Exclusive Feature with White House Covid-19 Policy Advisor: Osaremen Okolo

Health policy has been an integral part of US society for decades, but with the Covid-19 pandemic, it began to take a more prominent role in the eyes of the American people. Osaremen Okolo, Covid-19 Response Policy Advisor to the White House, is a family friend and I had the chance to discuss the different aspects of health policy with her and the important role it plays in both fighting and recovering from the pandemic. 

After graduating from Milton Academy in Milton, Massachusetts, Osaremen Okolo started out as a premed student at Harvard University where she immediately began to distinguish herself as a gifted individual. Throughout her journey at Harvard, she realized that the combination of both health and politics appealed to her. She was drawn to politics in the US itself and how health played such an important role in American society. “American freedom just really inspired me,” she said. One summer, during one of her first in-depth experiences with health policy, she interned with Dr. Ann Hwang at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services. She interned with both former Senator Mo Cowan and former President Bill Clinton with the White House Health Service Initiative. When asked about what drove her towards health policy as a career focus, Osaremen said: “You can make progress through the smallest things and even though you might not see it right away, eventually you will, and that makes it all worth it. I really just felt like I could make the biggest difference in health policy.”

When joining the Institute of Politics at her school, one of the first things Osaremen noticed was that there was a huge lack of black women in the group. “It wasn’t diverse at all. I was the only black woman in the room, which surprised me because I thought that, with Obama’s presidency, the diversity rates in politics would really change.” Osaremen Okolo made herself known in her field by not only tackling a field that wasn’t known for its diversity, but by helping other women of color come together in health policy. She started a club at her university that focused on ethnic diversity in politics, policy, and public service.

 Health policy typically involves the best way to improve the health and wellbeing of communities, how to pay to make those improvements, and government policies in medicaid and medicare. The role of the White House Covid-19 Response Team, specifically, is to prevent Covid-19-related deaths in long term facilities, discover the common disparity threads, and work with communities to improve the lives of patients, and find the best financial means to accomplish these goals. Because this team is part of the executive branch of government, it’s easier to establish these health policies with the help of these executive orders. “Since many healthcare disparities are ingrained in our policies and our history, working in policy helps to make long lasting and broader health changes.”

When asked about what she’s most excited about while working on this team, Osaremen Okolo said: “One thing that’s great about this job is that we work for a president who is doing everything he can to alleviate the pain on families who have been so affected by this pandemic.” Ever since she was young, Osaremen’s main goal in life has been to help people in the best and most effective ways possible. By working with people who are just as committed as she is, she’s very excited to be making a difference on the forefront of health policy in the United States. Osaremen’s message to other girls who are interested in working in health policy was this: “Health policy impacts everyone, whether they see it or not. Look towards the ultimate goal even if you don’t see it right away and if you stick with it, you’ll see all the good that’s going on. It’s the smallest things that make the biggest difference.” 

 

Erica Brown ‘22, Co Assistant Editor-In-Chief

22ebrown@montroseschool.org