Position: Executive director of Dialysis Patient Citizens, a membership organization for dialysis and pre-dialysis patients based in the District.
Career highlights: Director of health policy, United Way Worldwide; director of congressional and state relations, American Pharmacists Association; director of field and state operations, government relations, American Psychological Association; grass-roots and internship program director, Armenian Assembly of America.
Education: BS, Government and Politics, University of Maryland; JD, Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law; LLM, Global Health Law, Georgetown University Law Center.
Personal: Lives in Bethesda with wife Lenna.
I was 2 years old when I took part in a march at the White House on Turkey’s invasion of Cypress.
That was probably when the advocate in me was born.
My grandparents had both escaped the Armenian genocide and eventually immigrated to the United States with my parents.
My grandfather was 5 years old when he saw his three brothers, three sisters and father killed right in front of his eyes. He spent three years in an orphanage until his mother finally found him and eventually escaped to Lebanon.
Many of the scars of our family still live on. As a child, it taught me to speak out against what was wrong.
During and after college, I began working on issues from the environment to Armenian rights to mental health. I would recruit members and work on initiatives, whether saving the Everglades in Florida, clean water in New Jersey or human rights issues.
Advocacy became one of my passions.
I went back to law school to become a better advocate. I also started working on mental issues with the American Psychological Association, spearheading its grass-roots and state advocacy efforts that impacted federal policy.
I began realizing that everything starts with health. Without it, nothing else matters — not money or education. My passion for increasing access for patients really drove me to continue along the area of health.
I then began spearheading advocacy efforts for the American Pharmacists Association and eventually went back to law school once again in the evenings to complete a Master of Laws in global health law.
Then United Way Worldwide had just created a new position to help them accomplish their 10-year goal of increasing the number of healthy Americans by one-third. With my background in mental health and medication access and experience with health law, I decided to join.
I saw that I became skilled at identifying where to make an impact on an issue. At United Way Worldwide, because of how partisan the health reform debate was, we didn’t take a position for or against legislation but were incredibly involved with specific pieces, whether around children’s health coverage or advocating for prevention or increased access.
I decided to run for state office last year but, after running, I took a step back and figured out how I could continue to increase my impact.
I saw this opportunity to lead an advocacy group that is committed to improving the quality of life for patients by empowering them through education. That was too exciting to pass up.
I jumped at the opportunity.
I also had a personal connection to the issue because my aunt, who eventually passed away, was a dialysis patient.
I want to take the organization to the next step, actively engaging patients as they consider how policies may change their quality of life.
I want to ensure that as this health reform implementation moves forward, that patients aren’t adversely affected and we consider how to incentivize providers to give high quality of care.
-Interview with Vanessa Small