WIP Student Highlights Experience Working in Washington with Congressman Gus Bilirakis (FL-12)
I was fortunate enough this past fall to serve as a cancer policy intern with the University of Florida Health Cancer Center. Rather than working out of the Cancer Center in Gainesville however, my internship had a different setting. My position was coordinated through the UF Office of Federal Relations in Washington DC, and I was placed as a policy intern directly within the office of United States Congressman Gus Bilirakis, who represents Florida’s 12th congressional district. Congressman Bilirakis sits on both the Veterans Affairs and Energy and Commerce (specifically the health and communication & technology sub committees) committees, and so as a veteran whose dissertation work is focused on studying how to improve healthcare access to individuals in rural areas by expanding telehealth usage within cancer care, his office was a natural fit for me.
I spent the semester quite busy, and was an integral part of the congressional office in numerous capacities. Along with the other interns I answered phones, ran errands, and led tours of the Capitol Building (which was one of favorite parts no doubt), but unlike many of the other interns, I was also able to sit in and contribute on numerous staff-and member-level meetings. I attended briefings and panel discussions as a representative of the office, and I was able to interact and converse with stakeholders from groups such as public and private health systems, other governmental health agencies like the NIH and CDC, and numerous Veterans’ Service Organizations. Additionally, I spent time with multiple policy advisors as we researched and gathered information for one of the congressman’s upcoming committee hearings, or worked on language for an upcoming bill the congressman wanted to introduce to a committee. Through those experiences I was able to gain valuable firsthand knowledge of how policy is crafted and legislated, and as a result of these involvements as well as one-on-one conversations with health and veterans policy staffers, I greatly advanced my understanding of the federal policymaking process as it relates directly to telehealth. I was also lucky enough to accompany the congressman and his policy advisors to multiple sub-committee and committee hearings throughout my time with the office of Florida’s 12th congressional district, and was asked to monitor the hearings for him or his staff if he was called away for other business to let them know what they missed.
The congressman graduated from the University of Florida, and so it goes without saying that he is a huge Gator fan. As football season was in full swing during the fall, nearly every interaction we had involved either him talking about the upcoming opponent, or game that had just been played. I really enjoyed chatting with him, and he was always very approachable and welcoming of me during my time in D.C. A typical conversation with him generally contained talking about an issue related to veterans’ care, the development of Kyle Trask, and how to incorporate more telehealth into treatment plans. His staff members were more than welcoming as well, whenever I had questions or wanted to discuss something they took whatever time they had to help. They offered their knowledge, wisdom, and connections whenever they could, and their generosity was appreciated.
Not only was working as part of the congressional office a great experience, but working with the UF Office of Federal Relations was fantastic as well. To know that I was an official representative of UF on Capitol Hill made me feel amazing, and Sarah, Alex, and Blair were constantly in touch with opportunities to network or represent the university, as well as to simply make sure my acclimation to DC life had gone well. I loved coming into the UF OFR and seeing all the orange and blue, the pictures of the swamp, and sipping on some Gatorade; and to know that I was a part of the office and its success was one of the highlights of my internship.
One aspect of the internship that cannot be overlooked is the networking opportunities it provides. The congressional staff members were more than accommodating whenever I had the chance to grab coffee with a staffer from another office, another Gator on Capitol Hill, or an individual from an organization related to my professional interests. The congressional intern coordinator highly suggested we schedule as many meetings as possible, and the time we spent at them would not be looked at in any way negatively. As I was working through the UF Office of Federal Relations, I was able to connect with alumni and delegates from Florida in the house and senate; and the connections I made were not just confined to the hill, either. I was able to meet and chat with President Fuchs on his visit to Washington D.C., as well as many other UF professors and staff members who were part of congressional proceedings, or had meetings in D.C.
If you have any interest in policymaking or gaining a firsthand look at how our federal government functions at the legislative branch, I highly recommend an internship through the UF Office of Federal Relations. Working with the UF OFR gave me insight, understanding, and connections that will absolutely allow me to succeed once my time at UF comes to an end. This internship is a great opportunity to determine if life in a congressional setting is something you would like to pursue, and I would be happy to help answer any questions to see if it’s something for you.
Written by Matthew Cretul
University of Florida
College of Journalism and Communications