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Penn Law’s ML program illuminates issues at intersection of medicine and law for Penn Medicine’s Vice Dean for Diversity and Inclusion

December 10, 2018

As a sought-after expert in ophthalmology, Eve Higginbotham frequently finds herself in conversation with lawyers who know quite a bit about her field of medicine. “I’m often called to be an expert witness and engage in discussions with lawyers related to malpractice cases, and I’m always amazed by just how much special knowledge the lawyers taking on a case have related to eye disorders and complications related to eye surgery,” she said.  

Interacting with lawyers who had become well-versed in complex medical issues piqued Higginbotham’s curiosity about the flip side of the coin: how a seasoned medical practitioner like her might become more well-versed in the law. Penn Law’s Master in Law (ML) program provided the answer.

Through the ML program, Higginbotham has been able to zero in on those areas of law that intersect with her medical practice, particularly subjects like administrative law and the regulation of medical techniques and treatments. She enrolled in the degree program last spring after taking several courses within the curriculum.

Higginbotham specializes in the study and treatment of glaucoma, and has maintained an active practice as a physician and clinical researcher since taking on her role as Vice Dean for Inclusion and Diversity at Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine.  In light of her work, she has developed a particular interest in the legal process of how new treatments and drugs get approved for use in patients.

“My interest in the regulatory space was always there, because I’ve always had an interest in clinical trials as well as being involved with the development and testing of some of the new medications for the treatment of glaucoma,” she said.

As an ML student, her coursework has reflected that focus. This semester, she is taking an administrative law course. “That speaks directly to my interest in the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] and the process of approving new drugs,” said Higginbotham. She also had years of experience serving as Chair of the FDA Ophthalmic Devices panel.  In a prior semester, she took a survey course covering health law and policy, which offered her deeper insight into Medicare, Medicaid, and other health care financing issues.

The ML program has also been valuable to Higginbotham beyond her medical practice, as she has devoted significant time to serving on the boards of directors of major corporations and educational institutions like the Harvard Board of Overseers, the MIT Corporation, and the board of Ascension, the largest non-profit health system in the United States.

The myriad board experiences “really deepened my appreciation for understanding the fiduciary responsibilities related to governance,” she said. As a result, Higginbotham decided to include a business law course, and she has reaped the benefits of her increased knowledge of corporate governance and responsibilities. “As I continue to serve on boards, it’s really shaping some of the questions that I may pose at the board level,” she said.