Vanderbilt students plan D.C. pharmaceutical advocacy trip, will pitch drug policy briefs to Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Marsha Blackburn and other legislators

Ten members of the Vanderbilt chapter of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines will meet with 18 Congress members during Spring Break.


Emily Gonçalves

Vanderbilt students will present policy briefs on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. during their spring break.

Ryan Suddath, Staff Writer

Ten Vanderbilt undergraduates will venture to Washington, D.C. March 3-7 to present policy briefs to United States Congress members. The students will be traveling as representatives of the recently established Vanderbilt chapter of Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM), a national organization that focuses on influencing drug policy and raising awareness to the problems of pharmaceutical distribution. 

During their trip, the UAEM members plan to meet with the offices of 18 senators and representatives from Congress, including face-to-face meetings with Senator Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and with the health policy advisors of 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

Each student participating in the trip has prepared a policy brief that they will share with a particular Congress member during their meetings. The Vanderbilt UAEM chapter members arranged the meetings themselves by calling and emailing the offices of the policymakers and requesting appointments online. 

A policy brief concisely identifies and summarizes an issue and presents a consolidated recommendation about how policymakers may solve it. The policy briefs crafted by the Vanderbilt UAEM members cover a diverse array of issues pertaining to pharmaceutical distribution—ranging from how to lower drug prices to how to accelerate pharmaceutical research and development. 

Before meeting with policymakers, the trip participants will undergo a half-day training session at the UAEM North American headquarters in Washington, D.C. Additionally, during the week leading up to Spring Break, UAEM will host Vanderbilt Medical Center doctors Stacie Dusetzina and Daniel Muñoz who will help to prepare the students for their outing. 

This trip marks UAEM Vanderbilt’s first venture to Capitol Hill, and the timing of the trip—amid the presidential primary races and during the lead-up to the 2020 elections—makes the event a notably promising opportunity for UAEM to influence highly-contested policy. 

“This is one of the most debated-upon topics right now,” Vanderbilt UAEM President Kyle Gavulic said. “Healthcare is definitely the thing everyone is talking about, but even within healthcare, everyone is talking about pharmaceutical drug policy because everyone recognizes that pharmaceutical drug prices are absolutely outrageous.”

Right now, the United States has the highest prescription drug prices per person in the world, an issue that President Trump and Demoractic presidential candidates alike have vowed to tackle. 

After the trip, Vanderbilt UAEM is planning on hosting an event to educate other Vanderbilt students about the lessons gained from their experiences on Capitol Hill and to inform students about future avenues for getting involved in pharmaceutical advocacy. 

Since UAEM is in its first year on Vanderbilt’s campus, the organization members fundraised and financed the trip out of pocket, as opposed to with Acfee student organization funds. However, the organization intends to make the Washington, D.C. venture an annual advocacy push and hopes to soon make the trip eligible for Vanderbilt Immersion credit and funding.