Meet Sonia L. Canzater, an Associate at O’Neill. Sonia holds a Juris Doctor from the University of South Carolina School of Law, a Master of Public Health from the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health and a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from Temple University.

OI: When did you first realize that a career at the intersection of public health and policy was a good fit for you?

I credit the passage of the Affordable Care Act with affirming my decision to work in health law and policy. I had already been working in public health for several years when the law was passed. I have strong convictions about health care being affordable and accessible to all Americans regardless of income or employment status, and seeing the US making substantive strides towards eliminating the unacceptable health disparity in this country caused by so many people being uninsured felt like my sign that I would now have the opportunities to effect the changes I want to see in the American health care system if I entered into the health policy realm…So, here I am.

OI: What was your path to the O’Neill Institute?

Prior to moving to the Washington area, I lived in Columbia, South Carolina for 12 years. There, I worked for the department of health for several years. I did preventive care and educational interventions for maternal and child health. Educating and empowering people to be good stewards of their own health is important to me. However, it was at the department of health where I learned firsthand just how difficult it was for many to access health care for themselves and their children. I also had to deal with the frustrating repercussions of beneficial public health programs being cut due to budgeting or for political reasons. Part of my job was to inform people that their services were ending, and trying, often futilely, to find them alternative assistance. My experiences at the department of health spurred me to pursue my Masters in Public Health so I could better understand the field and figure out what role I could play in improving the nation’s public health programs. As I mentioned, the passage of the ACA was a turning point for me, so I decided to return to school for a law degree. I felt that melding my public health experience with legal knowledge would best equip me for the health policy field. I also figured that I would need to move to where the big decisions were made in order to get into public health policy, so I moved to the DC area and sought health law and policy positions, and I found the perfect one here at the O’Neill Institute.

OI: Does your past professional experience bring a unique perspective or advantage to your work at O’Neill?

I have past experience working on grant-funded programs, and having to be aware of seeking new funding opportunities to sustain our programs and our jobs, so I am always keeping an eye out for new initiatives that may be a good fit for the Institute. My experience working both in the direct service and administrative side of public health gives me insider’s knowledge of the challenges faced by those working in public health, such as budget constraints, limited resources and bureaucratic delays. This knowledge helps me to better relate to my community and advocacy partners, and it informs my opinions and writings when considering strategies and recommendations.

OI: What is your current project at O’Neill?

I work on the Hepatitis Policy Project, which focuses on barriers to access to care and treatment for those with hepatitis C. Hepatitis C affects around 4 million Americans, however resources to serve those infected are severely lacking, and the cost of the treatment can be prohibitively expensive especially to the poor or the uninsured. I work with other groups in the hepatitis C space to identify challenges and develop comprehensive strategies to improve access to care and reduce the nation’s hepatitis C infection rate.

OI: What are your other areas of interest?

I feel very strongly about the benefits of preventive health interventions and prevention education. If people knew more about how their behaviors or environment affected their health, AND if they were actually given the appropriate resources to preserve their health, Americans would have far better health outcomes than what currently exist. Non-work interests are swimming and running.

OI: What excites you most about your work?

In my current work here at O’Neill, I am excited about working on a project from its very beginning, and being responsible for making it expand and flourish. I enjoy learning more about the issues related to hepatitis C, and making contacts with other working in the space. We are all committed to working together to bring about substantive improvements to hepatitis C care and treatment for all Americans. It is exciting to be a part of actions that can so greatly improve the health and quality of life for so many people. That is exactly why I entered the field of public health policy, to be a force for change.

OI: Who do you admire and why?

The person I admire more than anyone in this world is my 17-year-old daughter, Indirah. She has had to overcome living with a disability and other health challenges, and has dealt with them with a grace and maturity I KNOW I would not have had at her age. She is always calm and practical, which is great when she has to keep her type A, oftentimes-irrational mom in check. Despite her setbacks, she managed to remain an advanced placement honors student throughout high school and be captain of her girls lacrosse team. She’s known that she wanted to be a forensic chemist from the first time we watched CSI: Miami together, and she has worked hard to set a course for herself to achieve that goal. She is on her way to the University of Maryland to study chemistry in the fall, and I live my life in constant awe of the wonderful young woman she is now, because I know she is only getting started and that she still has so much more left to become.

OI: What book are you readingright now (or what’s on your list of books to read?)

I received a copy of The Notorious R.B.G. from Oscar and Susan for Christmas, and I was recently fortunate enough to get it signed by one of the co-authors who was part of a panel discussion here at the Law Center. I am looking forward to reading this book about an incredible woman [Ruth Bader Ginsburg] and brilliant legal mind who I’ve always admired, and who emerged from humble beginnings in Brooklyn, New York, just like me.