Most students who want to earn a doctorate in health law enroll in a joint program that awards a Ph.D. as well as a J.D. or LL.M. Doctoral study focuses on gaining the necessary research skills to address a variety of issues in health law, such as malpractice suits, patient confidentiality, risk management and litigation related to medical practices. Students also learn about ethical issues involved in biotechnology, medical research and healthcare rationing. Specialization options include health policy, biotechnology, and public policy.
The completion time for these programs depends on the student's educational background. For students who only have a bachelor's degree upon enrollment, it usually takes seven years, but if the student already has a J.D., it can take as few as four years. Graduates of a health law program might pursue careers in specialized health law practice or as judges.
Doctoral Degree in Health Law
Courses in a health law program begin with biomedical ethics, malpractice torts and public health policy. Students also learn about patient record disclosure, insurance and privacy laws, such as the Health Insurance and Portability Accountability Act. Other courses may focus on a wide range of subjects, potentially including:
- Occupational safety
- Health insurance
- Mental health law
- Healthcare legislation
- Clinical research ethics
- Pharmaceutical law
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Before they can practice, lawyers must complete seven years of schooling, which includes a four-year undergraduate program and a three-year law program accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that the demand for attorneys will increase by 6% between 2014 and 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations (www.bls.gov). The median salary in the field was $115,820 per year as of May 2015.
The BLS also reports that judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates earned a median yearly income of $126,930 as of May 2015. Although many judges are elected and only hold a bachelor's degree, most states and the federal government require that judges have experience as practicing attorneys. State judges are usually appointed by the legislature, and the U.S. Senate confirms federal judges after nomination. The demand for judges and hearing officers, according to the BLS, should decrease by 1%, which is considered little to no change by the BLS, between 2014 and 2024.
In summary, a Ph.D. in health law can work alongside a J.D. or LL.M. degree to prepare students with the in-depth legal knowledge they need for successful careers as attorneys or judges.