2017 Graduate Katie Gudiksen smiling in front of the camera

2017 Graduate Katie Gudiksen

When an M.P.H. Won’t Cut It

Graduate Katie Gudiksen focuses on policy for social good

When Katie Gudiksen’s children had grown enough so that she could re-enter the workforce, the Ph.D. in Chemistry-holder wanted a bridge from her previous professional life—working in diagnostics—to a new career path that centered on policy and big-picture thinking.

Katie started her search by looking at various M.P.H. programs, but she soon found that an M.P.H. wouldn’t provide her with the in-depth learning on policy to fuel her career aspirations.

“I was interested in the policy pieces of an M.P.H.,” Katie explains, “but there were pieces of an M.P.H. degree that weren’t what I wanted to do. So when I found out about this Health Policy and Law degree, that was my ‘Eureka!’ moment. I liked that the HPL degree gave me a view of the whole playing field. I wanted the exposure to a lot of different areas in health policy to determine where and on what I wanted to work. I decided to work on important problems and figure out health care costs, which is one of the biggest issues facing our country.”

Graduating in 2017—a member of our first cohort—Katie recently chatted with me about her experience in the degree and her current work penning evidence-based articles for The Source.

Learning in an online environment can be a difficult transition for those of us who are used to a traditional classroom format. What was your experience?
I really appreciated that it was so flexible. That was a piece of what held me back from the M.P.H. programs: They all had in-person requirements. With this degree being completely online, I could structure my studies around my family life.

Also, I learned a lot from my capstone group and I still keep in touch with some of them. It’s been great to understand their projects and see their passions.

Speaking of capstone projects, what did you work on?
Taking advantage of my past experiences in diagnostics, I wrote about ways to promote competition in the pharmaceutical industry. It included a discussion of alternative ways that current law—or behavior on the part of industry—limits competition. So I proposed a number of policy solutions that would all work together to help promote competition and bring down some of the drug prices.

When we think about how much we’ll pay for things as a society, who is footing the bill for expensive diagnostics or expensive pharmaceuticals, or any type of expensive health care, there is certainly that overlap with my previous career.

But HPL helped inform me about pricing. If we’re not going to ration things, we need to think about how we’re going to pay for them—what types of insurance companies make sense, or about value-based reimbursement. At a high level, you need people from both policy and industry sides to have that conversation.

Were there any specific courses that helped shape your capstone?
The Health Economics course really informed my capstone, but I would say that all of the courses informed it indirectly. The courses gave me a thorough introduction to the health policy and law space, teaching me things I didn’t know that I didn’t know.

I wound up taking a couple classes from the policy track and a couple from the law track, because each one offered topics that I really wanted to learn about.

I took the Advanced Legal Research course—which I never thought I would have taken before—but it was enormously helpful because it taught me things that I wouldn’t have been able to figure out on my own. Each course had some standout topics that were really helpful.

You’re writing for The Source on Healthcare Price and Competition as a Senior Research Fellow. How is that going?
I’m mostly writing content for that website. What I really like to do is work on some evidence-based policy-making and thinking about the big picture, and the way we want to structure insurance or even health care in general. Maybe I’ll work at a nonprofit or at some type of organization that does advocacy work, but always with a lot of evidence behind it.

I feel like HPL is a great starting point and The Source is a great first step to figure out what’s out there and get my fingers into the process.

What advice would you give someone who is thinking about this degree?
There’s so much that you can get from this program. The professors are so immersed in the space and are great at both interacting with the students and presenting the material in a way that is very approachable, yet you can go as deep as you want to.

As someone who came from the periphery of health care, the program was very rewarding, and I appreciated working with people from a number of different backgrounds: policy providers, lawyers and those who worked in Sacramento in the State’s health care office.

There were so many things that I didn’t expect to learn, and that was the biggest bonus of the HPL.

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Take a read through some of Katie’s latest work on The Source:
“Drug Money Part 4. The Return of the CREATES Act: Fourth Time’s a Charm?”
“Can Policies at the FDA Help Curb Rising Drug Prices?”
“Governor Brown Signs Groundbreaking Drug Price Transparency Bill”
“Source Shorts: Medicare Officially Kills Program to Pilot Pharmaceutical Payment Reform”

Are you ready to gain the skills you need to shape health policy and law? Check out how to apply!