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Health care and legal issues are becoming more intertwined. In recognition of that, two respected universities have partnered to offer a joint program track to prepare graduate students for careers in health law.

Drake University Law School and Des Moines University offers joint master of health care administration or master of public health and juris doctor/law degrees.

“The health care industry is extremely regulated, and health care providers, payers and attorneys who specialize in health law need to be able to collaborate on compliance solutions,” said Stacey A. Tovino, J.D., Ph.D., director of the Health Law and Policy Center at Drake University Law School. “The joint-degree programs provide students with these collaborative learning opportunities.”

The partnership allows students to transfer up to 18 credits between the institutions and serves as a springboard for other potential collaborations between the sponsoring programs. “Most importantly, the joint degree program promotes an appreciation of the special relationship between health care and the law,” said Denise Hill, J.D., M.P.A., assistant professor at DMU. “For both professions, we need individuals equipped to navigate the intersections of both worlds.”

Nicholas Olivencia, an attorney with Whitfield & Eddy P.L.C., completed master’s degrees in public health and health care administration at Des Moines University while earning his Drake law degree. He observed sharp differences in the views of health care and law professionals. On one hand, he said, physicians and attorneys are often “pitted against each other.”

Doctors face legal risks in trying new technologies or treatments and the potential for malpractice suits, while attorneys are focused on compensation for those injured when medicine fails to meet established standards of practice. At the same time, law and health care are intertwined on countless issues, from food safety and family planning to workplace wellness and control of infectious disease.

“Bringing medical and law students together will allow them to see both perspectives and expose them to issues they inevitably will deal with in their work,” Olivencia said. “The joint degree program opens both horizons. Students will learn from each other and gain a basic background of health care and law in real-life situations.”

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