Inquiry Magazine Northwestern School of Education and Social Policy


Josh Parish

Joshua Parish Explores the Intersection of Law and Health

By Rebekah Snyder
Josh Parish

Joshua Parish recalls a moment in Introduction to Social Policy when he knew the School of Education and Social Policy was the right place for him. “It’s really up to you to make what you want of this experience,” instructor Marvin Cohen challenged the class.

“It can be hard to explain what social policy is,” observes Parish. “It can be a mile wide and an inch deep.” But it was the breadth, flexibility and interdisciplinary approach of the SESP program, combined with the proximity to Chicago’s unique social issues, that appealed to the Minnesota native, who is truly making the most of his Northwestern experience.

The senior honors student has always had an interest in social justice and equity, but as a sophomore he began to narrow his focus to health. That year, a SESP class led by the head of the Feinberg School of Medicine’s Program for Healthcare Equity focused on the disparities in public health across racial and economic lines in urban environments like Chicago. “Health has always fascinated me,” Parish says, “because a part of me has always wanted to help people.” The class affirmed Parish’s view that access to quality health care is a social justice issue.

“This was after the Affordable Care Act had been passed but before the Supreme Court ruling upheld the law,” remembers Parish. “As a result of all the swirling health policy issues, I really became interested in the intersection of law and health.” He has found SESP to be the perfect environment for exploring that interest. For his junior year practicum, Parish worked for Evanston- based Care Team Connect, which provides a cloudbased care coordination platform for health networks, and this past summer he interned at Healthbox, an accelerator for health technology related companies. The real-world exposure has been invaluable.

Now concentrating on his senior thesis, Parish is studying an under-explored area of law related to medical tourism, specifically regarding Americans who travel abroad to receive surgeries. “These are not the wealthiest Americans. These are middle-class individuals traveling because the cost of certain surgeries is so much less in other countries.” But the law has not caught up to this reality. Parish is examining the implications for the American health care market for providers, insurers and consumers. “What I love most about SESP is that as I began to explore my interest in health policy, the program is so flexible, allowing you explore those interests outside of the school itself.”

This outward focus has marked Parish’s experience from his first days on campus. As a new student, the Freshman Urban Program (FUP), a six-day pre-orientation program, was especially impactful. “Here you are, in a brand new city with 80 kids you don’t know, and you’re seeing things and discussing things you never imagined,” he recalls. It was such a powerful experience for Parish that he became a counselor in each of the following years. “I learn as much from the new students as I teach them,” he says.

The campus leader is also a student coordinator for Northwestern’s Public Interest Program and an executive co-chair of Dance Marathon 2014. The campuswide fundraiser raised more than $1.3 million for this year’s beneficiary, Team Joseph, which funds cutting- edge medical research on treatment or a cure for Duschenne muscular dystrophy. “Dance Marathon has been a favorite part of my Northwestern experience,” says Parish. “People from all over campus who wouldn’t normally interact are working together to really challenge themselves. I think it’s so popular because it’s a huge challenge, and I think that says a lot about Northwestern students.”

“College is such an incredible time to allow yourself to fail,” Parish tells his incoming FUP students. “At no other point can you do that and fall back on professors, classes and friends.” This remarkable SESP student doesn’t seem to be failing at much, but he certainly is making the most of his Northwestern experience. As he tells new students, “There’s so much to do, so much you can do ... so why not?”