Judith Glassgold, PsyD, APA’s 2009–10 congressional fellow, found herself among those responsible for understanding the details of the different health-care reform bills considered during the yearlong debate. Getting through the dry, legislative language wasn’t easy, she says, but it prepared Glassgold to inform her boss, Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.), the vice chair of the Democratic caucus and a key player in the reform initiative.

As part of her one-year fellowship, which began in September 2009 and ended last month, Glassgold helped advise the congressman on the health-care legislation that passed in March and supported efforts to increase the affordability of insurance and expand access to Medicaid, and improve Medicare benefits. These provisions were included in the law.

Glassgold also met with constituents, lobbyists and interest groups to keep them informed of how the bill would affect them, analyzed legislation, prepared materials for hearings, and wrote drafts of speaking materials for the congressman. These efforts meant long days, but they were well worth it for the experience she received working to improve access and quality in the nation’s health-care system, she says.

“Clinical work is very gratifying, but only helps one person at a time,” says Glassgold. “Working on these policies let me know I was effecting change and having a broad impact on health policy and mental health care in the country.”

APA offers the Congressional Fellowship to allow its members to learn about public policy and the workings of the federal government, as well as to educate government officials on the ways that psychology can contribute to policymaking. While Glassgold had previously worked on policy issues as president of the New Jersey State Psychological Association and as an active participant in APA governance, the vocabulary of federal legislation and art of political maneuvering were new to her.

“There’s a whole new language to learn, along with new processes and procedures and legislative stances,” says Glassgold. “I have really begun to understand how things work.”

In particular, Glassgold learned the importance of communicating with constituents and interest groups to help them understand pending legislation and hear their concerns, she says.

Glassgold finished her fellowship in August, and will continue working in the House of Representatives as a legislative assistant for health and domestic social policy in the office of Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.). “Washington is where it all happens and I want to be in that place,” says Glassgold.

More information on the APA Congressional Fellowship can be found online.