Shakira Grant, MBBS
In December 2021, I found myself at the 63rd ASH Annual Meeting and Exposition in Atlanta, attending my first Grassroots Network Luncheon. Little did I anticipate that this experience, featuring a compelling talk by the former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Rochelle Walensky, MD, MPH, would plant a seed that would flourish into my selection as the 2023-2024 ASH Congressional Fellow. Now, four months into my fellowship, I find myself standing at a critical juncture, reflecting on how my 17-year career in medicine has been molded by impact and how central that has been as I navigate my new role as a science and policy fellow with the Democratic staff of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Ways and Means Subcommittee on Health.
As I reflect on my career, it is hard to imagine that my dream, as a 12-year-old growing up in Barbados, of becoming an oncologist would lead me to this point. It has been a path that has seen my emergence from a clinician to clinician-scientist and now to a role where I can bring nearly two decades of medical career experiences into the health policy arena. I am often asked about the driving force behind my decision to make such a career transition from academia as a tenure track assistant professor, and I keep returning to the same answer. It has always been driven by the impact I seek to achieve in improving access to quality health care for those most vulnerable.
Crafting a purpose-driven and impact-focused career has allowed me to remain flexible and open to opportunities that often deviate from the mainstream, while allowing me to thoroughly enjoy the work that I am immersed in and the community of mentees and colleagues I have built along the way.
Dr. Grant, left, is serving on the
U.S. House of Representatives
Ways and Means Subcommittee
on Health during her term as the
2023-2024 ASH Congressional Fellow.
Therefore, not unexpectedly, the community I have been able to build since the first day of my fellowship has been phenomenal. During orientation, it was incredible to be one of the 276 fellows in the 51st class of the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Science & Technology Policy Fellowship program, including 38 legislative branch fellows. As I looked around the room on the first day of orientation, I marveled at the diversity in age, gender, race, and ethnicity. However, as I interacted with others, I gained a deeper understanding of the intersectionality that truly exists. As fellows, we are at various career stages, ranging from new post-doctoral graduates to full professors with tenure and even some who are semi- or fully retired from their previous professions. Irrespective of our backgrounds, it was clear to me that we are unified by a singular cause: leveraging our scientific backgrounds to help craft policy agendas and engaging in public service that we all hope will benefit the American people.
As I moved beyond the orientation phase, I thought about what appeared to be a steep learning curve related to health care policy, the structure of the U.S. government, and the intersection of politics and policy. This was grounded in my limited understanding of the complex U.S. government structure, shaped by the parliamentary democracy and universal health care system I was entrenched in growing up in Barbados. Now, as I prepare to wrap up the first quarter of my fellowship, I recognize that the steep learning curve was not one to be feared but was another defining moment toward building a purpose-driven, impact-focused career. I work among a terrific committee staff, learning about health care policy and politics from their years of experience on the Hill in a way that will forever shift my perspective and future career plans. Most of all, however, I am grateful for the sense of community fostered as I have been welcomed as a team member.
As I close out this first entry, I want to end with a few lessons that I have learned so far:
- You are never too far along in your career to try something new. Finding joy and passion for your work should be an ever-evolving process; there is not a single track that defines an individual’s success, but instead, success should be intrinsically derived at the individual level.
- Purpose-driven approaches to your career have a way of keeping what matters most at the center, and for me, that remains the most vulnerable populations.
- It takes a village. Advancing health policy, or any policy, takes an entire village. There is no “I” when working on the Hill; instead, we collectively work together to ensure that we prioritize the American people’s health and safety.
As I continue on this transformative journey, I am reminded that the intersection of medicine and policy is where my voice is heard and my passion and commitment shine. It is a journey fueled by purpose and a commitment to making a lasting impact on the health care landscape for the benefit of all Americans.
The content of Notes from the Hill is the opinion of the author and does not represent the official position of the American Society of Hematology or the U.S. Congress unless so stated.