Dr. Michael A. Simmons, a Salt Lake physician, has requested a sabbatical leave from the University of Utah to join the staff of Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, in Washington, D.C.
Simmons is a professor and chairman of the U.'s department of pediatrics. He also is medical director at Primary Children's Medical Center.In an interview with the Deseret News Friday, Simmons said he has requested a one-year leave to serve as physician-adviser to the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee, of which Hatch is ranking minority member. He will work under the direction of Nancy Taylor, an attorney, and Hatch's health policy director. Taylor is also from Utah.
The leave, if approved by Dr. William Gay, U. vice president of health sciences, will begin Jan. 1, Simmons said.
It was in March that Simmons approached the senator regarding the possibility of working on health-related matters as a member of Hatch's staff.
"The specific role is not important to me, except I would want to be useful to you and your office," Simmons told Hatch. "My goal is to learn more about national health policy formation - how the system works, or occasionally fails."
The two parties have been negotiating since March.
"The only reason I am doing this is because of the importance to my academic career," said Simmons. "I know nothing about health-policy formulation and I need to learn. It couldn't have worked out better. Hatch is from Utah. They (Hatch's staff) are terrific people."
U. physicians typically take a sabbatical leave every seven years. Simmons hasn't taken one in 17 years.
"I have been in academic pediatrics for 17 years and one of the important aspects of an academic career is renewal - thinking about new avenues of investigation," he said.
One of Hatch's top aides Friday said the senator is pleased to have a physician of Simmons' caliber joining his staff.
"We were thrilled (when he contacted us) given the man's expertise and academic background. He came highly recommended from a number of people, so we feel happy to have him come on board," said Wendy Higginbotham, legislative director. "We want him because we like to get the advise of experts in their fields."
Higginbotham said one of the major issues Hatch will address next year is a national health policy.
"Because we want to investigate all alternatives to mandated health policies, it will be helpful to us to have a physician working with us. We feel he will be a great asset to us and will make a great contribution to our staff."
Higginbotham said that while on staff, Simmons, however, will "obviously will have to recuse himself from any issues which would have a direct impact on companies he has been affiliated with."
Simmons, a graduate of the Harvard Medical School, has served as associate professor of pediatrics at both the University of Colorado Medical School and at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He has been president of both the Perinatal Research Society and the Western Society for Pediatric Research.
At both the U. and Primary Children's, he also has held many leadership positions.
Yet during his one-year stint in Washington, Simmons will have lots of bosses.
"He is willing to work in a hierarchical structure and we found that an attribute," Higginbotham said, adding that Simmons will receive half of his current U. salary while working with Hatch's staff.