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Fighting for Tennesseans: Internship provides a bridge to health policy advocacy

Nov. 7, 2023

Two women stand at a table in a park
Grace Filer (right), a Health Science major with a leadership and policy emphasis, worked this summer as a health advocacy intern with the Tennessee Justice Center.

Story by Gracie Hedenberg

Tennesseans face some of the worst health outcomes in the country. In addition to high rates of infant and maternal mortality, they must contend with low rates of insurance and the highest rate of hospital closures per capita nationwide.

The Tennessee Justice Center, a nonprofit focused on public policy advocacy, is fighting to expand Medicaid and improve the health of residents. College of Health Sciences student Grace Filer spent her summer working with the organization to rally college student support for health care and economic infrastructure for Tennessee’s most vulnerable populations.

Filer, a Health Science major with a leadership and policy emphasis, interned as a health advocacy intern. The center has championed basic necessities for Tennessee’s families, elderly population and disabled individuals since 1996. She spent half of her time working virtually at home in Missouri and half at the center’s headquarters in Nashville. 

“My overarching project for the summer was to try to engage college students in Tennessee in Medicaid expansion efforts,” Filer said. “My team worked to get younger people to rally around the cause and be able to advocate for that.” 

Speaking the language

Grace Filer

The Tennessee Justice Center seeks the support of fellow Tennesseans to help convince lawmakers to expand Medicaid coverage, which could allow residents greater access to a wider variety of medical care.

Filer wrote a series of blog posts designed to rouse support from college students in Tennessee. She researched Medicaid nationally and TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program, and then crafted relatable and digestible content for the average college student.

“For a regular college student that doesn’t care about health insurance, it’s not that interesting and can be confusing,” Filer said. “I tried to explain Medicaid in a simple way to make it interesting and appealing to college students.”

That was phase one: educating students. Next came blog posts encouraging students to get involved and detailing how they could make a difference in Tennessee. Filer said the experience taught her a lot about policy differences between Tennessee and Missouri, where Medicaid coverage has already been expanded.

“I will probably work in Missouri the rest of my life, so I may never get to work on a project like this again,” she said.  

A pathway in policy

The Kansas City native started her degree as a nursing student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Although she was always interested in health care, she was more drawn to the policy side of things than a traditional clinical pathway. She’s currently an online student at Mizzou, completing her degree at a distance in Springfield, Missouri.

As Filer hopes to pursue a career in health policy, she said her experiences with the Tennessee Justice Center will serve as a steppingstone.

“I was really drawn to the Tennessee Justice Center — they focus so much on policy and advocacy,” Filer said. “I’m super passionate about providing health care to people who can’t access it or don’t know how to afford it, and that’s what the whole organization is founded on.”