Policy matters: Former family medicine chief resident one of two nationwide selected for health policy fellowship

Vital Signs » Fall 2014
photo of washington dc

A year ago, Melanie Raffoul, M.D., was the chief resident of the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine Family Residency Program. But today, she is working on health policy and teaching at Georgetown University as one of two people nationwide selected for the 2014-15 Robert L. Phillips Jr. Health Policy Fellowship, a joint research and clinical fellowship program between the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care and Georgetown University.

In September, Raffoul moved to Washington, D.C., to begin the one-year, full-time program, which combines scholarly research and clinical practice. She is completing master’s course work in public policy at Georgetown University while engaging in collaborative research with the Graham Center. She also is teaching and working clinically in an urban community health center. The Robert Graham Center was developed by the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) with a combined emphasis on research and advocacy for family medicine and primary care. The center is dedicated to improving the health of individuals and populations through enhanced primary care by informing health policy. The center also serves as the national policy center for the AAFP.

“Working in the Washington, D.C., area and developing as a faculty member, while still being given the opportunity to learn, is exciting,” said Raffoul, who earned her medical degree from the Boonshoft School of Medicine in 2011.

She is developing a health policy research project related to graduate medical education funding. “Working on health policy research and ideas is challenging,” said Raffoul, who wants to work on health care policy, focusing on health disparities for vulnerable populations, especially women and children. “But hearing members of the Robert Graham Center discuss these issues is invigorating.”

She has found that she enjoys the teaching part of the fellowship. At the Georgetown University Medical Center Department of Family Medicine, she is teaching an evidencebased medicine (EBM) course to medical students. In EBM, decisions and policies are based on evidence, not only the beliefs of practitioners, experts, or medical administrators. She also teaches a service-learning class. In addition, she will teach a population medicine class addressing what health care providers do to help provide the best medical care not only for the individual but also for the larger population. She also will teach sessions in the family medicine clerkship.

In addition to her health policy research and teaching, Raffoul is practicing in an urban community health center. She described the experience as being similar to the Five Rivers Health Family Health Center, the federally qualified health center (FQHC) where Boonshoft School of Medicine family medicine residents practice. However, the clinic in Washington, D.C., is bigger and the population involves more immigrants.

Raffoul is no stranger to working with people from different backgrounds. During her family medicine residency at Wright State, she spent two months abroad working in a medical setting in Beirut, Lebanon, a Palestinian refugee camp, and a clinic serving underserved individuals. “I will always remember the gratitude shown to us by every patient,” she said.

In high school, she spent a few years in London, England, where her father served as a liaison for the U.S. Air Force. “This was one of the best times of my life,” she recalled. “I traveled and saw the world. I learned a lot from my father, who is very diplomatic and engaging. He has excellent intercultural skills.”

Physicians like Raffoul are the future leaders in the development and promotion of primary care health policy, said Andrew Bazemore, M.D., M.P.H., director of the Robert Graham Center. “We were very impressed with Melanie’s history of leadership, active interest in health policy, and global and multicultural perspective and experience,” Bazemore said.

While at Wright State, Raffoul was very active in shaping policy at the state level. She was a member of the Ohio Academy of Family Physicians Legislation and Advocacy Commission. She has worked on educational forums discussing health care policy. As a commission member, she met quarterly with lobbyists, discussing family medicine issues in policy.

Therese Zink, M.D., M.P.H., chair and professor of the Boonshoft School of Medicine Department of Family Medicine, praised Raffoul’s commitment to a family medicine and health care policy. “The Robert L. Phillips Jr. Health Policy Fellowship will provide her with a unique opportunity to perform health policy-oriented research in Washington, D.C., and interact with federal policymakers,” she said.

—Heather Maurer

Last edited on 09/22/2015.