UACCM Alum Dedicates Career to Health Care Policy

Michael Lambert stands in front of the Capital dome in Washington, DC
Michael Lambert built a career on health care policy from Capitol Hill to government relations in the private sector. Photo courtesy of Michael Lambert.

When Michael Lambert tries to pinpoint when U.S. politics became a big passion to him, he thinks back to his studies at UACCM.  

Since graduating from UACCM in 2006, he has worked on campaigns for elected office and served as a congressional staffer. That led him to focusing his career on healthcare policy. Today, he serves as senior manager for state government relations at the McKesson Corporation, a pharmaceutical company based out of Texas, and earned recognition as UACCM’s Outstanding Alumni of the Year.

For Lambert, his passion for politics came from a student meeting on campus, when a campaign organizer was trying to get students active in politics. The organizer encouraged Lambert to work on a local race that introduced him to a new career.

“I thought it would be good to add volunteer work to my resume and get to know people,” Lambert said. “Political work was never something I imagined I would be doing, but I fell into it and have been doing it ever since.”

 

UACCM laid the foundation to his passion

Originally a native from Conway, Lambert grew up in a college town in what he describes as a typical family. When he decided on a college, however, he looked out of the city and chose UACCM due to finances. He didn’t see the need to pay outstanding sums of money on general education courses at a university, when a campus nearby offered the same coursework. UACCM proved an easy choice, he said.

 “College is expensive,” he said. “The ability to get the bulk of coursework done in a small and familiar environment was appealing. The ease to get my general coursework out of the way made sense.”

A central part of Lambert’s time as a UACCM student was developing relationships with faculty members. His day-to-day interactions transformed his time at UACCM, he noted, as he found more personal interactions with instructors. “They challenge you and make you think outside of the box,” he said.

Lambert’s relationship with Traye McCool, a history instructor at the college, is a perfect example. “He and I would just argue in classes,” Lambert said, before adding a laugh. “Mr. McCool offered a different perspective than mine on many things, but he did it in a way that challenged me. I use those analytical skills in politics today to try to understand a different point of view.”

At the University of Central Arkansas, he majored in political science and communication. Those studies paid off when he found work in political campaigns for a decade, including a presidential campaign in 2008.   

 

Basing his career on health care policy

When Lambert wanted to broaden his horizons outside of campaigning, he got an offer to join the congressional staff of newly-elected Congressman Bruce Westerman in 2014. Lambert had some freedom of developing his own policy portfolio—a profile of issues he would cover—since he was joining a new office. He sought feedback from friends who worked in Washington, D.C. on what portfolio to develop. He was searching for the low-hanging fruit to help him advance his career.

“Most of the feedback they gave me was to pursue defense and intelligence,” he said. “But very few people covered healthcare policy well. This was a time when Medicaid expansion was a looming topic for the general public.”

“Before then, healthcare policy was a technical, in-the-weeds discussion that most people didn’t really think about,” he said. “People largely just followed what their insurance plan was telling them at the time.”

Learning the issues involved hours of reading, but Lambert quickly embraced the issue and discovered how impactful it was on the public. It also helped him recognize that most people don’t fully understand this policy area that plays a vital role in their lives. While he developed a particular passion for Medicaid, he discovered how healthcare is a broad policy area. For example, how businesses can provide health insurance to employees, or how public health institutions can advance cancer research.

“There are enough T.V. shows out there that make congressional work look fun,” he said. “It has its moments, but 80 percent of the work is reading article and white papers about policy.”

In 2016, he left Capitol Hill to join the Modern Medicaid Alliance, a collective of organizations and grassroots members, as its executive director, where he drove policy discussions about Medicaid.

Today, he works as a lobbyist to consult state and federal legislators about healthcare policy. He covers a territory made up of Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, and everywhere else to the east. To put it simply, he communicates with staffers and legislators about specific, technical issues, and he witnesses the value of his work. His role is particularly important for state legislators, who don’t necessarily have a full-time staff to brief them on every issue.

“It makes a difference,” he said. “Most of the members don’t come from healthcare backgrounds. So it’s my job to communicate specific information in a way where those who don’t come from those backgrounds can think through and understand them.”

 

Outstanding Alumni of the Year offers lessons learned to current students

In 2020, Lambert gained recognition as UACCM’s Outstanding Alumni of the Year. There he learned the basis to his analytical skills, developed academic skills as a researcher, and trained to be a communicator. He hopes that more people realize the benefits of a community college education. And he encouraged current students to take every advantage at UACCM.

 “You can have the ability to form strong, foundational knowledge to the basics, whether it’s math, writing, or communications,” he said. “Spend the time that you need to do those things well at UACCM, because if you do, then you will succeed wherever else you transfer.”

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