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J.D. and M.P.H.: Public Health Law and the Dual Degree

posted on Mon, Aug 22 2011 9:46 am by Mary Uran

In this tumultuous time of economic downturn where 2010 law school graduates face the worst job market since the 1990s (87.6 percent employment rate), and incensed law school graduates are suing law schools over false job statistics, adding another degree concurrently to a J.D. might not pass the logical reasoning test.

But don’t jump to conclusions right away. Sure, it’s extra money and another year out of the job market, but the trend of law school students pursuing a joint degree, such as a J.D./M.P.H., may make sense for many professionals in the long run.

Lawyers play a central role in society's approach to issues of public health, biomedical ethics and public policy issues, yet a law degree can leave a new graduate with inadequate substantive knowledge. Carol Rachac, associate program director of the Joint Degree Program in Law, Health and Life Sciences at the University of Minnesota, explains that the main advantage to a dual degree is interdisciplinary training that teaches graduates to speak the language of both fields. It creates a major advantage to employers when an employee can speak the language of both lawyers and public health practitioners, bridging that gap between two different fields and working to find common ground.

The ABA House of Delegates is thinking in the same vein. They voted on August 9th to adopt a resolution urging law schools to more adequately prepare for the real-life experience of practicing law and bolster CLE training to better bridge the gap between law school and actual practice.

Dual degrees, specifically J.D./M.P.H.s, have gone from being almost nonexistent ten years ago to a current tally of 25 accredited programs in the U.S today. Most programs take four years to complete and classes overlap enough so that students would save money compared to garnering these degrees separately. Students take regular law school classes, and then pick a track for their M.P.H. studies, such as Epidemiology, Environmental Health, Maternal and Child Health or (the most popular for joint J.D./M.P.H. students) Public Health Policy.

So do these dual degrees pay off? I went in search of raw data: salary amounts, employment rates, anything to show that two degrees are better than one. Maybe schools are too worried about lawsuits for disseminating more statistics. Or, most likely, the programs are so new that these numbers, at least on a national level, don’t exist yet.

Ms. Rachac did say, anecdotally, that employment rates seem to be higher for graduates of a joint J.D./M.P.H. program compared to a traditional J.D. And you don’t need statistics to see that graduates with joint J.D./M.P.H. degrees are cropping up in private firms, as general counsels of hospitals, at the policy-making level and at all levels of government.

Be on the lookout for a page of resources on dual degree programs in the near future on the Network Web site. In the meantime, head on over to the Network’s LinkedIn Page to look for job postings or post a job!

This information was developed by Mary Uran, M.P.H. candidate and project coordinator for the Network for Public Health Law – National Coordinating Center.

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.

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