Category: General News, Student Experience, University News

Title: Trimming heart disease risk, one haircut at a time

Georgetown School of Medicine (SOM) students Ryan Braun (M‘26), Evan Czulada (M‘25), Stefan Prvulovic (M‘27), Holly Shan (M’25) and Mana Sheykhsoltan (M‘25) were awarded a scholarship prize of $3,000 at the tenth annual Georgetown Public Policy Challenge (PPC) finals hosted by the McCourt School of Public Policy on April 5, 2024.

The School of Medicine team pose alongside Jacci Clevenger holding a commemorative check
The School of Medicine team was awarded a scholarship prize of $3,000 for winning the 2024 Georgetown Public Policy Challenge. McCourt School Director of Student Engagement Jacci Clevenger (center) presented a commemorative check at a reception following the finals event on April 5, 2024.

Among the 40 team applications submitted, five finalist teams advanced to the final round. Each team of graduate students presented their work to a live audience and a panel of judges, including McCourt School alumni, former PPC winners and Georgetown University’s associate vice president of community engagement and local government.

The SOM team’s winning policy proposal, Trimming the Risk, suggested a new partnership between the DC government and local barbershops to increase blood pressure readings and connect at-risk patients with care.

“During my time on hospital rotations, I saw countless patients who presented with devastating outcomes due to uncontrolled high blood pressure,” said Shan, a health justice scholar at the SOM. 

Shan called on friends and colleagues with a shared passion for addressing the hypertension crisis in DC, and together, they discovered that barbershops in states like California, Texas and Colorado were conducting blood pressure checks on clients. “So we thought, ‘why not try this in DC?’”

She and her teammates submitted a proposal to address heart disease in the DC metro area for the 2023 Public Policy Challenge but did not advance past the initial round.

“It took a few months of soul-searching to realize that our proposal was just too large in scale and a bit too chaotic,” said Braun. 

Barbershop intervention, which played a minor role in the SOM team’s previous pitch, became the single most important component of their second attempt.

School of Medicine Team presents on hypertension in front of policy challenge judges
Evan Czulada (M‘25), Holly Shan (M’25), Ryan Braun (M‘26), Mana Sheykhsoltan (M‘25) and Stefan Prvulovic (M‘27) presented their policy proposal to a live audience and a panel of judges.

“We were fired up to show everyone why we believed in it and how it provided an opportunity to put health care back in the hands — and hearts — of the community,” said Braun.

Trimming the Risk marks the second policy proposal win for a School of Medicine team in three years. Czulada attributes the School’s recent successes to the unique ability of medical students to leverage their passions for helping people and translate their experiences into solutions. 

“Over four years, we acquire immense amounts of information about the human body and what can go wrong, and we are exposed to countless patient stories across numerous clinics, hospitals and community organizations, thus giving us a firsthand view of the daily problems our patients face,” said Czulada.

“We are immensely impacted and become motivated to address issues we know need solving. Our training provides us with the skills necessary to effectively show policy practitioners and decision-makers how our privileged position can help implement solutions,” he said.

The care and attention with which the SOM team members approach the practice of medicine is also evident in their policy proposal. Community values, such as enduring connections, trust and loyalty shared between clients and their barbers are all central themes.

“Leveraging this bond was pivotal in securing community buy-in,” said Sheykhsoltan, emphasizing that the team carefully considered the perspectives and priorities of both barbers and their clients throughout the development process.

School of Medicine Team celebrates their first-place win
The School of Medicine team celebrates their first-place win, which marked the second policy proposal win for a SOM team in three years.

“Ultimately, empowering the voice of the community through simple yet effective steps helped our policy resonate with others and led to our success in the Public Policy Challenge,” said Prvulovic. 

In the coming months, Braun, Czulada, Prvulovic, Shan and Sheykhsoltan intend to work with community leaders and policymakers to implement their proposal in DC. 

Learn more about the annual Georgetown Public Policy Challenge here.