Where Policy and Health Care Intersect

Binney McCague ’03 says she’s known since middle school that she wanted to be a doctor. What she didn’t know until she came to Williams was that public policy was as important to her as working with patients.

“It all started in an introductory political science course my freshman year,” she says. “It opened my eyes to the intersection of health care and politics—and what causes inequality in health outcomes.”

McCague ended up double majoring in biology and political science because of that class. She also became deeply involved with the Lehman Council for Community Engagement, which promotes and facilitates community service in Berkshire County. After graduation, she spent a year working for AmeriCorps before enrolling in the University of Pittsburgh’s medical school.BinneyMcCague

After her residency in Cleveland, Ohio, McCague spent two years as a fellow in the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doing what they call “shoe leather epidemiology.” In addition to investigating outbreaks and analyzing data, this type of epidemiology involves extensive travel and the opportunity to learn what it means to be on the front lines of a public health crisis. “It’s very hands on,” McCague says. “No one is sitting back directing operations, everyone is in the field.”

McCague was assigned to the workplace illnesses division. She visited a coffee plant in Texas where a flavor-enhancing chemical was linked to lung disease, and she also led a team that investigated chemicals used in the construction of the blades on wind energy mills. The wind blade company is working with the CDC to reduce worker exposure to that chemical—which McCague’s team linked to respiratory problems. In her two years at the CDC, McCague visited five different workplace sites and contributed to dozens more studies, deepening her commitment to the intersection of public policy and health care.

But changes in her personal life necessitated changes at work. When she became pregnant with her first child, she knew the commute from her home in Pennsylvania to the CDC offices in Morgantown, W.V., would be too much. She started to look for something local.

McCague didn’t know if she would be the right fit for the teaching job she saw advertised at nearby Washington Hospital, in Washington, Pa. The residents in that program are practicing family medicine, and McCague’s training is in internal medicine and pediatrics. But her focus on public health and her experience with the CDC made her a unique candidate.

“When I decided to leave the CDC, I knew I wanted to teach. But I also wanted to find a way to stay involved with public health,” says McCague, who got the job as a clinical instructor at the Washington Hospital Family Practice Residency Program. “I get to do that here, where I can offer my students insights into conducting public health research.”

McCague says she always wants to juggle her interest in public health with her focus on teaching and seeing her own patients. “At Williams, I formed the foundation for combining community service with scholarly interests. I want to keep that going throughout my career.”