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Combining Medical and Legal Education

December 18, 2023

Wooden gavel and stethoscope on background
Wooden gavel and stethoscope on background

Rucha Alur ML’23, MD’24 is exploring new horizons as she pursues both a medical and Master in Law degree.

Written by Robert Gamble C’25

In a realm where the binaries of law and medicine seemingly dance in opposite directions, Rucha Alur ML’23, MD’24 has discovered a unique intersection that has enhanced her academic journey. As a fourth-year medical student applying into General Surgery Residency, Alur’s time at the University of Pennsylvania hasn’t been about mastering only the scalpel but also the law school casebook.

Rucha Alur ML'23, MD'24 Rucha Alur ML’23, MD’24A Philly native (“Go Birds!”), Alur began her academic journey at Princeton University, graduating with an AB in Neuroscience. She later returned to Penn for graduate school, where she is attending both the Perelman School of Medicine and the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, the latter as a student in the Master in Law program, which educates emerging and accomplished professionals from a wide range of fields and areas of expertise in the law and legal foundations of their disciplines. 

Alur, a child of immigrants, exudes unwavering curiosity. Her journey is a testament to her mantra: “Whatever your interests are, you can find a way to use them for good.”

Discovering a Passion for the Law

At Princeton, Alur discovered an unexpected love for legal philosophy, which began charting her new and meaningful career path. She “fell into it by accident” during a medical research project, which inspired her to explore the connection between law enforcement and emergency departments, later specializing in surgical care for incarcerated individuals. The glaring absence of an established legal or policy framework surrounding patients’ rights in emergency settings ignited her advocacy for a trauma-focused medical-legal partnership.

She credits her work to the incredible mentorship of Dr. Elinore Kaufman, a trauma surgeon at Penn who was already working in this space. Leveraging the legal expertise garnered from the ML program, Alur is part of a project to roll out educational initiatives that bridge the knowledge gap between medical personnel and patient rights in trauma bays and emergency departments.

“The knowledge from the ML program equips you to assist your patients beyond just medical care,” said Alur. She believes that it’s up to the medical professionals to familiarize themselves with their patients’ rights, especially in the presence of law enforcement where there’s a potential risk of sensitive information being inadvertently shared in the free-flowing environment of the emergency department.

Combining MD and ML Education

For Alur, the ML program provided an avenue to tap into aspects of her intellect she believed remained uncharted during her medical education. She notes that “medicine in the classroom is very different from medicine in the hospital.” The deeper she ventured into law, the more evident the overlap between medicine and law became.

Each class, she said, revealed correlations between common medical practices and their legal parallels, shedding light on the “why” behind daily protocols like informed consent, insurance nuances, and medical ethics on sensitive topics such as surgical procedures, abortion care, and brain death determinations.

Alur’s engagement with interdisciplinary learning has not only broadened her horizons but also fostered a diversified cognitive perspective on medical issues.

“Most issues in medicine are not medical issues,” she said. This sentiment highlights the modern-day medical constraints of cost, insurance, and policy that often handcuff the reach of abundant medical resources. Her exploration of these two domains, she believes, has elevated her capacity to be a well-informed practitioner, especially for patients unfamiliar with their rights or the options at their disposal.

With her ML/MD foundation, Alur feels well positioned to navigate the world of advocacy and research. She’s particularly enthusiastic about working on the expansion of surgical care for incarcerated individuals and addressing disparities in transplant accessibility. Noting, “all of these interests were born out of the ML degree.”

Alur highlighted the challenges faced by patients in navigating their rights and medical options amidst complex legal and policy frameworks.

“I’m close to earning both medical and law degrees, yet navigating these fields is complex,” she said. “Imagine the challenges our patients face.”

With this comprehensive insight, Alur believes she can elevate the caliber of care and counsel she extends to her future patients.

Life in Philadelphia

Away from the law books and the buzz of the operating room, Alur has an infectious zest for life. Whether it’s enjoying a friendly game of volleyball, scoring goals on a soccer field, or exploring culinary adventures, her pursuits are as diverse as her academic inclinations.

She even recounted a memorable (and hilarious) pedicure alongside basketball legend Charles Barkley, a testament that truly anything can happen in Philadelphia.

For Alur, Philadelphia is more than just a backdrop; it’s a canvas of inspiration and a nurturing ground that integrates academic excellence with life’s diverse experiences, shaping her own vision for the future.

Learn more about Penn Carey Law’s unique and unrivaled Master in Law program.