I wore braces in middle school. My mom would leave work and pick me up at school for orthodontist appointments. I remember sitting in the waiting room and wondering: How do kids whose parents can’t leave work get dental care? Why isn’t the orthodontist’s office located right next to the school so kids could walk over to their appointments without their parents missing work?
It wasn’t until I was in college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison that I realized this type of question represented an inquiry into the ways societal structures influence people’s health. Intrigued by the intersection of systems and health, I took several classes in the History of Medicine department and, later, attended a presentation by Dr. Pat Remington that helped me find my true passion—health policy.
I seized the opportunity to “test-drive” the relatively new dual degree program offered by the UW-Madison School of Medicine and Public Health and the La Follette School of Public Affairs. These programs provided me with classes, mentors, and opportunities that shaped my career path.
As a Graduate Program Assistant at the Population Health Institute (PHI), I participated in a project focused on in-depth analysis of the state’s BadgerCare Plus Medicaid expansion to childless adults. My ability to participate in complex policy negotiations today can be traced back to what I learned from listening to and observing the careful work of experts in the field navigating an advanced, team-based approach to qualitative and quantitative policy analysis. I’ll never forget that experience.
As a Graduate Patient Advocate at the Center for Patient Partnerships (CPP), I worked with individuals who had received a terminal or life-altering diagnosis and strove to help them navigate the challenges and pitfalls of the cumbersome United States healthcare system. During my time with CCP, I gained an understanding of how the requirements of Medicaid and Medicare affect people and developed skills to help them obtain doctor referrals, interpret hospital billing, and access public support programs. Unfortunately, I soon needed those skills in my personal life. My father became terminally ill and, while still earning my MPH/MPA degrees, I became his primary caregiver. That experience was my greatest lesson in public health to date. I learned more than I ever wanted to know about the challenges of navigating the health care system and making health insurance companies deliver promised benefits. I also gained a deep understanding of the stress that caregivers experience. After my dad died, I took a year off and moved to Costa Rica, where I obtained certification as a yoga teacher. I still practice yoga for my own health and I teach classes for women who have experienced domestic violence.
About a year after I graduated, I was honored to receive a coveted two-year Wisconsin Population Health Service Fellowship position. To say this was a dream come true is a powerful understatement. Rarely is anyone given such an opportunity to explore, learn, try, fail, reach, expand, and ask an endless number of questions. Those two years flew by with learning and passion projects. While in the Fellowship, I explored the interwoven nature of women’s health systems across the lifespan in my role at the State of Wisconsin’s Department of Children and Families. I conducted qualitative analysis on the impact of trauma-informed care on foster children in my role with Fostering Futures. I produced in-depth state budget analysis and advocated for policies to advance health equity in my role at the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health. I witnessed the unstoppable impact youth can have when they’re empowered to lead in my role at Providers and Teens Communicating for Health (PATCH).
My roles since leaving graduate school and the Wisconsin Population Health Fellowship have leaned steadily closer to the policy-making and advocacy components of my degrees. After moving to Denver, Colorado, I served as the Director of Government and Community Relations for Alliance, a statewide, nonprofit association of agencies dedicated to strengthening services and supports for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). Some of the work I’m most proud of in this role includes increasing wages for low-income workers who serve people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, reducing the decades-long waiting list for individuals requiring 24/7 support, and enhancing employment opportunities for people with disabilities statewide.
Today, I am the founder and principal of a lobbying and government relations firm, Emma Hudson Consulting LLC, in Denver, Colorado. I continue to work on behalf of agencies who serve people with disabilities, but now I also get to branch out to other clients doing equally powerful work. One of my clients is called Interfaith Alliance, a national organization with state-based chapters that uses an inclusive, faith-based lens to advance progressive policy in the racial, economic, and reproductive justice policy arenas. I represent them at the Colorado Capitol and support their efforts to bring leaders from various faith traditions to the Capitol to testify on bills of consequence, such as expanding age-appropriate sex education, increasing access to affordable housing, and ending the death penalty in Colorado. I am honored to work on behalf of wonderful agencies like these to help them navigate a sometimes opaque policy-making process.
Every day, I rely on the knowledge and experience I gained during my masters’ work at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. That foundation serves me well as I maneuver the complexities of owning my own business and advancing policies designed to improve public health.