Shalala takes break from classroom

This spring semester marks the 10-year anniversary of President Donna E. Shalala teaching the U.S. Health Care Crisis: The Politics of Health Care Reform course.

But, it will not be offered spring 2014, because Shalala will be taking a break to focus on the Momentum 2 campaign by traveling to raise funds.

According to Shalala, whether the class will be offered in spring 2015 or thereafter has not yet been determined.

“Now that health care reform has passed and since I don’t expect the policy to change, I’ve got to retool the class,” she said. “So I’ll take some time off before I teach it again.”

Shalala, who served as the Secretary of Health and Human Services under former President Bill Clinton, brings a unique perspective to the class by offering personal insight into the healthcare decisions of that time.

“I think it’s a pretty big deal and it’s really great to receive this kind of lecture from her,” sophomore Katherine Fine said. “Not just because she’s the president, but with her history and knowledge and all her credentials, being that she was in the Clinton administration, she’s very knowledgable, so it’s a really great experience.”

The class covers topics such as public health, health disparities, ethics and patient safety. It is also known for the prominent guests speakers Shalala brings to see her students.

Among them are Bill Clinton, who surprised students on President’s Day in 2012 and lectured them about a variety of health care issues, and Dr. Mollyann Brodie, the director of Public Opinion and Survey Research at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

When Shalala began teaching the class in 2003, former president George W. Bush was in office, and the politicians at the time were starting to debate whether there should be a prescription drug benefits component to the Medicare program, according to Shalala. That was the issue the class focused on for the semester.

“The course has changed as health care policy has changed over the decade,” she said.

This spring, Shalala will highlight government spending on health care in relation to the federal deficit.

“Every single class I’ve taught here has had some big debate,” she said. “Our debate is going to be on the deficit.”
Third-year law student Barclay Gang has worked as a teaching assistant for the class this and last spring. Throughout her time, she has enjoyed the surprises as much as the students.

“Working for President Shalala is an honor,” Gang said. “She’s an incredibly brilliant administrator and lecturer, and she cares deeply for all of her students.”

Gang assists Shalala by acting as a researcher, ensuring that the course material is updated every semester to make sure students are staying as current as possible.

As another way of staying up-to-date, Shalala encourages her students to sign up for Kaiser Health News, an organization that sends daily alerts about the latest news in healthcare policy and politics.

“By 7:30 a.m. she’s read all the alerts. She said if we read the alerts every day, we’ll really understand healthcare,” sophomore Caroline Levens said. “Her passion carries over, and it takes a lot from a professor to inspire her students to get a text about healthcare every day.”
The students in the class represent a very broad range of backgrounds and majors, which brings a unique aspect to the course, according to Gang.

“It’s amazing to watch such a diverse group participate in a conversation about healthcare. I think our country could learn a great deal from our students,” she said. “If President Shalala could only teach the rest of the country, we’d be in good shape.”