As a follow-up to the recent Student Network Career Panel Webinar, presenter Molly Berkery, an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) Legal Fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Public Health Law Program, answers a few more questions submitted by students and offers advice about education and networking.
Q: What sorts of networking opportunities do you recommend? Are conferences a good way to connect with leaders in the field and find career opportunities? If so, what types – it seems like the divergence between legal conferences and public health conferences can be fairly broad.
A: The best way to network early in your career is to talk to people who work in the field in which you are interested. Ask if they would be willing to schedule a time to talk about their work and career path. These discussions can be a great way to learn about the field and the people in the field, and can lead to other networking opportunities and connections. It is also a way to convey information about yourself and your interests. In my experience, reaching out to people has led to great mentorships and even volunteer and job opportunities. For example, I came to CDC as a student intern completing my M.P.H. capstone project (a culmination of a major practice or research activity that consists of a formal paper, a formal public presentation and an oral defense), and it was through that summer practicum that I learned about the ORISE legal research fellowship opening at CDC’s Public Health Law Program.
Conferences are a good way to connect with people, but I still recommend scheduling a time to talk one-on-one. I think the type of conference depends on your interests. If you are interested in a particular subject, see if you can attend that session at a conference and introduce yourself to the speaker(s) afterwards. Also, check out networking opportunities offered by your school, law firms, the state bar, non-profits, and other organizations of interest.
Q: I would love to hear more about ways lawyers/law students can stay involved in on-the-ground public health work. For example, are there positions for lawyers beyond what one typically would think of, i.e., general counsel for a health department? And are there ways to be involved without working at a health department?
A: Yes, there are many opportunities to use legal training in jobs that don’t look like traditional attorney jobs (i.e., typical transactional or litigations positions). Many attorneys work in the public policy sphere assisting government agencies and advocacy groups. The best way to learn about these types of opportunities is to talk to people who work in this field.
I also suggest reading—books, journals, reports, toolkits and more. Exposure and absorption are the best ways to learn and generate new ideas for how to move the field forward. Check out what is currently being published and join mailing lists—a few suggestions are CDC’s Public Health Law Program; Network for Public Health Law; American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics; ChangeLab Solutions; and Public Health Law Research.
Q: If you are currently attending a school that doesn’t have a joint J.D./M.P.H. program, how would you recommend getting involved in public health law?
A: I faced this when I attended the University of Wisconsin Law School (UW). When I decided to pursue my M.P.H. in addition to my J.D., there was no formal J.D./M.P.H. program. I was lucky to have amazingly supportive professors and staff who encouraged me to create an informal J.D./M.P.H. joint degree program, which led to the creation of the formal dual degree program now in place at UW. If you are interested in pursuing a joint J.D./M.P.H. and your school doesn’t have a program, talk to your school’s administration—both programs may be able to accept credits from the other program and work with you to build an individualized curriculum plan.
If you don’t want to pursue a J.D./M.P.H., and still want to get involved in public health law, take the health law classes offered at your school or audit a public health course if one is available. Other ways to get involve include multidisciplinary health law clinical programs or internships/externships working with the legal or policy folks at a public health agency or organization.
The Student Network for Public Health Law is a Network program that collaborates with graduate schools around the country to connect students interested in public health law with resources and professionals in the field. For more information on the Student Network please visit the Student Network webpage.
The Network for Public Health Law provides information and technical assistance on issues related to public health. The legal information and assistance provided in this document does not constitute legal advice or legal representation. For legal advice, readers should consult a lawyer in their state. The views expressed in this blog do not represent those of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.