JD students at the UI can optimize their time, specialize in a field before graduation

Links in this article are preserved for historical purposes, but the destination sources may have changed.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Third-year law student Alexa Nguyen recognized the importance of advocacy at a young age.

Growing up in a large Vietnamese community in Davenport, she often saw friends, neighbors, and family members struggle to gain access to health care and financial aid due to language barriers.

Those experiences drove Nguyen to pursue a joint degree—studying both law and health administration—at the University of Iowa College of Law and the UI College of Public Health. 

“I knew I wanted to help people who didn’t have the confidence and tools to articulate their concerns themselves,” says Nguyen.

Nguyen is just one of 23 students pursuing a joint degree at the UI College of Law. Seven of her peers also are earning a JD and Master of Health Administration (MHA) concurrently, while others are pursuing MBAs or studying philosophy, political science, urban and regional planning, integrated biology, and leisure studies while completing their law degrees.

“No matter what field you go into as an attorney, you learn a little bit of everything. Lawyers are pretty well-rounded in a variety of fields, but there’s always more research to do if you decide to specialize,” Nguyen says. “I think completing the MHA program will help me have a better understanding my client’s perspective, the hospital’s perspective, what holes exist in the health care system, and where I can help as an advocate once I enter the field.”

After following a similar path at Iowa Law, alumnus Clint Hugie says his joint degree has enabled him to think like a lawyer and a health care administrator simultaneously.

UI College of Law

LAW Russian Students 150406-1.jpg

Iowa Law is an ideal place to study law: small enough that your professors will know you well, yet large enough to be nationally renowned and a launchpad for opportunity. Learn more…

“Being able to have training in both graduate schools has allowed me to become a translator among different disciplines,” Hugie says. “I feel well prepared for a career in health care because I can speak the language and I understand the technical jargon on both sides when a situation arises.”

Hugie accepted a two-year postgraduate fellowship at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California after graduating with a JD and an MHA in 2015. His current role is centered on risk management, business development, and consulting services for health care delivery.

Monica Wallace, a 2006 joint degree alumna who is now a partner in the Health Industry Advisory Group at McDermott Will & Emery in Chicago says she decided to pursue a JD and MHA at the UI after learning about the strength of both programs when researching graduate schools. She also worked with UI Hospitals and Clinics on strategic academic medical center issues while she completed her degrees.

Wallace, who is heavily involved in McDermott Will & Emery’s recruiting activities and previously ran their Chicago office’s summer associate program, says specialization helps set students apart in the job market while also broadening their networking opportunities.

“Health law is becoming so much more specialized. The rules and regulations change almost daily, and those joining the field need to be in a position where they can add value for their clients by staying ahead of the changes,” Wallace says. “The UI’s joint degree program gives students an opportunity to gain exposure to the business side of health care, which is invaluable.”

At the UI, JD students are able to develop joint degree programs with most graduate colleges and departments in the university. The cross-crediting feature of the joint degree program allows students to receive their JD and another graduate or professional degree by taking six to 24 hours (equivalent to one or two semesters) less course work than would be necessary if the two degrees were pursued independently. Students must apply to and be accepted to both the College of Law and their graduate program of interest.

“Joint degree programs are a great option for the right student,” says Carin Crain, associate dean of student affairs at the UI College of Law. “Though these programs are often academically challenging, they also allow students to optimize their time, broaden their job opportunities, and specialize in a field they wish to pursue upon graduation.”

For more information on joint law and graduate/professional degrees, visit https://law.uiowa.edu/joint-law-and-graduate-degrees.