Exploring Careers in Health Law

Naomi Bass, Assistant Director, Center for Co-op and Professional Advancement

What is health law? What jobs come to mind when you consider the intersection of law with the delivery of patient care and public health concerns?  These are some of the questions that I discuss with NUSL students who are interested in pursuing a career in health law.  Many NUSL students are drawn towards opportunities to do public service.  In health law, that might entail prosecuting Medicaid fraud, lobbying for the accessibility of health care, representing low-income patients through a Medical-Legal Partnership program, or advocating for improvements in environmental conditions that are harmful to public health.

Alternatively, for those students who may wish to pursue a career in health law within the private sector, there are many options beyond practicing in a law firm setting. Prior to joining CCOPA, I was in-house counsel for a large not-for-profit hospital system in Boston.  The roles of lawyers within a hospital are critically important given that hospitals operate within a complex and rapidly changing regulatory environment.  Hospital leaders rely on in-house counsel to provide advice for strategic business decisions and risk avoidance across a range of subject matter.  These issues might include:

  • responding to a privacy breach of a patient’s medical record;
  • negotiating a collective bargaining agreement with a nurses’ union;
  • conducting due diligence surrounding the acquisition of a community hospital;
  • complying with mandatory reporting requirements concerning suspected abuse of a pediatric patient;
  • drafting a technology licensing agreement; and
  • reviewing human subject research protocols.

The hospital system for which I worked had an in-house legal office composed of attorneys with expertise in the areas of Labor and Employment, Compensation and Benefits, Real Estate, Payor Contracting and Reimbursement, Fraud and Abuse, Patient Care, Litigation/Government Enforcement, Corporate Governance, Mergers and Acquisitions, Clinical Research, and Intellectual Property. While the lawyers hired to work in a hospital’s General Counsel’s office are typically practitioners with multidisciplinary experience, there may be exciting opportunities for recent law school graduates to apply their skills elsewhere within the hospital setting in areas including Government Affairs, Compliance, Privacy/Information Security, Human Resources, Risk Management, Tax, and Contracting.

So how can NUSL students make the most of their law school experience to succeed in a post-graduate job search in health law? Through our co-op program, students have the unique opportunity to work alongside health law practitioners in a variety of environments and gain a better understanding of the relevant legal issues from different perspectives.  Recently, NUSL students have arranged for co-ops with the:

The co-op experience also affords students the opportunity to network with the lawyers whose careers inspire them. Beyond co-op, students can think strategically about their coursework, exploring the broad health law curriculum offered by NUSL as well as pursuing educational opportunities offered through the new Center for Health Policy and Health Care Research.  Further, students are encouraged to join local bar associations and attend panel discussions on current health law-related topics.

Given the aging U.S. population, complex public health concerns, and uncertainty about the fate of the Affordable Care Act under the new presidential administration, the field of health law will continue to evolve and generate challenging and rewarding job opportunities for NUSL graduates.

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