Alexander Heydemann and Dillon Bannis, both University of Miami students — Heydemann in law school, Bannis in medical — are learning fast about each other’s worlds.
“As a medical student and future physician, a lot of time we get stuck in our own worlds, writing notes for ourselves and our colleagues. My time here, at the medical-legal partnership, has helped me see that the documentation I put into place has overarching reaches further than just the hospital,” Bannis says in a video presented by the school to detail its health/law Pathways program.
Pathways, which immerses students in both curricula, will lead to a dual medical-law degree program UM plans to offer in the fall. The pathways program is “a four-year longitudinal experience for medical students in law,” explains Jonel Newman, a clinical professor and director of the Health and Elder Law Clinic at the University of Miami. Medical and law students travel to the downtown Miami medical campus and Coral Gables campus to enmesh themselves in the study of both disciplines.
UM’s Miller School of Medicine and School of Law will then offer a joint M.D. and J.D. degree program that can be completed in six years, which shaves off a year’s time — and tuition — had the participants pursued each degree separately. Medical students who enroll in the joint program and also pass the Law School Admission test will begin the law school portion of their studies in the fall.
The rigorous dual program is designed to prepare students for careers in health sector law, leadership and policy, or to give tools to physicians who might wish to run a private medical or group practice.
“Many doctors graduate from medical school with not really being equipped to start their own practice to deal with and understand the billing, the insurance, some of the legal aspects. Other legal aspects of great interest to the medical field include bioethics, ethical decision making and exposure to health-related legal needs,” Newman said.
Heydemann, the budding attorney, has already seen the collaboration pay off — both personally and for the public he will one day serve regularly.
“I was real excited to get hands-on experience. The clinics at the law school offer a great opportunity to get great mentorship and experience early on,” Heydemann said. “One client was struggling with severe medical impairments and poverty, and I had to work closely with him to get to know his personal background and his story and hoped to finally get to the stage where he could become a legal permanent resident. That was rewarding and demanding at the very same time.”
Bannis recounts a similar experience.
“I met one of the patients one of the law students was working on and had the opportunity to tag along and add a little bit of my insight into the patient’s case. This gentleman was a veteran who had served his country in the Korean War and I helped him get benefits at the end and it was very rewarding,” Bannis said.
Traditionally, medical degrees provide entree to hospitals, urgent care centers and doctor’s offices while a law degree is the key to a courtroom, boardroom or local or federal government dais where policies are set and debated. But the two fields frequently intersect and overlap, to the point that medical and law schools will need to partner to offer such dual degree programs to train the next generation of medical and legal students so that they will have the skills to navigate the complex hallways of contemporary healthcare.