Social Impact Internships: Kamau Njendu (’26)

Hi there, I’m Kamau, a rising sophomore in course 6-14 (Electrical Engineering and Computer Science; Economics). This summer, I have been a Social Impact Intern with MassHealth as a Clinical and Health Policy Intern. MassHealth is a division of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services, primarily taking charge of Massachusetts’ Medicaid and CHIP programs. The organization is focused on expanding access to healthcare in the state as well as promoting equitable outcomes with its policies, coverage, and outreach. My internship lies in the Payment and Care Delivery Innovation team, where I have primarily worked on developing existing or new health coverage policies.

Coming into the internship I was initially worried about being totally out of the loop of
things and having a difficult time understanding the pretty wieldy topics. For some background, this
was my first ever work experience or even research into the field of healthcare. I came into the
internship thinking healthcare was some simple debit-like card you just pay and use anywhere for
health services – I truly had no idea how incredibly complex the system is and even more so the
process of getting into it in the first place. The first few days were also difficult to navigate, facing a
firehose of new information and lessons to get up to speed on MassHealth’s work, Medicaid, and all
the different components and considerations of American healthcare. However, with this
information dump came a deep fascination with the work – and with it the areas of improvement I
wanted to implement. I went from an initial hope of learning a thing or two during my time at
MassHealth to a solid intention of helping outline policies that could expand coverage in
Massachusetts. With this modification of my goals also came a whole new plethora of concerns.
How do I even begin to navigate the knowledge base of MassHealth? How do I properly approach
and lean on the experienced and knowledgeable professionals in the organization? Will I actually
leave my internship having explored all the areas I wanted to explore and leave the impact I want to
have? I had breached the beachhead of my topic but found myself awash with so many things I
wanted to learn and do and finish. Finishing was the biggest concern. I found myself juggling 5
different areas of research at once – a boon to my desire to explore yet a daunting task nevertheless.
However, two key factors made the process incredibly smooth and a surprising joy to finish.
Despite the typical challenges of working remotely, I greatly enjoyed the structure already
established in MassHealth of frequent meetings and check-ins, not just with my team members, but
also with the individual preceptors assigned to my projects. It was like having a ready mentor to
guide us through a field they had more familiarity with, yet with breathing room to set our own
points of entry for the research and the final deliverables were all ours! Talking to the preceptors
also made approaching other MassHealth employees so much less daunting – once you have talked
to one “Adult” adult, you get confident enough to even approach heads of departments. And with
the structure in place, I found my concerns alleviated, able to lean on those more knowledgeable
and better situated to complete the projects I was assigned.

Two of my favorite projects I worked on were a Health Technology Assessment (HTA)
individually and a research project on expanding care for those who are undocumented or uninsured
as the team lead. Through both of those projects, I got to exercise some flexibility over their
outlooks while getting a sense of project management for the expanding care project. My HTA revolved around assessing the clinical benefits and comparison to current treatments for Topical
Oxygen Therapy. This was done through literature reviews of medical publications on the treatment
and current standards of care, analysis of professional societies’ positions on the treatment,
landscape reviews of coverage among major public (other state Medicaids) and private (in the state
of Massachusetts) payers, and finally a review of the possible impact equity and cost wise. I really
enjoyed the project’s individual aspect as I got to decide for myself where I would look and what I
would consider in making a decision on whether there is clinical support for covering the treatment.
I also got to take part in the policy writing aspect of MassHealth – a major goal of mine entering this
internship. The expanding care project was another interesting project to work on, balancing the
needs of the team as the project lead as well as making sure I was researching the areas I wanted to.
Expanding care for those undocumented or uninsured is a particular interest for MassHealth,
especially as it continues to try and cover vulnerable populations and set the standard for state
healthcare. There are also numerous benefits to expanding regular care for those undocumented like
reducing the need for emergency care and improved public health overall! I primarily focused on
doing a landscape review of current state programs tackling healthcare for those undocumented –
looking at how the programs are structured and funded – and some immediate actions MassHealth
could take to improve its existing programs. I worked on other projects like a literature review on
cultural competency in medicine, a review of CAHPS surveys and electronic measurement of health
data, and a review of a state’s dental benefits, but particularly enjoyed the two projects discussed.
Working with all the different teams was an enriching experience – learning from their backgrounds
and interests – and only furthered my interest in healthcare.

Further reflecting on my time at MassHealth, I have been particularly surprised by how
much interaction there is among the different sections of MassHealth – a supervisor referred to the
organizational structure as a ‘matrix’ – and the encouragement given to us interns to explore those
other divisions by sitting in on their meetings. I have discovered that I enjoy the work I have been
doing for the internship and further solidified my interest in public health from a healthcare
perspective. I also have found it refreshing that in the organization there are so many working
groups and people with a passion for equity and accessibility, further inspiring me to continue
having an equity lens as I continue to navigate my time at MIT. I also see how so many decisions
and impacts are made on the agency level, honing my policy interest from specific legislation to
advocating for improved efficiency and collaboration among agencies of different levels of
government. I originally entered the internship with some interest in health but more so interested in
using it as an avenue to explore policy, yet I now genuinely want to continue staying engaged in
healthcare however I can. Finally, a discussion about my social impact experience this summer
would not have been complete without shouting out the Social Impact Living-Learning community
I had the fortune to be part of this past summer, without a doubt I ‘graduated’ from the program
with a deeper interest in the modes of social change.

Tags: Health, Social Impact Internships, Social Impact Internships Summer 2023

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