‘We Need Nurses in Public Policy’: Senior Nursing Student Reflects on Internship in D.C.

Kelsey MarcAurele '22 (NUR) says her work in U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney's office will forever influence her nursing career

Kelsey MarcAurele '22 (NUR) (Submitted photo).

As Kelsey MarcAurele ’22 (NUR) prepares for her graduation in May, she reflects back on her influential experience interning in Washington, D.C., last summer. MarcAurele worked in U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney’s office, focusing on health policy legislation. The experience, she says, is one that she will never forget and will carry with her into her future career.

“A lot of people I spoke to did not understand why I was pursuing this internship,” MarcAurele says. “However, I believe we need nurses in public policy and I wanted to step into that work.”

A member of the UConn Honors Program and the cheerleading team, MarcAurele’s varied interests also include nursing innovation. She transferred to UConn her sophomore year, drawn to its rich research and innovation environment. In her first year at Storrs, Kelsey partnered with Ellen Quintana ’21 (NUR) on ReduSeal, a patented glove waste reduction technology.

Kelsey MarcAurele with U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney last summer (Submitted photo).

MarcAurele says her interest in health and public policy stems from her childhood, as her mother studied public policy in college. Politics and current events were always topics of discussion in her household, which taught MarcAurele to be open and thoughtful about policy.

“My mom taught me that you have to find the policy you are interested in yourself and read it directly from the text rather than hearing about it on the news,” she says. “You have to create your own ideas.”

MarcAurele says policy occasionally comes up in her nursing classes, but she noticed that the COVID-19 pandemic shifted the public’s attention toward the politics of health care.

“The pandemic showed me how much we need nurses in policy, because our lawmakers are not directly involved in the delivery of health care,” MarcAurele says. “I happened to see Congressman Courtney’s internship opportunity and I decided to go for it because we need health care workers in policy. It was really COVID-inspired.”

After being offered the congressional internship, MarcAurele moved to Washington, D.C., for six weeks. Within the congressman’s office, her day-to-day tasks involved supporting Courtney by speaking with constituents, writing memos for legislation, and supporting other needs of the office.

A policy memo is a document written by a representative’s staff explaining any new and pertinent information regarding legislation, issues that impact the district, or recommending a co-sponsorship. When a representative co-sponsors a bill, it means they agree with the contents of that bill.

MarcAurele administers vaccines at a UConn Health employee vaccine clinic in January 2021. (Tina Encarnacion/UConn Health photo)

During MarcAurele’s internship, she had the opportunity to work on a project related to the Stafford Act.

“The Stafford Act defines how the federal government responds to emergencies,” she says. “When a president declares an emergency or major disaster, that is referencing the Stafford Act.”

Emergency declarations and major disaster declarations are two separate events under the Stafford Act. Major disasters allow the government to provide more federal aid and resources than emergency declarations.

“The current problem is that the definition of a major disaster does not include any public health outbreaks, such as the COVID-19 pandemic,” MarcAurele says.

At the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, former President Donald Trump announced a major disaster declaration. However, the Stafford Act clearly states which situations, such as a hurricane or terrorist attack, can be declared a major disaster. A public health emergency is not in this list of possible situations and it could be argued that a pandemic does not meet the standards for a major disaster.

MarcAurele’s proposal, therefore, focused on expanding the criteria for major disaster declarations.

MarcAurele with U.S. Rep. Cori Bush on the Capitol steps last summer (Submitted photo).

“My proposal was that we add public health emergencies into the law so it’s an option for the future,” MarcAurele says. “Should this happen again, we can respond quicker and situations may be easier to control.”

She says Courtney’s office was very understanding and supportive of her work, and that her experience last summer permanently shaped her. She also had the opportunity to meet U.S. Rep. Cori Bush, who is also a registered nurse.

“I appreciated seeing a nurse in government,” MarcAurele says. “We talked about being a voice for other nurses. It was a moment I’ll always remember.”

While she enjoyed her time interning with Courtney, MarcAurele also hopes to pursue clinical nursing in pediatric care after graduating this May. Her Honors Program research project studies the impact of pain on neurobehavioral outcomes in preterm infants.

“This gives Kelsey the ability to work with a multidisciplinary research team and see how research is conducted,” says UConn School of Nursing faculty member Xiaomei Cong, who is MarcAurele’s honors advisor. “Kelsey is a hard worker and enjoys immersing herself in her work.”

“Health policy is going to be a part of me wherever I go, even if it is nursing policy or hospital policy,” MarcAurele says. “Now that I’ve been around policy development, I do not foresee that it will ever leave my mindset. I am always going to be involved with health policy, even if it is not on a federal level.”

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