By Reagan Malenius
The Cancer Policy Internship program, offered by the UF Health Cancer Center’s Cancer Training & Education Program, immerses students in the life of a legislative aide in Washington D.C., the heart of federal policy and legislative action. For four months, University of Florida students play an integral role in supporting the university’s agenda on a national level, ensuring UF is a leading expert voice on important issues. These students are not just a fly on the wall, but actively impacting health care and cancer policy.
Since it began in 2019, the Cancer Policy Internship has provided 13 UF graduate students with the opportunity to intern with the Federal Relations team in the University of Florida’s Washington, D.C. office. Interns track legislative activity, attend hearings, draft hearing reports and legislative updates, and attend higher education and coalition meetings.
Beatriz Veronese, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in the UF Graduate Program in Biomedical Sciences with a concentration in cancer biology, interned with Rep. Darren Soto in spring 2023. Veronese saw the internship as a “unique opportunity to bridge my clinical and scientific experience to the legislative setting of health policy.”
During her internship, Veronese helped review the congressman’s health portfolio.
“As part of the legislative group of the office, I helped the team monitor the legislative schedule and complete the necessary research to provide the best recommendations on the pros and cons of particular issues,” she said. “The process of researching how a particular legislation may specifically impact the district served by the office was the most exciting part, as I had the opportunity to meet with many constituents, health advocates, medical doctors, dentists, hospital directors and other stakeholders in health care.”
Throughout their internships, students focus on a primary project and receive constant support and mentorship from their team. Upon completion of their internship, students present a policy brief from their primary project.
Matthew Cretul, Ph.D., was a graduate student in the College of Journalism and Communications when he completed the Cancer Policy Internship in fall 2020 with Rep. Gus Bilirakis.
“One project I worked on through his district office was creating a program between UF and the local school districts to provide tele-mental health counseling to at-risk middle schoolers,” he said. Although the team was not able to implement the project because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cretul’s experience in the internship helped inform his career choice: he’s now the legislative manager for Marion County Board of County Commissioners.
“I had never considered a career in the political/policy sphere, but through the internship, I realized how much I enjoyed the ability to positively affect change through policy,” he said.
Thomas George, M.D., FACP, deputy director at the UF Health Cancer Center, said all UF students with an interest in health policy are encouraged to apply, noting that the 13 previous policy interns came from graduate programs ranging from journalism and communications to medicine.