Solidifying my passion for policy


Erin McCarthy pays a visit to Twlug Headquarters in Washington, DC.

I am a scientist. Even when I was a little girl, I always preferred science and math. In fact, I asked Santa Claus for a microscope for Christmas when I was only 8 years old. Other school subjects such as history and English did not garner my attention like molecules and math. I could not see how politics and policy could affect my everyday life. However, in pharmacy school, I found my passion for policy. 

I was awakened to the fact that policies affect how I practice my profession every day. Graduating from a high school in rural Washougal, WA, I came to realize the importance and impact that pharmacists have as health care providers. Even though I lived about 40 minutes from Portland, I found that many people still relied heavily on local health services, making the pharmacists in the area that much more impactful. I saw that as a pharmacist, I could provide a wide spectrum of patient care. I have carried this passion through my education and experiences at the Washington State University (WSU) College of Pharmacy. This drive and passion helped me discover another love of mine: policy.

Opportunity in DC

WSU produces exceptional pharmacists, not only in the science of pharmacy, but as leaders, innovators, and professionals. These high standards led the college to invite Rep. Cathy McMorris Rogers (R–WA) to tour and speak on campus in November 2014. During that visit, I introduced myself to Rep. McMorris Rogers and discussed current pharmacy-related issues. I later connected with her office in Washington, DC, and inquired about an internship. I was fortunate enough to secure a position and serve in her office this past June. 

There were two main aspects of my internship. The first was working with the day-to-day concerns of the congresswoman’s office. These included answering phones, sorting mail, and leading Capitol building tours. The second was assisting her health care sub-committee. I attended hearings on behalf of the office on topics such as prescription mismanagement and the risk of veteran suicide; H.R. 2646: the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis bill; and the employment effects of the Affordable Care Act. 

I gained a deeper understanding of the workflow and protocol of the national policy process. As a representative of the professional health care community, I was fortunate to be in the congresswoman’s office when the office interns spearheaded the Millennial Republican Task Force. This task force is a team of young professionals who brainstorm creative ideas and execute plans that enhance communication of policy to young people. We wanted the task force to proactively listen and incorporate public opinions on policy to better relate to future generations. 

As one of the health care policy advisors on the task force, I worked with my team to produce tangible events that would help connect the millennial to the current generation. One of the more prominent projects we wanted to implement was encouraging, inspiring, and producing innovative mobile apps and technology that would make insurance more accessible, transparent, and individualized. 

Provider status advocacy

In addition to the internship, I met with Washington State’s congressional representatives and senators to advocate for the profession of pharmacy. I asked them to support H.R. 592 and 
S. 314, the Pharmacy and Medically Underserved Enhancement Act. Through these efforts, Reps. Denny Heck (D–WA), Dan Newhouse (R–WA), and Morris Rodgers co-sponsored H.R. 592! Most importantly, I networked and built personal relationships with all these offices, giving them a reliable source and trustworthy for the profession of pharmacy.

Be heard

My time in Washington, DC, further solidified my passion for policy. I was again reminded how interconnected the profession of pharmacy and policy are. The future of medicine and health care are changing on a daily basis, not only on a scientific level, but also on the political stage. Decisions made at the government level change our profession just as much as groundbreaking scientific research. Every pharmacist and student pharmacist is a part of policy no matter how active they are when it comes to speaking and advocating for the profession. 

I want to have a voice in how my profession is regulated, governed, and controlled. This passion has made me realize that even though I am a 
scientist, I am also a politician.