SNaHP Shots: Katrina Herbst


SNaHP Shots is a regular column featuring interviews with SNaHP members from around the country who are committed to passing universal healthcare legislation in their lifetimes.

Katrina Herbst

How long have you been a member of SNaHP?

I am a medical student at Virginia Commonwealth University, and co-president of my school’s SNaHP chapter. I’ve been a member of SNaHP for 2 years, although I started collaborating with my school’s SNaHP chapter on projects involving multiple student organizations almost 4 years ago.

What personal experiences have shaped your decision to take action for universal healthcare?

I worked two very different jobs in Arizona for a few years before medical school. I waited tables at a family-owned Mexican restaurant, and I was a medical scribe in an emergency room. Both jobs exposed me to the realities of how our health system consistently fails to meet the needs of its population.

For example, one of the line-cooks I worked with had not seen a doctor for more than 15 years. By the time he had his blood sugar checked by a pharmacist at a health fair, he had already lost vision in one of his eyes. During my time as a medical scribe, doctors diagnosed a patient with cervical cancer which had metastasized throughout her entire abdomen. Over and over again, I witnessed people avoid seeing doctors because they couldn’t afford their treatment, while many experienced the life-altering progress of preventable diseases.

It is clear that without health insurance, people often don’t go to their doctor, but if they don’t go, their long-term outcomes can be far worse. Now, as a medical student in the era of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), I have seen the U.S. take its first steps towards increasing insurance coverage, particularly for those of lower income, but as anyone who has done a family medicine rotation can tell you, high premiums and out-of-pocket costs are frankly prohibitive. Many continue to opt out. I am a firm believer in preventative care because of these experiences, and this is why I advocate for a single-payer healthcare system.

Despite your busy schedule as a medical student, why have you decided to devote your time and energy to the movement for universal healthcare?

We medical students are very protective of our time, as we don’t often have much to spare. One of the benefits of working with an organization built by healthcare professionals is that those I work with are very sensitive to this. We do our best to work efficiently, but the time also feels well-spent.

How has your involvement in SNaHP encouraged others to join this struggle or to take a closer look at a single-payer healthcare system?

I have been involved in recruiting movements and General Assembly lobby days, but my most meaningful conversations have taken place in the patient-care setting with my professional colleagues. Something as simple as a frustrated comment about finding an affordable antibiotic is an opportunity to provoke a deeper discussion about systemic change. I credit SNaHP and PNHP for providing me the resources to learn to speak intelligently about single payer in a way that might inspire others to consider this alternative.

Do you see the right to healthcare as a single issue or one that is linked with other human rights efforts?

What all human rights efforts have in common is that no single issue is exempt from financial disparity. For example, before women were allowed to establish checking accounts in their own name at banks, they were unable to build the credit required for any purchasing power, even if they were allowed to hold a job and earn a paycheck. Universal health coverage would not eliminate the problem of poverty, but it would remove one of the largest barriers to health access that exist as a result of poverty.

Do you believe that universal healthcare will be achieved during your lifetime?

I do. One of the criticisms of the ACA is that it is partially funded by a portion of the population that does not benefit from it as much as those at the lowest income bracket have. A universal system, on the other hand, would be for everyone. Although many take issue with requiring everyone to participate in a program that some do not need, it’s the most viable solution to provide healthcare for everyone. After all, no one can live their entire life without needing to visit the doctor.

What are some things in your city or state that you can do to make universal healthcare a reality?

The obvious answer is to find like-minded peers and physician mentors and join or create your own SNaHP chapter, and come to our SNaHP summit and our PNHP conference!

As medical students, we also have a huge opportunity to reach our peers. Many medical school curriculum include lectures about health insurance. If your school or professor is agreeable, ask if a few Powerpoint slides could be added to the lecture that highlight how poorly the U.S. fares in comparison to other middle to high-income nations by healthcare expenditure to outcome. Also, objectively illustrate the failures and successes of the ACA. Learning about our present system is intellectually uncomfortable, but that’s how people become motivated to seek change!

And of course, keep bothering your state reps.

Where are you located, and who is/are your state representative(s)?

Virginia has 2 senators, Senator Mark Warner and Senator Timothy Kaine, and 11 representatives.

What has been one of your most gratifying/momentous/hopeful/inspiring experiences as an advocate for single payer?

I wasn’t able to join SNaHP members at the summit this year, but I did get to video conference in for a portion. I was so encouraged by the enthusiasm and energy of my fellow members, especially during their brainstorming power hour. It’s a privilege to be part of a generation of medical students so committed to making a change.