Emily Schlichting
Home Region

Omaha, NE

Undergrad Education

University of Nebraska, Political Science/Government, 2012

Previous Experience

Blue Cross Blue Shield of Nebraska, U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Health Resources & Service Administration

HBS Activities

Social Chair, Health Care Club, HBS Dems

“I’m a good example of an atypical student, but I’ve found HBS to be very welcoming of that.”

At age 19, in the spring of 2009, Emily Schlichting was diagnosed with Behcet's, a rare autoimmune disease that introduced her "to the realities of U.S. health care firsthand." Although the disease has proven manageable, her treatments led her into the belly of a very complicated beast. "I started assessing what my life would be like as a sick person. And I realized that if I didn't maintain health insurance now, I never would – I wouldn't be able to get it in the future. Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) came in and impacted my life directly."

After sharing her story with a Washington, D.C. think tank, Emily became the public face of ACA advocacy throughout her college career, speaking at press conferences, testifying to Congressional panels, and even working with the White House. President Obama's re-election campaign recorded a video in which Emily talked about how the ACA helps people like her.

"It exposed me to the duality of the health care problem," Emily says. "I saw the complexity of the system itself while experiencing more viscerally what inequality means. I was lucky, I had insurance. But it became clear how difficult it would be for those who did not. Being sick is hard enough without dealing with the financial implications of care."

Emily invested her post-college career in health care advocacy, serving in a variety of policymaking roles with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.

Understanding how the systems work together

"Three to five years ago," Emily says, "I would've told you there's no way I was going to business school. But while I was working in government, I realized we had a system so entrenched in the private sector that to effectively implement policy reform, I needed to understand how business works, particularly in health care."

To pursue her ultimate objective, "a health care system in the U.S. that provides everyone with the care they need when they need it," Emily is participating in the joint degree MBA/MPP program with HBS and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Why the joint degree? "If you're running a health care business, you can't succeed without understanding government policy. If you're in government applying policy, you can't be effective without understanding the industry you're regulating. Getting the joint degree is the best way to ensure I am literate on both sides of the health care equation."

Incorporating business into her education fits organically with Emily's ambitions. "I'm not going to be the academic expert on a policy issue," she says. "I'm somebody who's really good at managing processes and getting things done. The HBS curriculum is designed to explore all the different business functions, giving you a strong foundation in general management that's not only essential for business, but for running a large public agency."

Other schools offer joint degree programs, but Emily observes that, "Harvard is the only one that offers a seamless experience and strong community. You get the same class cohort of 20-40 people who study together for three years; you build deep relationships with people who share your passion for making a better world through both private and public initiatives."

Emily expects her career to oscillate between business and government. "I'm a good example of an atypical student," she says, "but I've found HBS to be very welcoming of that."