The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), first enacted under President Barack Obama in 2010, is Kiahana Brooks’ livelihood. She works at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, compiling ACA marketplace data and reviewing health insurance plans.

Kiahana’s career has not been a straight road to the federal government: she worked for about two and half years as a hospital nurse on inpatient floors at a Washington, DC hospital. She entered Penn Nursing with the intent of working one-on-one with patients; however, she also had an interest in public health. Penn Nursing nurtured Kiahana’s public health interests by allowing her to gain in-depth knowledge of the nursing field while mixing in electives in public health interest areas and engaging in study abroad options in public health. It was Kiahana’s experiences at Penn Nursing, coupled with her experience as a nurse, that drove her to discover the next step in her career trajectory.

“What most surprised me during my time as a nurse was how two women receiving care in the same hospital from the same medical team could have vastly different experiences and outcomes. Servicing very diverse economic populations as well as significant international populations highlighted how much socioeconomic status, language skills, and geographical residence impact health experiences. I became quickly attuned to the importance of cultural competence in patient interactions and of individualizing patient health plans.” 

In pursuit of her goals, Kiahana completed her Masters in Public Health at Penn before returning to clinical work in Washington, DC for a period. It was then that Kiahana was presented with an opportunity to move into a government role through the Presidential Management Fellows program. She decided to transition into a role at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, working on the Affordable Care Act. This past year, she was able to have a rotation in the Office of Legislation, where she assisted in briefing members of Congress and their staff on Medicaid issues and in providing technical assistance on pending legislation.

“Working in public health at the government level,” Kiahana said, “I have found my nursing education to be extremely helpful in my daily work and found that my nursing experience has formed the foundations of my public health perceptions.”

While Penn Nursing gave Kiahana the right tools to pursue her goals, her dream of working in public health was fostered even earlier—through travel. Before coming to Penn Nursing for her BSN, she earned a Bachelors in Human Evolutionary Biology from Harvard, along with several fellowships; the fellowships allowed her to engage in international work. “My work abroad in rural Namibia and in rural Uganda taught me the importance of the work conducted by people living in these communities outside of traditional health care systems to address the economic and social factors influencing community and population health.”

Kiahana also had an opportunity while at Penn Nursing to work with refugees and immigrants through an international nonprofit organization. These experiences are what led her to feel that health is a human right and that all people should have access to services that promote optimal health outcomes. “I became acutely aware, though,” said Kiahana, “that even in nations with advanced healthcare systems, barriers could prevent some people from accessing needed health care. And my time in a hospital setting really reinforced that for me.”

She added, “I really like the work that I do, and given that American health care is always changing, I am excited to see how my current role working in insurance policy and data may evolve over the next few years.”


Random fact: Kiahana also serves as Vice President of Development for Young Professionals in International Affairs in Washington, DC.