Social Impact Internships: Grace Zhang (’25)
Hi! My name is Grace Zhang, and I’m a rising sophomore studying computation and cognition (6-9). This summer, I interned with the clinical team at MassHealth, the organization that oversees Massachusetts Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) and provides access to healthcare for 1.8 million individuals, a quarter of the state’s population. The clinical team offers insight into the patient-provider experience and investigates medical technology and services.
At MassHealth, there’s an emphasis on integrated care. This means that “quality healthcare” incorporates many aspects beyond the traditional focus of physical health in a medical setting (that is important though!). While health policy enacts population level change, the goal remains patient centric, and at the end of the day, patients are individuals with complex backgrounds and living experiences that all contribute to their wellbeing and sense of self. It is well known that the US spends by far the most on healthcare (in pure amount and by GDP), but the ratio of social spending to health spending is comparatively very low. Housing and food security are both issues that are closely intertwined with health and fall into the category of social spending, and MassHealth offers a pilot program – Flexible Services – which allows its accountable care organizations (ACOs) to pay for nutrition and housing support services for certain eligible members with state and federal Medicaid funding. This includes assisting members with completing housing applications, conducting home environmental risk assessments, and delivering meals.
What really inspired me is MassHealth’s approach to healthcare for youth – the organization covers approximately 40% of the children in the Commonwealth (~700K), and Massachusetts has the lowest uninsured rate for children in the US with only 1.2% of children being uninsured. For youth particularly, education and health are closely interconnected; school success is correlated with improved health outcomes and decreased health care utilization. However, education inequity affects children of lower socioeconomic backgrounds, children of color, and children with chronic and/or complex needs. To address this issue, one of MassHealth’s proposals will require education and behavioral health/developmental screening during primary care visits, with ACOs reporting the screening and referral data, stratified by race. This exemplifies the idea of incorporating mind, body, and environment to provide quality care; it pushes providers to think about the patient as an individual rather than a diagnosis.
I always aspired to be a pediatrician, and from my own experiences working with children in enrichment programs, I realized the importance of education on future wellbeing. As a result, learning about MassHealth’s initiatives to incorporate educational equity into healthcare really resonated with me.
Every member of the clinical team practices part time, in addition to working at MassHealth. Coming to MIT, I realized that while I could see myself enjoying the one-on-one interaction with patients, I also wanted to see the bigger picture. To me, solely practicing without addressing the complex and vast problems within healthcare access felt like blindly providing care. Learning about the medical directors’ journeys and perspectives was incredibly impactful for me; I thought it was SO cool that their work incorporates both the individual level impact as well as the population level impact – this is the career I was imagining!
One event that particularly stuck with me was when I shadowed Dr. Charles Pu, a senior medical director at MassHealth, at MGH for a day. Having never experienced a healthcare setting besides my own visits to the doctor’s office, I was touched by the way Dr. Pu spoke with his patients. I realized that being a doctor means so much more than running tests and diagnostics; it’s the human touch and empathy that really distinguishes exceptional care. As he put it, medicine combines the utmost rigor of science with the deepest emotions of humanity. I saw the idea of caring for the individual in practice; I saw how the care team integrated physical, mental, and social wellbeing in the way they spoke, assessed, and treated patients. It was a such a meaningful experience for me to see MassHealth’s values carried out on an individual level.
Overall, this internship opened my eyes to the landscape of health policy. I hope to pursue more opportunities related to this field, in research, classes, my personal life, and in my career path.