Taylor See, a fourth-year student in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME) at the Georgia Institute of Technology, participated in an internship in the office of Georgia Congressman Tom Price in Washington, D.C., this past summer. She saw an abundance of healthcare and biomedical engineering-related issues being debated, and got a glimpse of future legislative and funding implications related to science, healthcare, and research.
With her biomedical engineering and medical interests, she sought to apply to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and other federal health-related departments. She ended up accepting an internship with Price, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for more than 10 years. More importantly to See, Price worked in private practice as an orthopedic surgeon. Before his election to Congress, Price was an assistant professor at Emory University’s School of Medicine and medical director of the orthopedic clinic at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, teaching resident doctors in training.
“While the majority of what I did was quite different than anything in my BME major or even the engineering curricula at Georgia Tech, I came across many things in Washington that relate to biomedical research and remind me of my classes and professors,” said See, who is from Memphis, Tennessee.
One of those things is the 21st Century Cures Act (HR 6), federal legislation that received overwhelming bipartisan approval in the House of Representatives. Among other things, the act makes research collaborations easier; incorporates the patient perspective in drug development and the regulatory review process; promotes personalized medicine; streamlines clinical trials, making it less expensive to bring drugs to market; provides incentives for developing drugs that treat rare diseases; and basically helps “the entire biomedical ecosystem coordinate more efficiently to find faster cures while investing in 21st century science and next generation investigators,” according to See.
The 21st Century Cures Act, which has moved to the Senate for consideration there, would also create a $10 billion innovation fund over five years for the NIH and a $550 million innovation fund for the FDA. In addition, there are special provisions to make room for young or new researchers.
“I had the opportunity to attend healthcare and medical briefings almost everyday, put on by third-party organizations or offices trying to gain support for their legislation,” said See.
To her surprise, one briefing featured Ravi Bellamkonda, chair of the Coulter Department at Georgia Tech and Emory (and president of The American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering). After the briefing, See sat in on a meeting with Bellamkonda and Robert Knotts, director of federal relations for Georgia Tech, during sessions with congressional office staffers.
In the Georgia Tech D.C. Internship program, students work full time with a member of Congress, a congressional committee, or an executive branch office in or around Washington, D.C., for about 10 weeks during the summer, and 16 weeks during spring or fall. Students secure their own internship based on academic performance and personal interests. The opportunity includes a $5,000 stipend in the summer or a $7,500 stipend in the spring or fall to offset expenses (housing, transportation, and living expenses). This program is open to both undergraduate and graduate students of all majors.
In See’s case, the experience took her outside of the usual BME comfort zones.
“Working on legislation is not something the average biomedical engineer has the opportunity to do,” she said. “While this may not further me in a medical career, learning about the legislative process is extremely important. I learned that so much of what biomedical engineers accomplish is funded by government agencies and that all of the regulations in the health and science industry flow through the government.”
See gained new insights and came away with some ideas on how the process might be improved, and how she might become part of the process.
“If researchers and doctors helped make the regulations on the front end, I think we would not only save time and money, but better policies could be developed at the onset,” she said. “I had a lot of opportunities to learn about the government's involvement and investment in healthcare and medical research. I may have some interest in going into medical policy, so I think this was great exposure."
Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering
Georgia Institute of Technology