In this edition, meet Sean Bland, an Associate at O'Neill. Sean is a Georgetown Law alumnus who joined the O'Neill Institute in 2015.
When did you first realize that a career at the intersection of public health and policy was a good fit for you?
In college, I never thought I would do policy work. While others were studying politics and interning on the Capitol Hill, I was spending time studying German language and history and doing research in psychology. The psychology background ultimately led me to work at the Fenway Institute, an interdisciplinary center for research, training, education and policy development focusing on HIV and LGBT health issues. I took a research associate position where I helped to coordinate research projects focused on social and behavioral factors affecting HIV transmission and prevention among gay and bisexual men and transgender individuals. Through this work, I started to realize that a career at the intersection of pubic health and policy would be an effective way to improve HIV outcomes.
What was your path to the O'Neill Institute?
I attended Georgetown Law because I intended to pursue a career in health law and policy. During law school, I worked as a research assistant at the O'Neill Institute, and I worked at a law firm upon graduation. While working in private practice, I was introduced to Jeffrey Crowley, the Project Director of the O'Neill Institute's National HIV/AIDS Initiative, who recruited me back to O'Neill.
Does your past professional experience bring a unique perspective or advantage to your work at the O'Neill Institute?
I have unique background in that I have worked both as a public health researcher and as a lawyer. Prior to commencing my career in law, I conducted community-based HIV research. I developed qualitative and quantitative research skills, and I worked in the HIV community and gained a broad understanding of HIV prevention and treatment. I have also practiced law and have ability to conduct legal and policy analysis.
What are your current projects at the O'Neill Institute?
I work with Jeff Crowley and the National HIV/AIDS Initiative and devote part of my time to the Ryan White Policy Project. The Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program is the single largest federal program designed specifically for people living with HIV in the United States. The program plays a critical role in the public health response to the domestic HIV epidemic by supporting medical care and supportive services that help people with HIV live longer and healthier lives. Through the Ryan White Policy Project, we engage policymakers and diverse stakeholders in support of sustaining and adopting the program to best meet current and future needs.
I also work on a project that supports state health departments to use and share insurance claims data for implementing effective HIV care and prevention programs. For this project, I conduct research on privacy and confidentiality laws governing the sharing of claims data and am preparing a policy brief to help health departments navigate these laws.
What excites you most about your work?
We are integrating legal and policy analysis to help policymakers and other stakeholders access policy options that support the effective implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. This work has the potential to improve the lives of millions of people living with and affected by HIV in the United States. Another great thing about my work is that I collaborate with leading HIV policymakers, researchers, and clinicians and engage with experts working on the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, and broader health policy issues. At the same time, I have an opportunity to work with and learn from community-based organizations and advocates. I enjoy doing high-level legal and policy research while maintaining direct connections with the community.
Who inspires you?
I have a lot of respect for Kenneth Mayer, the founder, Co-Chair and Medical Research Director of the Fenway Institute, where I worked for two years. Ken has been involved in HIV/AIDS research since the earliest days of the epidemic. I am inspired by his enduring commitment to both HIV/AIDS research and LGBT health. What I admire most about Ken is his heart and compassion. Ken works with many important researchers and decision-makers, but he also engages with the community and is a wonderful mentor. The driving force for Ken is always helping LGBT and other people living with and affected by HIV.
What are your other areas of interest?
I like gay-themed movies and television shows, even bad ones. I spent this past summer trying to see as many classic films as possible, including The Boys in the Band, Parting Glances, and Changing Our Minds: The Story of Dr. Evelyn Hooker. I also try to stay current on new films and enjoy attending Reel Affirmations, DC's annual LGBT film festival. In addition, I am a bit of a Germanophile and like to keep up my German language skills and attend German cultural and educational events.
What book are you reading right now?
I enjoy reading historical nonfiction, particularly books that concern the history of LGBT movements. Currently, I am reading Safe Space: Gay Neighborhood History and the Politics of Violence by Christina Hanhardt. Safe Space is a history of LBGT activism against violence framed in the context of broader debates about poverty, gentrification, and policing in New York and San Francisco.