Shana Christrup (Arkansas & Magdalen 1997) was the Republican health policy director for the Senate Health, Education, Labour and Pensions Committee from January 2007 to June 2008. In addition to her extensive work on the Hill, Shana has also worked as a legislative and health care consultant and is currently the Vice President, Health Policy at Hart Health Strategies. Shana holds a Masters in Public Health from Yale University, a post-Baccalaureate Diploma from the University of Oxford and an undergraduate degree in Chemistry from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

Rhodes Project: What is the last book you read for pleasure?

Shana Christrup: Besides the children’s books I read to my two boys, the last book I read for pleasure is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. It focuses on her ever-living cancer cells, the study of those cells at Johns Hopkins and other institutions and the related controversy.

Rhodes Project: What piece of technology could you not live without?

Shana Christrup: Lately it’s been my iPad. It helps me keep connected because I’m trying to balance being a mom and being employed. I can check my emails, keep up with everything that’s happening, and respond back to folks who get real time responses whilst I’m sitting on my couch!

Rhodes Project: Did you find Oxford was as you had expected it to be?

Shana Christrup: I wish I’d done more exploration as to what it was and what to expect from it. The university systems are different between the United States and England and I didn’t quite appreciate that before going to Oxford.  At Oxford, there’s a focus on you creating your own work plan and using your own initiative whereas in the United States they give you the core classes you’re supposed to sign up for.  That different approach was an important thing to experience, but I wish had been more ready to hit the ground running.  Another difference and great benefit is the Bodleian Library, in which we had access to every book that’s ever been published in English. University libraries in the US don’t quite compare.

Rhodes Project: When did you first become interested in health policy?

Shana Christrup: I think part of the issue was that I grew up in a family that was dirt poor and so any time there were health-related questions, because I was the person who could read and research it and find out more, I was tasked to get more information on it. I then fractured my femur and spent months in the hospital, including turning thirteen while in traction, and health care became very real to me. For the longest time I thought I was going to be a doctor, but I later discovered I was more interested in broader health policy issues. So I switched direction in college and did my masters in health policy, followed by a stint on Capitol Hill. By working on various pieces of legislation, I felt as if I had the opportunity to make some important contributions to national health policy. When my eldest son was born, I transitioned off the Hill and six months later, I started working as a health care lobbyist.

When my youngest son was born he had some really severe health issues, which brought many of those health care lessons home. Being there in the trenches and dealing with that on a daily basis, not knowing if he was going to live or die, made me more fully understand the struggles with health care from the perspective of a patient with serious health issues. Before that experience, I had a lot of understanding of what the health care system was supposed to do, but it felt like the system had failed us. Health care reform has been focused on payment reforms, not so much on care delivery reforms from the patient perspective. In my son’s case, he challenged us and the health care system to respond to his needs.

Rhodes Project: What advice would you give to a young woman interested in entering the field of health policy?

Shana Christrup: I would definitely say read up, learn as much as you can and recognise that the US health care system is changing dramatically – what you may understand and experience today may not be what you experience six months from now. Also, recognise the limits of evidence-based medicine. I did not know the term “idiopathic” (no known cause) before, but now I’ve heard it many times. It just means we don’t fully know why certain health-related symptoms are happening, and for my son we still do not know why he had such a struggle for the first two years of his life. I’ve discovered that our experience isn’t that unusual – when it comes to health care, there is still a lot that we don’t know.

Rhodes Project: What frustrates you?

Shana Christrup: I think what’s most frustrating, at least looking back on my experience with my youngest son, was that the patient perspective wasn’t there and it’s hard to have that patient voice. I understand why, in some respects: because each patient has different voice and different needs.  It’s hard and, sadly, the way the lobbying system works is those that have the money to come forth and speak their concerns are more likely to be heard.

Rhodes Project: If you had unlimited resources to address any one issue, local or global, what would it be and why?

Shana Christrup: I would really push to have some sort of organisation that worked on providing a patient voice on how we structure the health care system. A focus on recognising that many of the folks who care about it the most are in the trenches taking care of their family members one way or the other and so they aren’t likely to have that voice, or, sadly, only have the time after their loved one actually dies.

I don’t know how many times I was on my iPad at 2AM when I was nursing my son, doing research and looking for information about the next step. To be able to say how I’m feeling, what I’m thinking, whether there is anything else I should being trying, anything else I should be doing, brainstorming treatment options, and so forth. Or even just knowing that you’re not alone at 2AM when your child is sick, crying and you wish you had the answers, recognising that the answers may not come but that the community still is out there.

Rhodes Project: What do you hope to achieve in the next few years?

Shana Christrup: Well, the good news is that my youngest son is now considered healthy and “normal,” which even now seems like a minor miracle.  So, in a few years, once both boys are in school, I will have a chance to re-evaluate what I think is helpful and important and re-dedicate most of my time to the issues I think are most important. When I graduated from college I thought I had to have everything planned out; I’ve since learned that plans are not the important part.  Often what you have to do is re-evaluate from time to time, see what opportunities are there and take advantage of them because many opportunities come without a plan.

Rhodes Project: If you could have lunch with one famous female figure, who would it be?

Shana Christrup: Hillary Clinton. I haven’t always agreed with her position regarding health policy but I do think having a discussion with her about what we do and don’t agree on would be very interesting.

Rhodes Project: What brings you the most joy in life?

Shana Christrup: My family – at times they’ve been the most trying, but the most joyful, too.

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