Kinesiology to White House

Taking A Nontraditional Path to Healthcare Policy
August 17, 2021

KEENE, TEX. – “Poor health has a cost,” Cesar Puesan, a 2017 Southwestern Adventist University (SWAU) kinesiology graduate, points out. “It’s either going to come out of the individuals’ pocket or the taxpayers’ pocket.”

Throughout his time at SWAU, Puesan appreciated the initiative the university took to help its community. “I was always more efficient after spending some time focusing on something other than myself,” Puesan shared.

With a passion for community service, Puesan planned to go to medical school. Then his focus shifted. “I knew I wanted to do something in healthcare, but my interest wasn’t in direct care,” Puesan explains. Taking a gap year after graduation, he applied for an internship focused on healthcare policy.

Following a rigorous application process, he was accepted as a White House intern under the National Economic Council working as a research assistant to the special assistant to the president for healthcare policy.

During his internship, Puesan regularly attended a weekly Bible study hosted by then Vice President Mike Pence. That opened doors for Puesan to join the advance team for the office of the vice president. In that role, Puesan traveled with the vice president’s team to nearly every state within the United States, including some overseas trips.

In 2019, Puesan worked at the United States Department of Health and Human Services as the briefing coordinator to former Secretary Alex Azar.

Throughout the pandemic, Puesan was part of the federal government’s COVID-19 response team. As part of his responsibilities, he assembled daily interagency situational reports working with the Department of Defense, FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security. Eventually, Puesan was promoted to policy coordinator, working on healthcare policy such as Medicare and Medicaid.

“It was so many long hours,” Puesan recalls. “There was nonstop work. But as I look back, I am very proud of what we accomplished. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that taught me a lot about healthcare policy and opened many doors to my future career.”

Today, Puesan is the program and policy coordinator for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission in Austin. He oversees a $65 billion budget for client services such as Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Food Assistance and other healthcare benefits.

“I utilize my kinesiology degree regularly,” Puesan says. “As I participate in meetings talking about preventive actions and how we can better assist people within the scope of social determinants of health, we find one of the biggest problems related to preventable diseases is the lack of exercise and healthy eating habits. The foundations of my degree are the core of how I approach these issues.”

Puesan says SWAU faculty encouraged him to find what he was truly passionate about and equipped him with everything he needed to make it happen. “My path is a nontraditional one and at first I was intimidated trying to figure out how to get from the traditional medical route to healthcare policy,” Puesan admits. “But with the tools SWAU gave me and with the help of God, I easily competed with other internship applicants, some of whom graduated from Ivy League schools. Since then, doors have just continued to open.”

“SWAU taught me that if you improve the quality of life for individuals through a responsible and healthy lifestyle, you therefore improve entire communities. This is my vision for our country at a policy level. If I can raise awareness and set an example for someone else to pick up on later, I will have made a difference. And that, to me, is success.”

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By Becky St. Clair