South Carolina native Andre Stanley received the prestigious APHA Public Health Fellowship in Government last year, and has been working in Washington, D.C., as the health legislative assistant for U.S. Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) since January 2011. The political wrangling over the Affordable Care Act and the budget debates make this a particularly important time to be at the heart of those discussions. Working on Capitol Hill, Stanley says, has been a “transformative” experience.

Making the move from North Carolina, where he was a grants manager and tobacco program officer with the North Carolina Health and Wellness Trust Fund, to the nation’s capital has opened a host of opportunities for Stanley. In addition to working on Capitol Hill, he began teaching an undergraduate public health and community medicine course at the University of Maryland Baltimore County this fall. Stanley, 57, brings 30 years of public health experience to his classroom and to his fellowship on the Hill.

Stanley says the APHA fellowship has afforded him an opportunity to not only expand his perspective of public health policy, but also share with his colleagues the wisdom of his experiences in the field.

He previously has worked in tobacco use prevention and control in Raleigh, N.C., and coordinated efforts to reduce health disparities with the Office of Minority Health in Columbia, S.C. Stanley received his undergraduate degree in microbiology from Clemson University and earned his Masters of Public Health from the Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina. With three months left on his APHA Fellowship, we caught up with Stanley and asked him to share a bit about his experiences so far.

Q: What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned about Washington? What has been the most disappointing thing you’ve learned during your time here?

A: I’m constantly surprised by the size and complexity of the federal government in general, and the procedures members and staff must master to get bills passed into law. I am also surprised by how young the Hill staffers are, how smart they are and how committed to the work they are. I am disappointed by how divided the country is regarding the most critical issues of today, such as health care, Social Security, immigration, consumer protection, etc., which is reflected in the makeup of the U.S. Congress. It is this division that makes it difficult to enact reasonable legislation that would benefit the most people.

Q: What is the one thing you wish every member of Congress or the general public knew or better understood about the Affordable Care Act?

A: Many of the lifesaving provisions of the Affordable Care Act don’t go into effect until 2014, and while I think members of Congress understand this, we need to do a better job of educating the public on how they will benefit from it. It is impossible to know exactly how well the Affordable Care Act will play out in communities across the country until 2014 comes around, but we do know this new law holds tremendous potential.

Q: Now that you’ve been working on Capitol Hill and have seen how it works from the inside, how will that affect how you view politics and advocacy when you go back home? What are some lessons you will take with you?

A: I have said that this fellowship has been a transformative experience for me. It has definitely affected how I view politics and advocacy. Regardless of where I end up, my view of government and politics has been changed forever by this fellowship. Lessons I will take with me include:

  • Read and understand everything you can about the legislation in question. Your boss — the member of Congress — will ask specific questions about the particular legislation and you should know the answer in order to advise him or her properly.
  • Meet as many people on the Hill as possible and develop relationships with these people because you’ll never know when you may need their assistance.
  • Learn about and understand the organizational and institutional structure and culture of the U.S. Congress and also about its legislative processes and procedures. This knowledge will make you an invaluable resource to the member or committee.

Q: What are you most looking forward to about teaching at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County?

A: I am teaching a public health and community medicine course to undergraduate students as an adjunct professor. I am thrilled to have this opportunity to positively affect young minds. I am looking forward to discussing all aspects of public health with the students. I want to hear what their opinions are about the public health system as it is today and what their ideas are about how to improve it as we move forward.

Q: What advice could you share with public health students today?

A: Public health is a wonderfully complex discipline, which requires many years of education and dedication to understand. I would tell students to get as much education and training as they can and to complete that education before taking on life’s responsibilities if at all possible. Also, I would tell them to remember what’s truly important. I created the “perfect storm” for myself by working, going to school and raising a family all at the same time. Doing these things simultaneously is very stressful, to say the least.

Q: What’s the best thing about living in the metro DC area?

A: I enjoy the many different restaurant choices. Back home, one is limited mostly to the chain restaurants — with the exception of North Carolina barbecue, which are local enterprises —  but here there are many authentic regional and ethnic restaurants from which to choose.

Q: What inspired you to apply for the APHA Public Health Fellowship in Government?

A: I have always been interested in politics and knew that I wanted to learn more about it at some point. When I saw the ad about the fellowship in The Nation’s Health, I thought now is the time to get that knowledge. I was at a good place in my life and career; my children were grown and most of my responsibilities now centered on me. This seemed like a logical next step in my career development.

Hear more from Stanley as he shares his hopes for health reform implementation at the 2011 APHA Midyear Meeting in Chicago this summer in this YouTube soundbites piece. More information about the APHA Public Health Fellowship can be found at http://www.apha.org/advocacy/fellowship/.