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The Future Practitioner with an Eye on Policymaking

The running joke among Deborah Gross’, Nu’17, W’17 relatives is that healthcare is the “family business.” From her great-grandmother, who worked as an X-ray technician and eventually ran her family’s hospital in Chicago, down to her parents who both work in the field, it seemed a natural choice for Gross.

Her decision to pursue the Nursing and Health Care Management Program dual degree – offered through Penn Nursing and the Wharton School – stems from her “desire to care for others but also to help enact change on a larger scale.”

“Nursing provides me the opportunity to help on an individual level – providing care, comfort and education, and I think that combining these experiences with health administration skills will enable translation from that care into more systemic change and improvement,” explains Gross.

She says her time at Penn, so far, has given her a much wider and more nuanced understanding of what her options are post-graduation.

“When I started, I was narrowly focused on an eventual career in healthcare policy,” explains Gross. “Both the School of Nursing and the Wharton School have exposed me to many career options – from advanced degrees in research and clinical care to more business-focused aspects of healthcare.”

Ultimately, Gross wants to help improve the effectiveness and efficacy of care to enhance the nation’s health system. “I hope to use my nursing background to help develop large-scale practical solutions based on evidence to enhance delivery of care,” she says. “Throughout my time at Penn, I have been exposed to numerous methods of achieving this goal, including healthcare start-ups, communitybased health programs and enhanced insurance coverage options employing behavior economics.”

Gross says she’s learned that creating effective and efficient care is critical to improving the nation’s performance in other areas, such as education, equality and economic initiatives.

“I believe we already have much of the proof and many of the tools to improve our system, so I want to understand how we can achieve these modeled optimal outcomes for everyone,” she says.

Gross says her idea of what a “dream career” in healthcare means is ever-evolving. She says each new class introduces a new field or topic she can’t wait to learn more about.

“After studying women’s quality of life across their lifespan, I am particularly drawn to women’s health as I see it as necessary to creating equality and opportunity,” she says. “I have had the opportunity to learn from such dynamic teachers who share their passion with students by allowing them to participate in research and encouraging further study. I have found myself drawn to various fields and subjects – from breastfeeding awareness, which I speak about on a weekly basis, to healthcare informatics – all inspired by my clinical instructors, guest lecturers and professors.”

Gross says working at the Center for Health Outcomes and Policy Research has been incredible exposure into the research process, from data collection to article review.

“I have been assisting with a study on the nursing workforce looking at such factors as the reported number of patients a nurse has to care for on a given shift,” she says. “This has shown me the practical application of how business decisions, such as staffing levels, can determine care quality and outcomes.”

Gross says she’s learned from her advisor, Julie Sochalski, PhD, FAAN, RN, Associate Professor of Nursing, that policymaking is the way to achieve healthcare goals.

“I see policy, whether local or national, as a means to incentivize or mandate improved care,” she explains. “By learning about the creation of past policy and its results, I feel better prepared to enact change through this tool.”

At Penn, she says she has particularly enjoyed seeing overlaps between her two, sometimes very different, courses of study. She adds that Penn Nursing has also provided a hugely supportive network through group studies and peer activities.

“This, I think, prepares us better for our future as nurses since healthcare is truly a team sport!”