Lauren Erickson

Describe your career path since graduating from the UI College of Public Health.
After graduating, I worked as a contractor for both the Iowa Department of Human Services and Disability Rights Iowa. A year later, I moved to Washington, D.C., where I interned for Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa on the Senate committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions. That led to my current job as a Social Science Research Analyst at the CMS Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation (CMMI). I help CMS implement legislative initiatives and demonstration projects that test new ways of paying for Medicare services and improving quality of care.

How did working with the PRC as a student help prepare you for your current job?
Simply put, I got the job I have today because of my experience working in rural health. CMMI was looking for new staff to work on a Medicare demonstration project focusing on small rural hospitals, and my content knowledge in rural health and nursing home programs gave me a leg up. Additionally, my work experience interacting with stakeholders and participants in the PRC projects prepared me for working effectively with other CMS staff, contractors, and providers.

What’s the most important thing you took away from your time working with the PRC?
To always look at the bigger picture. The work I did in the PRC didn’t directly involve a “traditional” health care setting, like a hospital or outpatient clinic, but the projects I worked on looked at ways to encourage healthy habits from a different setting, like promoting healthy dietary choices by working with restaurant owners to promote healthy menu options. There isn’t really one solution to fix all of our health problems in this country, so learning to look at issues from a different perspective has been very beneficial.

What’s one of the most satisfying aspects of your work in public health?
I like that the impact of my work isn’t limited to my immediate reach. It’s much wider than what I ever thought it could be.

What do you think current students should know about the value of working with faculty and research projects like those affiliated with the PRC?
Research skills carry over into almost any future workplace, and it’s incredibly beneficial to hone those skills sooner rather than later. I don’t think I’ve worked on any project at my current job, or as a contractor, where ongoing research hasn’t been a part of the routine.

What would you tell students about the value of working on community-based research or rural health?
Community-based research really teaches you how to interact with many different types of people and personalities, which is an absolutely essential skill. And rural health is such a niche area of health care with so many unique characteristics that a lot of people don’t understand. The typical “rules” or approaches to doing things don’t necessarily apply; you have to address rural issues from a different perspective, and that’s actually really helpful because it gives you a unique perspective of the overall health care system.