Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Samantha creates spaces to pursue her career

I received this inquiry as a comment on a post below from a young person:

I read your blog post from a while back regarding JD-MPH and other degrees for health care. I know that you will have probably answered my main question in that post, however I was wondering if you could elaborate slightly on the role a lawyer might play in a hospital setting. My health care experience is limited and I am currently switching majors to achieve a career in the field, and have considered a JD-MPH degree; or at least up until I read your post. I am interested in Law and Medicine, so I wondered how one might combine the two.

My answer is that there is a disconnect at work right now. The demand for lawyers in the health care world will never be stronger than over the coming years. The reason is that there is a dramatic increase in compliance activities by the federal and state governments. Whether in Medicare rates and conditions, labor relations, ADA, or other arenas, the government is seeking to enforce laws governing patient care. We could theorize as to the reasons for this. Perhaps it is based on an underlying concern about patient care. Perhaps is based on the hope of extracting financial penalties from providers to help offset the rising cost of Medicare. In any event, the trend is real.

The difficulty is that hospitals, physician groups, and other providers are facing major financial pressures. Therefore, while they might have been willing in the past to offer paid internships to students wanting to pursue careers in health care law, they are less able to do so now.

The same holds for areas closely aligned to health care, such as elder law. Here, the demographic trends are strong and evident, portending an increasing demand for these services over the coming decades as the large cohort of baby boomers creates a large need for them. But, likewise, firms and social service agencies involved in those fields are not able to afford to pay law school trainees much before graduation or before you pass the bar exam.

How, then to square this circle of your personal interest and a growing societal demand for this type of lawyers with an inability of people to pay you much before you are credentialed?

The answer is that internships are available if you want to follow your interests in this area, but you need to be creative about how you will supplement your income beyond what agencies, firms, and institutions are able to pay you.

Here's one example of that kind of creativity. It is from a law student (yes, one of my former soccer players!) who was able to nab an internship with a small firm that specializes in this field. She writes:

The only issue with this internship is that they were only able to offer me $1000 for the whole summer. I know that a lot of other law students are working full time for no pay this summer, however, this was not going to work for me. Instead of moping about, I decided to be proactive and start my own side business to help support my soaring student loans. Since childhood I have always loved helping people get organized, so I thought, why not make some money doing it? I decided to call my business "Samantha's Spaces." I have created a website, advertised on craigslist, Facebook, and Angie's List, and left my business cards around at local businesses. So far I have very successful. Here is the link to my website if you would like to take a look.

So, if you want to pursue your interests in this field, you may have to join Samantha in the ranks of those in the informal economy while you pursue your training and career ambitions.


Ellen Lawton said...

Another option? Join the growing ranks of dual degreed young leaders committed to serving vulnerable populations in medical-legal partnerships, which bring "traditional" legal aid and pro bono attorneys into the clinical setting to help patients get their basic needs met. Law, medical and public health schools are following suit, bridging courses on poverty and disparities. And an MLP textbook is forthcoming from Carolina Press...all new ways to integrate law, public health and medicine to benefit patients and communities.

Anonymous said...

As a former labor lawyer about to move into a workplace safety leadership role, I cannot emphasize enough how you need to follow your interests and use your skills, rather than relying solely on the degree. I do not think formal legal training got me where I am today, but my capacity to sort out complex systems and data issues, ask questions and be assertive are certainly assets I couldn't have done without. I think I am exception though, as many healthcare leaders seem to prefer clinical experience for hiring. I feel like I lost some career flexibility because of the debt I had to incur, and so I am reluctant to encourage people to get advanced degrees if they aren't sure they will use them and still will have the debt load. It's all complicated, and I am very glad that I'm further along in my career! Good luck to you, student!