New law students may be counting down the days until they can choose their courses as upperclassmen and explore a wide range of legal topics. But they may not realize they can broaden their studies even further by adding onto their JD degrees.
Tulane’s dual-degree programs equip students with invaluable skills and opportunities to excel in specialized career paths — by earning a JD with another graduate degree in only four years. From the JD/MSW to the JD/MA in Latin American Studies, dual degrees open doors in traditional legal practice and far beyond.
Lagniappe’s second dual-degrees installment features a grad who’s aiming for a career in national health policy and joined her JD with a Master of Health Administration.
Law + Master of Health Administration: K.T. Kramer
K.T. Kramer (L/MHA ’14) started with a clear vision for grad school: earn a master’s in public health to learn strategies for improving international health systems. But her path shifted while she was working for the Peace Corps, when she realized she needed to understand the law in order to shape meaningful policy. She decided on dual JD and MPH degrees and enrolled at Tulane.
Shortly after she signed on, though, her course veered again. She switched to a combined JD and MHA track so she could learn to navigate increasingly complex health systems in the U.S.
K.T. successfully juggled the demands of both programs at Tulane. During school, she investigated employee benefit claims while working at the Department of Veterans Affairs’ New Orleans office; was active in the Public Interest Law Foundation and the Disability and Health Law Society; and analyzed municipal health laws as an extern with the City of New Orleans’ Health Department.
After graduation, the West Virginia native began a yearlong program as one of only two David A. Winston Health Policy Fellows. The Winston Fellowship is a national postgraduate program based in D.C. During the program, fellows rotate through meetings with national health care insiders over three months, then work at full-time health policy placements for the remainder of the year.
As part of the prestigious and highly selective program, K.T. has met with more than 200 health executives and policy leaders to learn the industry from the inside and is now working with Sen. Lamar Alexander, chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, in Washington, D.C.
Lagniappe: Why did you go for dual degrees?
K.T.: I decided to look at joint-degree programs while a Peace Corps volunteer in Turkmenistan. When I started Peace Corps, my future plan was to get an MPH and work in global public health programs. However, while in Turkmenistan, I became much more interested in understanding how health systems as articulated in laws, regulations and policies are translated into people accessing health care and services. . . . But I realized I didn’t understand the language of the applicable law, and I needed to become proficient in that to be able to make real changes in health care, so I decided to earn a JD as well . . .
When I returned to the U.S. in 2010, I initially enrolled in the JD/MPH program, but I realized after the passage of the Affordable Care Act that the same questions of how to translate law into a real health system were present in the U.S. I transferred to the MHA program because I wanted to get a stronger understanding of the U.S. health system.
Lagniappe: What was your experience like in the JD/MHA program?
K.T.: I think, like any student that goes to Tulane, I can say that I had a wonderful experience. It was undeniably challenging to balance the demands of both programs academically and practically . . . . But, I gained substantial subject matter knowledge in both law and health administration, made great friends, had great opportunities to gain practical experience as a student and got to live in New Orleans for four years!
Lagniappe: What was your impression of the program overall?
K.T.: I think the JD/MHA provided complementary skill sets that were very helpful. . . . [the] combination gave me a strong background that could prepare me for a career in health care, health law or health policy.
In particular, the practical aspects of the MHA program – the site visits, the public speaking and the terrifying accounting assignments – were a valuable addition to the law school curriculum. If I pursue health law in any capacity, knowing how to read financial statements and present information to managers will be helpful.
Lagniappe: How do you think your dual degrees have helped prepare you for your career?
K.T.: I’m currently a health policy fellow, working for Sen. Alexander on the HELP committee, where I staff issues related to the Affordable Care Act, Food and Drug Administration and Public Health Service Act. The joint degree gives me credibility in terms of both law and health care. I was much more familiar with the breadth of issues that I work with on the committee from the start because I learned a lot of the subject matter.
Second, as I am realizing now as I search for my next position, the joint degree provided me with a much richer alumni network. And, particularly from the MHA perspective, they are in my field. Tulane’s alumni are fantastic and always willing to be helpful, so it’s incredibly valuable to have those helpful people in the industry that I want to work in.
Lagniappe: How would you describe the benefits of a dual degree to prospective students?
K.T.: In general, for all the dual degrees, I’d say that seeing both sides and being able to read a regulation or law and understand how to talk about it in the industry you’re working in is an incredibly valuable skill . . . having a more targeted education, you get the understanding of how to talk about legal implications in ways that make sense to the people you’re working with, whether they’re clients or co-workers in a legal organization. . . . Also, when you know you’re interested in a particular subject area and can learn how to talk about the applicable laws for that field, a joint degree is really helpful.
Lagniappe: What’s next for you?
K.T.: My health policy fellowship will wind up in June. Now, as I’m searching [future] positions, I’m considering all the options: do I want to have typical legal career working for a firm or government office where I work with health care clients, and what are the options there? Do I want to stay in a more policy-focused role, stay on the hill and work with any of the number of think tanks or lobbying organizations here? Or do I want to go to a private company? I have lots of questions to be answered. But having a double Tulane alumni network is very helpful in that regard, and I’m sure it will come into play. There’s something about being from Tulane that makes people very excited to meet you. They’re a very energetic and active group of alumni . . . it’s a great resource.