As a 15-year-old, Aliza Auces recalls sitting beside her Spanish-speaking grandfather’s hospital bed interpreting his ailments to medical providers. The experiences were stressful, and she often questioned whether her translations were accurate.
It was there in those rural Idaho community hospitals where she understood that language barriers and a lack of culturally sensitive healthcare were not unique to her family. Healthcare workforce shortages and a lack of medical interpreters in hospitals often force family members of limited-English proficiency patients to step into intermediary roles like Auces.
“The experience sparked my interest in contributing to a more equitable healthcare system and giving voice to underserved communities,” she says.
Seeing the Power of Policy Up Close
After college, Auces changed course on her plan to attend medical school when she was accepted into a nine-month fellowship with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute on Capitol Hill.
“I didn’t know much about policy, but quickly figured out it was my calling,” Auces remembers. “I realized I could make a big impact, on a national level.”
She’s able to pinpoint the exact moment in 2017 that cemented her penchant for the legislative process:
“I was working in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee led by then-Ranking Chairwoman Senator Patty Murray [D-WA.],” she recalls. “Hundreds of providers, patients, and advocates from the healthcare community had descended on Capitol Hill to fight the [ultimately unsuccessful] Affordable Care Act repeal.
“Sen. Murray had to tend to an urgent matter and my supervisor put me in charge of a meeting with a concerned group of medical professionals.
“We convened in a very grand space in the Russell Senate Office Building. I was a 23-year-old Latina, the youngest and only person of color in the room, sitting at the head of a table with 20-plus surgeons from Washington State on either side of me. It felt surreal.
“As nervous as I was, I had this overwhelming feeling that this is where I belonged.”
Auces’ interpreting skills came in handy as she successfully mediated the discussion. Her experience highlighted real-time implications of policymaking. She was hooked.
I’m happy to be at a company that supports me to do work that’s innovative, equitable, and improves healthcare for everyone.
Discovering an Inclusive Environment at MITRE
Stints at the National Association of Community Health Centers and later Blue Cross Blue Shield Association—working for its health equity and Medicaid portfolios—led Auces to MITRE two years ago.
She recently commemorated the anniversary on LinkedIn:
“Now, I celebrate that I have finally found a company that values my contributions,” she wrote. “Additionally, my current project at MITRE is the most diverse team I’ve ever been part of in a professional setting and it’s thrilling to be part of a community of innovators, risk-takers, and knowledge-sharers.”
Continued Education in Health Policy
Last year, Auces’ group leads, Johanna Barazza-Cannon and Ashley Gray, encouraged her to take advantage of MITRE’s tuition reimbursement program to further her education.
“What was missing in my six-year health policy career were the deeper conversations that academic settings promote,” she says. “I took a pause during the COVID-19 lockdown and realized I was hungry for the opportunity to discuss and brainstorm how to create effective policy—policy aligned with the nation’s most pressing issues—alongside individuals with diverse perspectives.”
Eight master’s programs in public health, including multiple Ivy League universities, accepted Auces. She chose Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health for its unique and broad network.
“I felt Harvard’s reputation would enable new connections to further advance some of the health policy priorities that I hold dear to my heart,” she says, specifically pointing to expanding health insurance coverage for undocumented individuals.
Auces began the 45-credit, two-year program last fall while working here on a part-time basis. The support of her colleagues has proven invaluable, she says, citing adjusted meetings to fit with her abbreviated schedule and project work better suited for the hybrid situation.
Her role at MITRE helps inform her coursework and vice versa. Currently, her team is working on streamlining federal certification for Medicaid IT systems. It’s especially important now as states begin to conduct eligibility redeterminations following the unwinding of the continuous enrollment provision put in place during the pandemic.
In addition to balancing work and school, Auces was selected as a 2023 Aspen Ideas Health Fellow for her accomplishments. She also recently founded the Idaho Latino Young Professionals Network, a non-profit networking group for young Latinos in her home state to promote connection and opportunities for professional development.
Her LinkedIn post concluded: “I’m just happy to be part of a company that values my skills and supports me and my colleagues to do good work that’s truly innovative, equitable, and improves healthcare for everyone.”
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