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Combining Law and Public Health Degrees

May 13, 2024

Henry Fisher L’24, MPH’24 shares his experiences in the University of Pennsylvania’s JD/MPH (Master of Public Health) program.

Henry Fisher L’24, MPH’24 was confident in his interest in the law and public health when he enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania’s JD/MPH (Master of Public Health) program, but he was unsure how those two fields could mesh into one career. He began classes in the fall of 2020 as the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School grappled with, and mastered, how to continue excellent legal education amid a pandemic.

Henry Fisher MPH'23, L'24 Henry Fisher L’24, MPH'24“That was its own experience with hybrid classes and masking, and as somebody who had these joint interests in public health and the law, it made so clear to me how these two fields intersect,” Fisher said. “When you think about masking mandates or access to benefits during the pandemic, that … got me thinking about how the law and public health affect each other. It was a really interesting place to start.”

Four years later, on the cusp of his graduation from the program, Fisher said the skillsets he has learned from both Penn Carey Law and the Perelman School of Medicine have been invaluable to shaping his perspective on the law and public health in addition to his future aspirations.

Q: Why did you specifically choose Penn’s dual-degree program?

Fisher: Really, the key part is the way the program is structured—it’s super-flexible for joint-degree students. I got to pick from several options of how I structured my years of school: Two years of law school, the third year was all Master of Public Health classes, and now I’m finishing both degrees.

Additionally, when I was deciding between programs, I had a great interaction with Evan Anderson, who was on the MPH faculty and is also a JD … I was able to build a relationship with him before the public health program started and talked to him the minute I was accepted. I was able to do my Master of Public Health capstone project with him, was a TA and research assistant for him. That relationship was an important factor because because it opened up a lot of doors and gave me that sort of mentorship out of the gate that I otherwise might not have had elsewhere.

Q: What was your capstone project about?

Fisher: It was an integration of the two fields. We had been approached by a physician who had some questions about the legality of a certain medical intervention for people with opioid use disorder. My project essentially applied the legal background and analysis of the relevant statutes and regulatory landscape, but also looked into the history of these laws and used public health background to not only research opioid use disorder, but also make some normative arguments about the system at play. As part of the capstone experience, I had to think about the dissemination of my work … and how to convert it as a resource for laypeople or physicians to use or benefit from this information.

Q: What surprised you about this experience?

Fisher: The ability to pull skills from these two very distinct fields and see how they benefit my capability of engaging with each one has been really incredible and not necessarily something I anticipated. My public health education will make me a better lawyer, and as a lawyer I’ll be more effective in the public health space… . At the Law School, there are so many great faculty members, and really getting to engage with those people from two distinct fields with two distinct mindsets and ways of thinking about issues was exciting and valuable.

Q: You entered this program not knowing what exactly you wanted to do. Has this experience inspired a vision for your career?

Fisher: I want to be somebody who is able to use my education and skillset to make a real difference for people, and … I hope that will always be part of my career. On a larger scale even beyond a career, I’m thinking about engaging with my community and using this privilege of education to make an impact. That’s something I’m really excited about doing, and I’m better able to do it thanks to these programs. I’d say my capstone experience, about legal barriers and accessing treatment for opioid use disorder, has become a very big interest area of mine.

Q: What are your post-graduate plans?

Fisher: I’ll be a Junior Associate at McDermott Will & Emery’s Washington, D.C., office. They have a really great health practice that deals with all sorts of issues from fraud and abuse to managed care, to healthcare transactions and general counseling. I’m really excited to dive into the variety of issues the lawyers there get to deal with on a day-to-day basis.

Q: What’s your advice for students considering a dual-degree program?

Fisher: It is an undertaking, so make sure you’re passionate about both areas. If you’re on the fence—and I can only speak to the public health program—I’m sure faculty members or coordinators of the program would be, on the whole, more than happy to talk to you and give advice about what the program entails. Getting training from these different fields can really impact the work you want to do in a positive way. Whether you do a program with the business school, public health or even design—because of the skills you’re building, it’s becoming a huge part of your approach to the law and to your work.

Learn more about Penn Carey Law’s joint degree programs and certificates.