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Nurse practitioner becomes lawmaker
June 6, 2024

By Philadelphia Hebrew Charter Healthy Investigator reporters | Each state has lawmakers who travel to the state’s capital to represent them and help decide on laws for the state. Most of those lawmakers are not also health experts.

Dr. Tarik Khan was elected the Pennsylvania State Representative in 2022 for the area where Philadelphia Hebrew Public Charter School is located. He is also a nurse practitioner with a Ph.D.

Healthy Investigator reporters in the Metulla classroom recently had a chance to interview Rep. Khan to ask him about his work helping the communities he represents. This interview has been lightly edited.

Healthy Investigator: Please describe your job. 
Rep. Khan: I represent this community in Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania. Every place in Pennsylvania has someone who represents them to go to Harrisburg. We decide on the laws for the state. I fight for funding for our city to make sure we have what we need so you all can grow and be happy. I fight to make sure our communities are safe.

Healthy Investigator: What inspired you to become a nurse and then a politician?
Rep. Khan: My mom was a nurse. After I graduated from college, I actually worked in the entertainment industry on “The Tonight Show.” I decided it wasn’t for me, I missed Philly. My mom encouraged me to get into health care. Then, I was really happy as a nurse but I was interested in helping outside of the nurse environment. I wanted to do more for people. So I decided to run for office. The pandemic was a challenging time, and a lot of people did not get the help they needed. I felt like if I was in charge, I could have helped them better. I had a lot of ideas about health care. I decided that I would run.

Healthy Investigator: We read that you have focused some of your work on asthma. Can you tell us how asthma impacts Philadelphians and why you chose to focus on it?
Rep. Khan: There was a gas plant being built in Nicetown. The area doesn’t have a lot of trees and has a lot of pollution. They were putting in this thing that burned gas to provide electricity for the train line. I was upset because I knew this area already had bad air quality. There is a health center there, where I work, and we see lots of kids with asthma. If we can improve the air quality, we can make life better for people who have asthma, or keep people from getting asthma in the first place. We should stop doing things that are making it more difficult for people who have health conditions.

Healthy Investigator: Why did you make an effort to make parks accessible?
Rep. Khan: A friend of mine has a son who has autism and she posted a picture on social media of a fully accessible park. [That means that kids with all kinds of abilities can enjoy it. There is lots of equip- ment to play on, not just a swing set.] I was thinking that it’s a shame if you have a kid with autism and many playgrounds would not be fun for them. We know that when we make things fully accessible, it’s better for everybody. Why shouldn’t everyone have that? So now, if someone is trying to build a play- ground, you’re more likely to get funding for it if you include things on your playground that everyone can use.

Healthy Investigator: Please tell us about your work to get people vaccinated.
Rep. Khan: A friend of mine worked with me to help people with a disability who couldn’t leave the house to get a Covid vaccine. We know how important it is because so many people got sick. You had to stay home for a year before the vaccine was developed. Then we had a vaccine, but some people couldn’t get access to the shot. Meanwhile, at the end of a vaccine clinic, where people could come to us to get the shot, we had extra shots and we would throw them away. So we identified people who needed the shots, and we took the extra shots and drove them in my car to their homes to give them the shot. We gave over 900 shots.

Healthy Investigator: How does diabetes affect Philadelphians and why did you choose to focus on it? 
Rep. Khan: Recent reports show that diabetes in kids and adults is rising. In Harrisburg, we passed a resolution that November will be Diabetes Awareness Month to let people know they should get tested for diabetes. For people who already have diabetes, they should go to their doctor once every three months to get checked. One in 2 adults has either pre-diabetes or diabetes. A lot of adults and kids are having it.

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