Receiving the Frank Karel Fellowship in Public Interest Communications has been an affirming experience that this is the career I am meant to do. On a personal note, I have grown more as a person in the past month then in the past six months because of the many obstacles that I have faced. Leaving Texas for the second time, packing my entire life in two suitcases, figuring out the notorious D.C. metro system have all forced me to expand my comfort zone. Professionally, I am understanding the logic behind why the fellowship was created in the first place: to become an effective advocate, not just an activist, to achieve systemic reform.  

During the Karel Fellowship Communications Bootcamp, we were introduced to Andy Burness, founder of Burness Communications, who officially welcomed us to the fellowship and gave us the history behind this relatively new program. Burness mentioned how the goal of this fellowship was to satisfy the need for professionals in the emerging field of public interest communications.  

The University of Florida defines this field as strategic communications grounded in research and science to achieve sustained and positive social change. It borrows from its sister fields of public relations, advertising, journalism and marketing and is informed by sociology, psychology, neuroscience and political science. 

“We are in the business of bringing ideas to scale,” Burness said. “Communicating ideas between organizations is how systemic changes happen and that is what you [the Karel Fellows] are here to learn and accomplish.”  

Leaving us with this, we continued our communications bootcamp and soon enough it was everyone’s first day at their respective host companies. I have been fortunate to be matched with Families USA, a consumer health advocacy and policy organization. Healthcare has been a policy issue that I have long been interested in, so getting the opportunity to work with leaders in this field was exciting to me. 

Almost immediately, that excitement turned into anxiety. I felt that I was not good enough to be there and that I was no help to the team. However, through self-advocacy and long conversations with the other fellows, I realized that I brought a unique perspective that FUSA valued. Although it has only been a month, I am working on several projects ranging from drug pricing campaigns to community health worker funding research (with a communications focus, of course!).  

I have loved my time in this fellowship, and as I sit here writing my first blog post, I begin to clearly see the intersectionality of what Burness told us on day one to the work that FUSA does. As FUSA continues tackling pressing issues within the healthcare industrial complex, they are slowly chipping away at an entire system that is rigged against you. 

The policy team finds and creates research papers about programs, laws, etc. that work and have tangible results for the consumers we represent. At Families USA, we love to say that we are the people’s voice. We showcase this by taking these solutions to policymakers and key stakeholders and advocating for systemic reform: one battle at a time.  

This is something that all the Karel Fellows have in common. Together, we are breaking down systemic barriers to achieve a more equitable and just society. While this mission is ongoing, I am starting to see the impact that my work has people and cannot wait to see what the rest of the summer has in store.