A Booming Field of Law Mirrors Aging Boomer Population: Prepare for an in-demand Career with a Health Law Degree

By Angie El Sherif

Healthcare issues, such as the rising health insurance rates and healthcare reform have been on the tip of all our tongues lately.  With all these recent policy changes, affecting everyone from doctors and hospitals to patients and insurance companies, you have to wonder who is regulating these important issues.

One of the main groups of people behind all matters concerning healthcare are health lawyers. Health law covers a wide range of legal concerns including, medicine, mental health, public health, technology and medical care.  These lawyers govern all aspects of the health industry like: physicians, hospitals, health maintenance organizations, health insurers, managed care companies, nursing facilities, home care providers and malpractice suits.

As a result of all that is going on recently in healthcare, “law firms have a new appetite for health care lawyers,” according to Health Reform Watch.

It is certainly an opportune time to be looking for a career in the field and for students wishing to study health law there are many institutes offering programs, some online.

Health law professor Timothy S. Jost, at the Washington and Lee University School of Law  highly encourages students to study this field. “There are a lot of jobs in heath law, compared to other types,” he said.

Jost, who has taught doctors, as well as students from other professions, says that while there are no particular educational prerequisites that a person must have in order to study health law, “it is sometimes helpful to have a professional or scientific background.”

All health lawyers, however must hold Juris Doctor (JD) degrees and many also go on to complete a Master of Law (LLM) degree in health law.

The University of California San Diego offers a Health Law Master's Degree in a unique program of study that trains both legal and medical/health professionals with the necessary knowledge and skills to improve practice where healthcare and law overlap.

This Masters degree curriculum includes courses such as Introduction to Medical/Healthcare Practice, Principals in Health Law and Policy and Influencing Public Policy. The cost of the entire program is approximately $31,000 and can be taken at an 18-month or two-year pace.

Saint Louis University School of Law also offers this program. According to their website, “they have earned the reputation as the nation's leading health law program. The Center offers the broadest range of health law courses taught by full-time faculty, including foundational and specialized health law and policy courses each semester.”

Their Masters candidates engage in a course of study tailored to their own interests and goals by choosing from a wide range of courses, externships and directed research.  To complete their LLM program students must complete 24 credit hours including a master's thesis, take up to six credit hours of directed research and six credit hours outside the law school in approved, relevant disciplines and participate in the program on a full-time basis over the course of one year, or on a part-time basis over the course of two years.

Also, Loyola University Chicago offers a nationally ranked health law program at the Beazley Institute for Health Law and Policy.  According to their website, “Loyola has graduated more health lawyers and health law-trained health care professionals than any other law school in the world.”

Megan Bess, Assistant Director at Loyola University Chicago School of Law says that health law is a unique area of legal practice because it focuses on an entire industry and not just one area of law and in order to be successful in the field, a student must “have a basic understanding of not just major health care legislation and case law but also of the many administrative agencies and rules that apply to health care.”

She also suggests that students, during their studies, seek opportunities to intern and network with hospitals, law firms, trade associations and government agencies to gain practical experience in the field.

Health law professionals can work in law firms, in government agencies, as in-house counsels, at consulting firms, in hospitals and with insurance companies just to name a few.  According to SimplyHired.com the average salary for health lawyers is $57,000, however can vary greatly due to company, location, industry, experience and benefits.

“Health care continues to be one of the fast growing industries in our national economy” said Bess. “There will always be a need for health care and as a result, there will always be a need for attorneys who understand the complex legal and regulatory issues that hospitals, physicians, patients, insurers, and other parties face.”

“Health care reform and its aftermath will create new law and regulatory schemes that will require the expertise of attorneys to understand and communicate to the health care community,” she said.

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