulting firm or a thinktank. The opportunities are limitless and I’m excited to see how everything will unfold!”

The fellowship program, directed by VCU School of Pharmacy associate professor Kristin Zimmerman, was founded 15 years ago under the leadership of professor Gary R. Matzke. For more about the ACCP-ASHP-VCU Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow program, visit our website or contact Kristin Zimmerman directly.


Tatiana Bujnoch headshot

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Bujnoch named 2021 Healthcare Policy Fellow

Tatiana Bujnoch has been named the American College of Clinical Pharmacy-American Society of Health-System Pharmacists-Virginia Commonwealth University Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow for 2021-22.

The fellowship offers pharmacists an opportunity to gain insight into health care policy analysis and development through immersion in the congressional environment. Fellows are mentored in legislative evaluation, policy development, research and writing.

Bujnoch earned her Pharm.D. from Northeastern University in Boston and Master of Science in pharmacy administration and leadership from the University of Houston. Her postgraduate training was in health system pharmacy administration and leadership at Memorial Hermann Health System in Houston.

Working as a pharmacist during the pandemic underscored to her the importance of health policy, Bujnoch said. “I spoke many times with patients who couldn’t afford medications or who were afraid they couldn’t afford treatment for COVID.” 

Bujnoch traces her passion for health care policy to her family. She hails originally from a small town in south central Texas and is the granddaughter of working-class grandparents without college degrees. Their sacrifices for her family led her to want to make the most of the opportunities she was given, she said.

After the death of her father by suicide during her first year of college, Bujnoch decided to focus on betttering the lives of others. She took on new challenges including working for three months in Jamaica as an assistant  in clinics. 

As she wrote in her application: “Now, I feel the urge to continue to think broader and understand  the larger picture, leading me to pursue this fellow program to engage in policy at the national level.” 

The fellowship, which began in July, consists of one week at the Brookings Institution and three weeks each with ACCP’s and ASHP’s government affairs offices. Afterward, Bujnoch will begin her placement within a congressional office or on congressional committee staff in Washington, D.C.

After completing the fellowship, Bujnoch hopes to continue to be engaged in health policy development. “Health issues are important. A devastating health issue can ruin lives,” she said. ““It’s a cliche, I know, but it’s true: I really just want to help people.” 

The fellowship program, directed by VCU School of Pharmacy associate professor Kristin Zimmerman, was founded 14 years ago under the leadership of professor Gary R. Matzke. For more about the ACCP-ASHP-VCU Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow program, click here or contact director Kristin Zimmerman at kzimmerman@vcu.edu.


Nimit Jindal head shot

Monday, April 20, 2020

Rutgers alumnus named 2020-21 Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow

Nimit Jindal has been named the American College of Clinical Pharmacy-American Society of Health-System Pharmacists-Virginia Commonwealth University Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow for 2020-21.

Through this fellowship, pharmacists have the opportunity to gain real-world insight into health care policy analysis and development through immersion in the congressional environment. Fellows are mentored in legislative evaluation, policy development, research and writing while integrating practical experience with theory.

Jindal decided to attend pharmacy school because his dad was an independent pharmacy owner, so he grew up working in the pharmacy as a cashier and interacting with an underserved patient population.

“I would see a lot of patients decline certain medications simply because they couldn’t afford them, even with insurance,” he said. “I saw community practice as a way of making a difference on the ground, in the communities, and serving the patients I felt compelled to help when I was a cashier in that environment.”

He’s currently completing a PGY1 Community-Based Pharmacy Residency at Moose Pharmacy in Concord, North Carolina, through the UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy’s program. He earned his Pharm.D. from the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy at Rutgers.

“In pharmacy school, I heard a lot about payment models and delivery models,” he said. “I was interested in getting engaged in policy, but I knew that before I could do that, I needed to understand how those models work, so that’s why I pursued a community pharmacy residency.”

For the last two years, Jindal has been serving as the Piscataway Township Ward 4 Elected Committeeman, where he has engaged with elected members of the local and state government to develop policy solutions to infrastructure and educational funding concerns. This and other opportunities he’s had to learn about and influence policy changes fueled his decision to pursue this fellowship. 

“I’m really excited about this program because I feel like I have a good idea of how patients access care in our communities,” he said. “There’s really no other program in the country that allows you to develop such a strong foundation to go out and make meaningful changes in the health care policy environment.”

After completing the fellowship, Jindal hopes to continue to be engaged in health policy development, whether at a state or federal level.

“I think keeping pharmacists and other health care providers involved in the policy conversation is how we really push the envelope forward,” he said.

 


Kyle Robb and a fellow staffer standing with the 2019 World Series trophy in the state house

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Current fellow continues HELP committee work with COVID-19 changes, additions

Kyle Robb, the 2019-20 Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow, has been working from home, as many across the country have, since mid-March. Although his work atmosphere looks a little different, he and his team are working as diligently as ever to get their legislation across. 

“COVID-19 slowly crept into the foreground over the course of January and February,” he said. “By the beginning of March, it was clear that it was going to dominate the legislative agenda and we’d only have the bandwidth to work on items that can be directly tied to addressing COVID-19.”

Since joining the staff of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) last fall, Robb has been developing legislation to address surprise medical billing. Prior to the change in focus due to the pandemic, he and the rest of the committee were hoping to get another shot at a surprise billing vote in May. Once it became apparent that Congress was going to pass a massive COVID-19 stimulus package (the CARES Act), they tried to get their surprise billing language included but were unsuccessful.

Currently, Robb and his team are still working to get surprise billing protections into future COVID-19 legislation.

“Several large insurance companies — Cigna, HumanaAnthem — all pledged to waive member costs for COVID-19 testing and treatment at in-network facilities,” he said. “However, when you read the fine text, all of them also clearly state they cannot protect their patients from receiving large medical bills if they are treated at a hospital that is out-of-network. We’re trying to highlight these gaps in patient protection to establish the need for a law that prevents surprise medical billing in hopes that it’ll garner enough support to be lumped into a COVID-19-related bill.”

He's continuing to work on most of the issues he worked on before the pandemic began, but it’s “kind of as if an earthquake happened and the starting positions of everything moved,” he said.

 “For example, prior to COVID-19, an across-the-board increase in federal funding to Medicaid programs was not on the table,” he said. “However, the pandemic created a need to act urgently, and the CARES Act included a 6.2% increase in federal Medicaid funding. We’re now hearing from experts that this isn’t nearly enough, and we’re being asked to consider further increases — in the 10-20% range.”

When Robb’s time as the 2019-20 fellow comes to a close at the end of the spring, Nimit Jindal, a Rutgers alumnus and community pharmacy PGY1 at UNC, will take his place as the next Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow.

(Image: Kyle Robb and a fellow staffer standing by the 2019 World Series trophy when it was on display in the capital)

 


Robb named 2019 Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Robb named 2019 Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow

Posted by: goweatherfor

Kyle G. Robb has been named the American College of Clinical Pharmacy-American Society of Health-System Pharmacists-Virginia Commonwealth University Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow for 2019-20.

Pharmacists selected for the position have the opportunity to gain real-world insight into health care policy analysis and development via immersion in the congressional environment. Fellows are actively mentored in legislative evaluation, policy development, research and writing while integrating practical experience with theory.

Robb currently works as a pharmacy supervisor with the University of Virginia Health System. He holds a Pharm.D. from the Eshelman School of Pharmacy at the University of North Carolina and bachelor’s degrees in history and chemistry from North Carolina State University.  

He credits his work at U.Va.’s hospital with his interest in public policy. That experience “put me into contact with many patients with needs that far outweighed their personal resources,” he said.

“There are still many barriers to care facing large portions of the general population and each problem requires an individualized solution,” Robb added. “I’ve seen how barriers in perception can prevent people from seeking care that they did not realize they had access to. I’ve seen well-meaning policies implemented in manners that do not best serve all patients and I have been tasked with finding ways to help the excluded patients. … There are many problems still in need of solutions that collectively represent massive opportunity to better manage healthcare resources and thereby improve people’s lives.”

After completing the fellowship Robb plans to work in health policy as part of government or through academic research.

The Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow program will begin in July. Robb will spend one week at the Brookings Institution and three weeks each with ACCP’s and ASHP’s government affairs offices. Finally, she will embark on her placement within a congressional office or on congressional committee staff in Washington, D.C.

The fellowship program, now directed by VCU School of Pharmacy associate professor Kristin Zimmerman, was founded 12 years ago under the leadership of professor Gary R. Matzke.


Tina Chhabra headshot

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Alumna named ACCP-ASHP-VCU Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow

Posted by: goweatherfor

Tina Chhabra has been named the American College of Clinical Pharmacy-American Society of Health-System Pharmacists-Virginia Commonwealth University Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow for 2018-19.

Pharmacists selected for the position have the opportunity to gain real-world insight into health care policy analysis and development via immersion in the congressional environment. Fellows are actively mentored in legislative evaluation, policy development, research and writing while integrating practical experience with theory.

Chhabra currently is a fellow at Biogen Inc., a biotech firm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in regulatory sciences and safety and benefit-risk management through the MCPHS University Biopharmaceutical Industry Fellowship Program. She holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Virginia Commonwealth University and a doctorate in pharmacy, also from VCU.

The daughter of a physician in the Washington, D.C., area, Chhabra spent her youth among “the incessant bleeping” of hospitals and doctors’ offices, she recalls. While working at her first job, as a receptionist in her father’s office, she says, “I learned that healthcare was equally scientific and political, and that access to a doctor was very important — but not everyone could afford it.”

This connection between politics and healthcare continued. Chhabra competed in science fairs and excelled in her math and sciences courses while also volunteering as secretary general of her high school’s model United Nations. Later, her fellowship with Biogen gave her an opportunity to do a rotation with the company’s policy and government-affairs teams, which led to participating in Capitol Hill hearings on such topics as the opioid crisis and drug pricing.

Chhabra pursued the ACCP-ASHP-VCU Congressional Healthcare Policy fellowship as a result of these experiences. “I am passionate about health care policy and have a profound desire to make a difference,” she says. “I believe health care is a right, but I also realize the solutions to the problems that consume our system are nuanced and complex. … [And] I strongly believe that there are not enough scientists and clinicians making the decisions that shape healthcare.”

Amee D. Mistry, associate professor of pharmacy practice at MCPHS University, called Chhabra a standout among her peers for her energy, communications skills and determination to make a difference: “She has proven, on a number of occasions, to be an extremely focused, dedicated, and passionate pharmacist.” The policies on which Chhabra would like to focus revolve around access to health care, medication accessibility and health disparities. She says she intends to use her fellowship as a route to working on policy as part of the federal Food and Drug Administration or Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow program will begin July 9. Chhabra will spend one week at the Brookings Institution and three weeks each with ACCP’s and ASHP’s government affairs offices. Finally, she will embark on her placement within a congressional office or on congressional committee staff in Washington through August 2019.

The fellowship program, now directed by VCU School of Pharmacy associate professor Kristin Zimmerman, was founded 11 years ago under the leadership of professor Gary R. Matzke.

For more about the ACCP-ASHP-VCU Congressional Healthcare Policy Fellow program, click here or contact director Kristin Zimmerman at kzimmerman@vcu.edu.

VCU School of Pharmacy is ranked among the top 20 graduate programs in pharmacy in the United States by U.S. News & World Report.