Joint Degree in Law and Public Health Enables Students to Tackle Pressing Issues


As globalization increases and the world becomes more and more connected, the University of Miami School of Law continues to offer academic opportunities that place students off the beaten path of the traditional legal career.

Under the UM School of Law and School of Medicine's JD/Masters of Public Health joint degree program, students use an interdisciplinary approach to tackle pressing domestic and international fields of health law, such as reproductive health, economic disparities in healthcare, children's health, and disability law.

1L Kathryn Walker and 2L Amanda Leipold are using their JD/MPH degrees to join the league of public interest attorneys fighting for equality. They have focused their academic careers around using law, public health, and social justice to impact domestic and international health law.

"I'd like to create better policy initiatives to address the negative health outcomes that affect women and children," Leipold says. "Right now, so many of our interventions to help these populations fail because we don't understand how social determinants truly affect health."

The journey for equality in public health has taken Leipold back and forth between rural villages in Africa and low-income communities in the U.S., giving her studies an international focus.

Walker has a non-profit background in helping those with developmental disabilities.

"The focus of the MPH here is epidemiology – studying illness patterns on the population level and designing solutions," Walker says. "The applications of this knowledge, combined with a legal education, will give me the skills needed to decrease health care disparities."

In their past, both Walker and Leipold have demonstrated a passion for using legal advocacy to improve access to health care for marginalized communities. While Leipold traveled to Tanzania and Namibia in Africa to work on human rights issues in healthcare, Walker stayed in America to help run a group home that provided physical care and education to clients with disabilities.

Under the leadership of professors like Dr. Erin Kobetz, who collaborates with community members in Little Haiti to address breast and cervical cancer disparities, Leipold and Walker are being taught the most efficient ways to use outreach to educate communities.

"Public health is all about public interest," Leipold says. "If we understand what really causes people to make a positive health behavior change, we can understand how to craft law and policy that will prompt real change."

The growing field of health law allows students to pursue legal studies that incorporate an integrated curriculum into traditional law school course offerings. "I'm very excited about the courses," Walker says. "I get to take classes like Health Education and Behavior, and Health Economics for Evaluation and Policy."

These MPH courses will fit seamlessly into Walker's academic law schedule, which includes a recent acceptance into the Health & Elder Law Clinic, run by Director JoNel Newman. The Health & Elder Law Clinic focuses on helping low-income elderly and health-impaired clients.

Leipold, who is a part of Miami Law's Community Lawyering Clinic, urges students to follow their passions, and not to feel pressured into practicing a more traditional field of legal study.

"There are so many successful pathways one can take in the law," Leipold says. "Law and public health may not be the focus of many of your classmates, but if it's what you are passionate about, you will find success."

This summer, Walker will take her passion for health law to the criminal courts as an intern in the Mental Health division of the Miami-Dade Public Defender's Office. "I would like to do some work with communicable diseases in the prison system - a direct intersection of law and public health."

For details on the JD/MPH program, click here.