Harkness Fellowship Experience: Fellow and Mentor Interviews

Each Harkness Fellow works closely with a leading U.S. health policy expert to conduct a research study that addresses a critical issue on the health policy agenda in both the U.S. and their home country. Harkness Fellowship mentors provide expert guidance and project support throughout the Fellowship year. Please click below to listen to brief interviews with selected Harkness Fellowship mentors about their experience with the Harkness program.

Meredith B. Rosenthal, Ph.D. Audio Clip
Associate Professor of Health Economics and Policy
Department of Health Policy and Management
School of Public Health
Harvard University

Mentor to:
2009-10 Tim Doran (United Kingdom)

Kay Dickersin, Ph.D. Audio Clip
Professor
Director, U.S. Cochrane Center
Department of Epidemiology
Bloomberg School of Public Health
Johns Hopkins University

Mentor to:
2009-10 Julia Kreis (Germany)

Andrew Bindman, M.D. Audio Clip
Chief, Division of General Internal Medicine
San Francisco General Hospital
Professor of Medicine, Health Policy, Epidemiology and Biostatistics
University of California, San Francisco

Mentor to:
2000-01 – Colin Tukitoinga (New Zealand)
2004-05 – Elena Taipapaki Curtis (New Zealand)
2006-07 – Bruce Guthrie (U.K.)
2006-07 – Carly Muller (Australia)
2007-08 – Peter McNair (Australia )
2008-09 – Christopher Millett (U.K. )

Gerard F. Anderson, Ph.D.Audio Clip
Professor and Director
Center for Hospital Finance and
Management
Bloomberg School of Public Health
Johns Hopkins University

Mentor to:
1998-99 David Melzer (U.K.)
2000-01 Susan Myles (U.K.)
2000-01 James Pearse (AUS)
2007-08 Kalipso Chalkidou (UK)

Murray N. Ross, Ph.D.Audio Clip
Vice President
Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc.
Director
Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy

Mentor to:
2009-10 Dawn Dowding (UK)
2010-11 Antoinette de Bont (Netherlands)

Pamela Doty, Ph.D.Audio Clip
Senior Policy Analyst
Office of Disability, Aging and Long-Term Care Policy
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Mentor to:
2006-07 – Vidhya Alakeson (U.K.)

Alan B. Cohen, Sc.D.Audio Clip
Professor of Health Policy and Management
Boston University

Mentor to:
2008-09 – Robin Gauld (New Zealand)


video iconHarkness fellows invariably describe their experiences as transformative, both personally and professionally. Hear recent fellows describe their Harkness year in their own words by clicking on the names below.

BismarkMarie Bismark, a doctor and lawyer from New Zealand, had her research widely disseminated in the U.S. and returned to six job offers.

gruenRussell Gruen of Australia says the fellowship changed the direction of his research.
FeeleyDerek Feeley of Scotland describes how the fellowship "opened doors"—and led to close friendships.

rougheadElizabeth Roughead of Australia recalls a meeting with a former head of the World Health Organization and building a state drug database.
Vidhya AlakesonVidhya Alakeson discusses her Harkness project on Patient-Centered Self Direction.
Katharina JanusKatharina Janus discusses the impact of the Harkness Fellowship on her research and career.
BryanStirling Bryan of the United Kingdom discusses bringing his young family to California, and the rare chance to step back and reflect on his career.

 

The Harkness Experience for Families

The Harkness Fellowships are not just about health care policy and research but also the opportunity for a wonderful, unique, and unforgettable family experience. Moving a family to the U.S. for the Fellowship year raises a lot of questions for potential applicants, from how to approach making the move and what it might mean for the family, to finding the right community to live in and a great home, the best schools, and making sure that it's as good a year for families as for Fellows. To help give you a sense of how Harkness Fellows have handled the family component of the Fellowship, we asked recent alumni how the process worked for them and are pleased to be able to share their comments below:

Mark Booth  (New Zealand), a 2006-07 Commonwealth Fund Harkness Fellow in Health Care Policy, is currently Assistant Secretary, Department of Health and Ageing, Australia.

Tips for getting settled in the U.S., including practical advice on finding housing, schools, logistics/paperwork, partner’s employment, etc.

"We got our house through the University. Brown University was incredibly helpful and friendly in helping us settle in. They also gave advice on schools, transport, etc.”

How was the Harkness experience for your children? Did they like the schools? Was it easy to make friends? How was their transition upon returning to your home country?

“I went with my wife and 14-year-old daughter. We enrolled my daughter into school the day after we arrived. The enrollment was very simple and Jasmin attended the school for almost a year. She had a great time and remains in close contact with the friends she made during the year. She has been back to Rhode Island once to meet up with her friends and they also traveled to New Zealand to stay with us.”

Where was your placement? What neighborhood did you live in, and what was your experience there?

“My placement was at Brown University in Rhode Island. I lived about a 25 minute drive out of Providence in a beautiful town called Barrington. This was ideally located on the road to Newport and had great shops and beaches. We lived in a large house with a big garden—the neighborhood was very friendly.”

Traveling in the U.S. Were you able to travel much? Would you recommend it to incoming Fellows?

“I traveled a lot. For my research I spent time in Maine, New York, and Minnesota. Additionally we saved up holidays and spent our last few weeks in the U.S. driving from coast to coast—from Providence to LA via Chicago, Denver, and Las Vegas.”

What were the highlights of your Fellowship year, from a personal standpoint?

“The friends I made and the travel I did. My mentor (Prof. Vince Mor) recently stayed with me during his sabbatical trip to Australia.”

What would you and your family do differently if could do your Fellowship year again?

“I don't think I would change very much at all.”

Any reassurance that you can provide that despite it seeming like a daunting proposition, it all really does work out Okay?

“I was a bit concerned that my daughter would not make friends easily—how wrong I was! We all had a great time.

Look at going to some of the less 'popular' universities. I had a great experience at Brown, where there are not as many overseas fellows unlike some of the larger universities. Also my money went far further in Rhode Island than my colleagues who chose to go to Boston, New York, or San Francisco!

Also many fellows tended to have young children. I would encourage prospective fellows with older children to also take up the opportunity.”

 

Antoinette de Bont, Ph.D. (The Netherlands), a 2010-11 Commonwealth Fund Harkness Fellow in Health Care Policy, is associate professor of health policy and management, Erasmus University, Rotterdam.

Tips for getting settled in the U.S., including practical advice on finding housing, schools, logistics/paperwork, partner’s employment, etc.

“We traveled in May 2010 to California to find a house and a school which worked out great. It made our start in August easier. One of the small practical things we learned was from the Bank of America: when you need a social security number for an payment and you do not have one yet, just fill in only 9’s.”

How was the Harkness experience for your children? Did they like the schools? Was it easy to make friends? How was their transition upon returning to your home country?

“The first month Josien (age 10) and Rosa (age 8) missed having friends, but after a couple of weeks they had many play dates and sleepovers. Josien and Rosa liked their school very much. They especially liked all the positive feedback they got. They were sad to be going back to the Netherlands.”

Where was your placement? What neighborhood did you live in, and what was your experience there?

“I was placed at Kaiser Permanente. We lived in Rockridge in Oakland, close to the BART (metro). It is a great neighborhood with a French bakery, an Iranian grocery, and Belgian butcher. It really made a difference to live in a cozy neighborhood.”

What were the highlights of your Fellowship year, from a personal standpoint?

“The performances of our girls on stage in English.

Three Thanksgiving parties in two days with an Iranian, an American, and a Spanish family.

The many new and very close friends we made.”

What would you and your family do differently if could do your Fellowship year again?

“It was a perfect year for our family. We would have liked to stay longer.”

Any reassurance that you can provide that despite it seeming like a daunting proposition, it all really does work out Okay? 

“For our family being in the States was a very special experience. The kids made many new friends at their school. Also the school offered a welcoming and warm community. Being together in the same great adventure made our family even stronger. My husband did voluntary work at Goodwill in San Francisco as a coach which he really enjoyed. You are never alone in the warm Commonwealth Fund family.”

Robin Gauld, Ph.D. (New Zealand), a 2008-09 Commonwealth Fund Harkness Fellow in Health Care Policy, is associate professor of health policy in the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, and director of the newly formed Centre for Health Systems that spans the Otago Medical and Business schools.

What was your Harkness experience in general, focusing on the personal/family aspect? 

“There was a lot involved in shifting to another country with a 6- and 10-year-old, but we had a true adventure in every sense of the word, which we would do all again tomorrow.”

Tips for getting settled in the U.S., including practical advice on finding housing, schools, logistics/paperwork, partner’s employment, etc.

“We used sabbaticalhomes.com and greatschools.org. Put a lot of time into ensuring we would be living in a family friendly area, with good public schools, and these for us were crucial for a year in a new environment. My wife brought some work with her from New Zealand (writing a film script) but regretted that. She’d like to have spent more time involved in the local community and school activities. The parent association was very strong and a great source of friends. Her advice is to be active at school, volunteer for everything, and walk all the neighbors' dogs.”

How was the Harkness experience for your children? Did they like the schools? Was it easy to make friends? How was their transition upon returning to your home country?

“Loved the school and the whole experience. They really grew through it. The school drove them academically and in every other way (very focused on high performance!). My son who did grade 5 was bottom of class in math on arrival (they said he was fine in New Zealand for his age). Fiske Elementary School worked out. He was actually good at math, and [they] taught him properly from what we can tell. He sat the Mass. state exams in all subjects just before we left and was in the 95th percentile for math—straight on his way to MIT! My daughter made wonderful friends (first grade), and had a strong American accent by the time we departed for home(lost it in two weeks). The transition home was very smooth, back into our house which was rented to visiting academics on sabbaticalhomes.com.”

Where was your placement? What neighborhood did you live in, and what was your experience there?

“Boston University, along with co-mentors at Harvard. We worked to ensure we lived in a family-friendly area and wound up in Lexington Mass., in the home of an MIT professor who was on sabbatical. Lexington is where university professors with kids live and home of the Battlegreen where the British fought the Minutemen in 1776. It was very historical, totally family oriented and had one of the best public school systems in the U.S.A. Our kids (age 6 and 10) had one of the greatest school years ever, we made friends with all our neighbors (we walked all their dogs, and went to their parties) and other parents in the district, and got totally involved in the local community. We traveled around New England a bit and took a road trip to Washington and New York, but enjoyed the Boston area so much we didn’t feel the need to move around. We really miss our time there!”

What were the highlights of your Fellowship year, from a personal standpoint?

“Growth in every way and a confidence that can only be found through recognizing that you can hold your own amongst America’s finest researchers; I’m also now seeing more and more the magnitude of being part of the Commonwealth Fund ‘family’. It’s been enormously beneficial back home, and with international activities involving several other fellows.”

What would you and your family do differently if could do your Fellowship year again?

“My wife says, as above, she would not try and do any work. Other than that, I don’t think we’d do anything differently. We’d happily live in Lexington again (my son wishes he was back in school there), and I’d happily do another year with Alan Cohen etc. (don’t hesitate to ask!).”

Any reassurance that you can provide that despite it seeming like a daunting proposition- it all really does work out okay

“Yes, just talk with other fellows with kids. It’s always tough, like any holiday with kids is. The advantage is that, once you’re there in the U.S., it’s for a period and things do settle. You can relax and enjoy life there.”


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