A mentor of Dr. Shamiram Feinglass’ suggested she apply to be a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar (heretofore, Clinical Scholar) when she began residency at Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland. Having never heard of the program before, she was not quite sure why she should apply. Upon more research, she found that it matched her interests: policy and medicine. Having been a lobbyist following graduation from Smith College, she was determined to be a physician-policymaker because she thought there were too few physicians at the health policy debating table.
A native of San Francisco, Dr. Feinglass grew up assuming that health care was easily accessible. Her parents were involved with founding the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic and as a child she often accompanied them to the clinic. In addition, her parents were involved in Rock-Med, the group that provided most of the medical care in the early days at many of Bill Graham’s concert venues (they continue to provide care at concerts to this day). In both cases, she was schooled at an early age regarding the necessity of providing health services to people who needed them: whether in their neighborhood or where they worked and played.
She was interested in the Clinical Scholars program because it was the only program that would give her the tools to evaluate health access problems and find solutions. While a scholar at the University of Washington training site (2000-2002), she studied access to mental health services in school-based health clinics as well as volunteering at a homeless teen clinic in one of the Seattle neighborhoods. “The program taught me to evaluate research at a much higher level than I had before. This proved to be invaluable and is the reason I was hired at the Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services (CMS). The chief medical officer and director of my office knew about the program and was on a mission to hire a former Clinical Scholar.”
Dr. Feinglass is currently a senior medical officer at the CMS and is responsible for many of the controversial coverage decisions coming from that office. “I use the skills I learned as a Clinical Scholar every day as I evaluate new technologies and drugs that may or may not be covered by CMS. Without these skills, I would not be able to improve the health of the millions of Medicare beneficiaries on a daily basis.”
In addition, Dr. Feinglass serves on the Board of Directors of Baltimore Medical Systems, a network of community clinics in Baltimore committed to improving the health and wellness in the communities. “My experiences with health care access growing up in San Francisco and then having been immersed in the Clinical Scholar world exposed me to all the amazing community work that current and former scholars are doing. These role models and peers have inspired me to volunteer my time to improve the health of the communities where I work, live, and play. It is my way of giving back. Often, I do not immediately see the direct effects of the national policies I make and volunteering at the community level gives me this immediate, albeit selfish, feeling of “doing good.” Without the creative examples of community interventions from my days as a scholar, I would not have thought of serving as a member of the Board of Directors of a series of community clinics.”
Dr. Feinglass believes that the RWJCSP gives physicians the needed skills to evaluate research, but also makes them think creatively about community problems. In addition, she asserts that the networking is essential: once an RWJF Clinical Scholar, always a RWJF Clinical Scholar. She finds that the number of program alumni in leadership positions in the health and policy realms are no surprise: “once an RWJF Clinical Scholar, you have incredible access to this network for life.”