To Heal & To Serve: Robertson Alum Harrison Hines on Being a White House Fellow
The White House Fellows program is an incubator for the nation’s most promising emerging leaders. The bi-partisan program’s mission is to provide gifted and motivated leaders with experience governing the Nation. Robertson Alum Harrison Hines (Duke ’12) is one of the newest Fellows.
Fellows work directly with senior White House Staff, Cabinet Secretaries, and other top government officials to gain hands-on experience in public policy.
Harrison’s training is as a theologian and a neurologist. After graduating from Duke as a Robertson Scholar, he matriculated to medical school at Stanford University School of Medicine. After his second year of medical school, Harrison opted to take time away from Stanford and enroll in Duke Divinity School where he completed his Maters in Theological Studies, with a focus on Theology, Medicine, and Culture. For Harrison it was a nexus of two callings – to serve and to heal. He then parlayed those callings into public service, working for the California State Assembly. Now, as a White House Fellow Harrison joins the President’s Domestic Policy Council.
Harrison shared with RSLP his thoughts on leadership, the White House Fellowship, and extending grace and gratitude in the name of service.
Why did you want to be a White House Fellow?
Harrison Hines: Seminary actually got me really interested in policy making. It was a thought exercise in social ethics as an expression of how we believe we ought to be as a society, which winds up being policy making since policies are supposed to describe how we think things ought to be and how we should act towards one another. After Seminary, I went back to medical school and then took most of my last year off to work for the State Assembly, and I loved it. I woke up every day riding my bike through Sacramento, and I was grinning ear to ear. It was fantastic. We wrote bills, I worked with members from across the aisle to understand how to make constituents feel heard. One of the bills I was working on was signed into law a few months after I left, and that was incredible. And when I returned to medical school I just started thinking, how do I multiply my impact from just a one-to-one clinical encounter? It’s important work, working with one person at a time, but how do you broaden it? The White House fellowship was a way to do that by continuing to explore and create policy.
What excites you about being a White House Fellow?
HH: Several aspects excite me, notably to the chance to improve people’s lives outside the one-on-one clinical encounter as I mentioned before. My role is in the Domestic Policy Council, which drives the Biden-Harris Administration’s policy development and implementation. For example, the White House just held a conference on hunger, health, and nutrition which brought together hundreds of stakeholders including people with lived experiences, chefs, nutritionists, non-profit organizations, business leaders, and others to talk about how to end hunger in the United States by 2030 and improve nutrition and to decrease diet related diseases. This is the second time the conference has been held. The first one was in 1969 under President Nixon, and that conference led to the formation of transformative food programs like SNAP and WIC. The goal is for this conference to have a similar impact. We garnered over $8 billion in commitments to end hunger in addition to releasing a comprehensive national strategy from the White House. So that’s just an example of what we do on the Domestic Policy Council; it’s really powerful and thrilling work.
What are you hoping to gain from your experiences as a Fellow, and what are you hoping to contribute to the program?
HH: Another key aspect of the program is the fellowship that you develop. It really reminds me a lot of the Robertson Scholars Leadership Program in many respects. Everyone here is interested and committed to service in a similar way, and everyone has demonstrated that this is not only core to who they are professionally, but also morally and spiritually. I’m so happy to be learning alongside each and every one of the other Fellows. They all come from different backgrounds from business leaders, lawyers, military members, healthcare practitioners, and more. Working alongside people like that and thinking about how this work will translate back to clinical practice has been thrilling. What I hope to offer is a unique perspective as a theologically trained physician. I think having that pastoral bent, to be with people in the midst of suffering and offer them comfort, influences the way I approach service. I think most people go to medical school wanting to cure disease which is wonderful and I love it when I can – but often times I can’t. What I’ve realized is that what excites me more than anything is that I love being a doctor who can shepherd patients and family through the midst of suffering as best as I can, because often that’s all we can do. In particular, helping people re-narrate their lives in the context of life disrupting diseases which impair cognition or bodily function is often pastoral work. That’s what I feel I can offer and contribute, and I’m excited to see how that pastoral inflection can enhance my policy work.
How did being a Robertson Scholar impact your leadership journey?
HH: It gave me more than anything the confidence to believe that I could actually go into the world and be a servant leader. That was something I valued a lot and wanted to explore. What does it mean to embody those values? The idea that the last shall be first, and to serve the most vulnerable – those are my highest priority and to do so in a way that is authentic and embraces humility. That’s what attracted me to the Robertson at first, but there were aspects of the Program that I didn’t even realize would be the most powerful for me that I hadn’t anticipated – and those were the cohort, the people you’re with not only the Scholars, but also the Alumni community, and the staff members. You’re surrounded by a group of people who care and are trying to help you grow morally and cognitively in a way that’s going to prepare you to excel in the future. That’s really special and it was one of the most unexpected beauties of the program for me. The four years as a Scholar really gave me the confidence to think “maybe I do have something to offer.” It’s meaningful and I don’t think I would have felt that way without the Program.
What advice would you offer current Scholars?
HH: Gratitude is at the core of how I think about the world. Everything is a gift and is in turn meant to inspire you to give to others in whatever way you can. Nothing is deserved and so I see this fellowship, just like the Robertson, as an investment in me to give back to others. Knowing that everything you have should not be taken for granted is freeing. It allows you to see that, while you may not feel adequate and there may be trials, there is also so much beauty in what you do have and that you can grasp on to. There is always some good that we can work towards and something to be grateful for. For me, trying to see how it all really is a gift, it just changed the way I approach almost everything.
Are you still smiling on your way to work every day now as a White House Fellow?
HH: I am! I take the metro or the bus now, but yes everyday there’s something worth smiling about.