Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Young, 2011 Presidential Management Fellow

A Master of Public Health graduate shares her experience in the Federal Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) in a position at the Department of Housing and Urban Development


Last spring, I graduated from PSU with an MPH in Health Management and Policy. Just two months later, I was flying all the way across the country to a new job in Washington, DC as a health care underwriter and policy analyst with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Much to my surprise, I had the job when I graduated, thanks to the Presidential Management Fellows program. I want to share the path I followed to get here with my classmates and future students.

The Presidential Management Fellowship
In September 2010, I applied to the PMF program. The program is a two-year work and training fellowship with the federal government for people with a recent graduate degree. Your degree can be in almost any area (I’ve met an anthropology PhD for instance) although the majority are graduates in Law, Public Affairs/Policy, and International Affairs. I actually think I may have had an advantage because health policy and administration was less common among the finalists. That’s just guessing on my part though.

A few words about the PMF application process: it is long, confusing, and probably good practice for navigating government bureaucracy. I submitted the first stage of the application in September 2010, traveled to San Francisco for day-long interviews in January, and only learned I was a finalist eight months later in April. Finalists are not guaranteed a job either; you need to find your own position with an agency. I chased a lot of leads in the two months following that finalist notification. Fortunately one of them panned out, and I accepted a position with the Office of Healthcare Programs (OHP), which is part of HUD.

Applying a Public Health Education
Since the PMF program requires a graduate degree, my MPH was an obvious precondition. That said, I have definitely used what I learned academically as I find my feet in my new job. OHP administers a mortgage insurance program for hospitals and residential living facilities, which are mainly nursing homes, and assisted living facilities. The day-to-day work relates more closely to mortgage insurance and underwriting reviews than to health policy or public health. This meant that the first requirement was to learn fast and keep on my feet. But you don’t have to step back very far from the standard financial reviews to realize that health policy and healthcare financing have a major impact on all of the facilities we work with. Medicare payments are important for all hospitals and Medicaid accounts for half the money spent on nursing homes in this country.

The fact that I have some familiarity with our current convoluted U.S. healthcare system allows me to contribute to some of those big-picture issues. I find that classes I took at PSU, like Health Systems Organization, Health Policy, and Financial Management of Health Services, definitely inform my thinking.

Impacting Policy and the Public
One of the more interesting projects I am involved with is our program Policy Team. That is a forum where I can ask questions like, “Are we building nursing homes to match the needs of the next 20 years or of the last 20 years?” and “What impact might changes to Medicaid Home and Community Based Services waivers have on facilities with mortgages insured by HUD?” Answering these questions is considerably harder than asking them, but it is exciting to be in a role where I can contribute to that challenge.

Another interesting piece of my current work is drafting responses to Congressional Inquiries. A Congressional is a letter from a U.S. Senator or Representative asking the agency to answer a question or address some issue. They often come from constituents, e.g. “My constituent Ms. Smith wrote to me about this problem she has with a HUD program, please provide a response on the matter described below,” but they can also be direct questions from a legislator. Recently I’ve been writing the first draft of the response when these letters arrive in our office. This allows me to learn about interesting situations with the program and practice my diplomatic skills in order to politely and clearly explain the issue without promising anything the program cannot deliver.

Applying the PMF to a Future Career in the Federal Government
Thanks to my position and the great people I am working with in OHP, I am beginning to actually see myself in a federal career. I had no idea what would happen when I packed up and moved from Oregon to the other side of the country, but I had a lot of support from friends, family, and my professors at PSU. That help has really positioned me to take advantage of the incredible opportunity I have as a PMF. I now plan use it as the beginning of a satisfying and productive government career, although I need to figure out a way to get back to Oregon too. The District is a very interesting place to experience, but Oregon is still my home.