Harkness Fellowships Overview

First offered in 1925 and envisioned as a “reverse Rhodes Scholarship,” the Harkness Fellowships are the Commonwealth Fund’s longest-running program. Nearly 100 years later, they remain a flagship of the Fund’s International Health Policy and Practice Innovations program. Today, the Harkness Fellowships in Health Care Policy and Practice provide a unique leadership development experience for midcareer professionals — policymakers, researchers, clinical leaders, health care executives, and journalists — from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and the United Kingdom. 

During their year in the United States, Harkness Fellows conduct internationally comparative research on a key health care delivery or policy issue with mentorship from leading U.S. experts. They gain an in-depth understanding of the U.S. health care system and policy landscape, engage in a series of leadership development activities, and build a robust network for cross-national exchange and collaboration. Perhaps most importantly, the Harkness Fellowships give future leaders the space to think and reflect without the pressures of day-to-day job responsibilities. 

Harkness Fellows are expected to publish the results of their research. Products may include a peer-reviewed journal article or report for a high-level policy audience, as well as issue briefs, op-eds, and blog posts. Depending on the nature of the project, other products more relevant to frontline delivery system innovation also may be encouraged. Building on their fellowship experiences, Harkness Fellows have moved into prominent positions within government, academia, and care delivery organizations, making valuable contributions to health policy and practice both at home and in the United States. Harkness Fellows also become part of a strong international network of health policy researchers and practitioners and have continued opportunities to engage with the Commonwealth Fund throughout their careers. 

Applicants must demonstrate their commitment to advancing health policy and practice in line with the Commonwealth Funds mission to promote a high-performing health care system that achieves better access, improved quality, and greater efficiency, particularly for society’s most vulnerable, including low-income people, the uninsured, and people of color. The Fund is committed to becoming an antiracist organization, and all prospective Harkness Fellowships applicants should review our Vision and Pledge to Promote Racial Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion

A typical fellowship class is comprised of one Fellow from Australia, one from Canada, two from France, one from Germany or the Netherlands, one from New Zealand, one from Norway, and three from the United Kingdom. Tapping into its extensive network in the United States, Fund staff work closely with all selected fellows to identify potential mentors who are experts in their area of interest. Mentors supervise Fellows’ research, provide technical expertise and guidance, and facilitate access to relevant data, contacts, and organizations. Through their mentors, Fellows are affiliated with an institution — university, think tank, health care organization, government agency — that serves as their home base for the year. 

Fellowship Seminars

Throughout the year, Harkness Fellows participate in a rich program of seminars organized by the Commonwealth Fund. The following is a representative sample of recent Harkness seminars. 

Orientation: Held at the Commonwealth Fund headquarters in New York City, the orientation seminar introduces Harkness Fellows to each other and the Fund and delves into current delivery system and health policy issues in the United States. 

Qualitative Research Methods: Fellows often choose to conduct qualitative research during their time in the U.S. and this seminar covers the essential components of effective qualitative research, from developing data collection tools to verifying conclusions. 

Communications Training: Effective communication is essential to maximizing the impact of any research. Fellows engage in a series of interactive trainings that address both written and verbal communication strategies. Topics range from writing and placing op-eds to talking to policymakers (a.k.a. crafting your “elevator pitch”). 

Washington Policy Briefing: Designed to give Fellows an “inside the Beltway” look at how health policy is made in the U.S., this seminar includes meetings with key stakeholders — members of Congress and senior government officials, political strategists for the Republican and Democratic parties, lobbyists, think tank researchers and prominent journalists — to highlight the U.S. political process and current issues on the health and social policy agenda. 

California Site Visits: With nearly 40 million residents, California is the most populous state in the U.S., making it a fascinating place to explore health care at the state level. Traveling between Sacramento, Oakland, and San Francisco, Fellows meet with leaders in state government, the insurance marketplace, care delivery, and health technology. 

Leadership Conversations: Fellows participate in a series of conversations that examine the core concepts of leadership. Through these, they meet influential people in U.S. health care and hear their thoughts on what is takes to be an effective leader. Speakers are drawn from care delivery organizations, government, industry, and academia and are asked to share insights from their leadership experience. 

Final Reporting: Toward the end of the fellowship year, Fellows present their learnings to Commonwealth Fund staff and other health policy experts, in preparation for returning home and disseminating their findings more broadly.

Fellowship Award

The fellowship award provides dedicated research funding and a generous living stipend, including round-trip airfare, a fixed monthly stipend for living expenses, health insurance coverage, and payment of U.S. federal and state withholding taxes. An additional family supplement is provided to fellows accompanied by a partner and/or children under the age of 18. Exact terms of the award may vary by country. 

Fellows are encouraged to seek salary support from their home-country employer, particularly if coming from a for-profit organization. In some cases, Fellows may opt to arrange paid leave from their home institution (in lieu of receiving the monthly living stipend) to maintain their current income. If partial salary support is provided by a Fellow’s home institution, it will be supplemented by the Commonwealth Fund to meet the amount of the monthly living stipend. 

Learn More About the Harkness Fellowships

View the Harkness Fellows panel discussion at the 2020 International Forum on Quality and Safety in Healthcare: Insights on COVID-19s Economic and Mental Health Consequences (includes an overview of the Harkness Fellowships program starting at 31:40).

See what former Harkness Fellows have to say about their experience in the program and reach out to learn more. If you are unable to connect with a particular Fellow, please email Molly FitzGerald ([email protected]) to confirm their contact details.

To receive email notification about future informational webinars or the application timeline, send your name and country to [email protected].