Medical Law Degree Program Options

Apr 24, 2020

Essential Information

Programs in the field of health and law require applicants to have a bachelor's degree (for entrance into dual degree programs), or to have earned a J.D. (for entrance into a health law master's degree program).

Admission into a J.D./M.P.H. dual degree programs generally also requires applicants to meet minimum LSAT, GRE, pre-law curriculum and GPA requirements, as they involve highly rigorous coursework. Prerequisites for J.D./M.D.. degree programs include satisfactory LSAT and MCAT scores.

Full time, dual degree programs take three to six years to complete, and a master's degree in health law will take a year. Some courses and programs are available online.

Juris Doctor/Master of Public Health Degree

Students pursuing work in medical law can earn a dual degree in law and public health, known as the Juris Doctor/Master of Public Health (J.D./M.P.H.), that combines classes from law and public health programs. Many major universities offer this degree. Some programs allow students to choose a specialization, such as health policy and ethics, international health or environmental health.

Students could be required to complete an internship at a health agency or a legal externship that includes a public health component. Common courses offer both legal and health dimensions and include:

  • Biostatistics
  • Health economics
  • Epidemiology
  • Women, gender and health
  • Health and society

Master's Degrees in Health Law

Students interested in a master's degree in health law can choose from Master of Advanced Studies or Master of Laws programs. These programs are available for students who want to deepen their knowledge of this specialization with an advanced degree. Law schools admit both new lawyers and those with extensive experience in the field to these programs. Coursework is often complemented by fieldwork, and students produce a research-intensive thesis under faculty supervision. Programs typically take a year of full-time study to complete. These programs normally require a J.D.

Programs offer topics in medical malpractice, research ethics and modern health care. Along with independent research, students may take such courses as:

  • Bioethics
  • Financial management in health care
  • Health law and policy
  • Global health and human rights
  • Food and drug law

Juris Doctor/Doctor of Medicine Degree (J.D./M.D.)

Students who seek a more advanced dual-degree track in medical law can apply to joint J.D./M.D. programs. Many can be completed in six years of full-time study, less than the seven normally required to earn the two degrees separately. The sequence of how each of the six years of a joint J.D./M.D. program is spent, studying law or medicine, varies by university. All programs provide students with the fundamentals of legal and medical education and opportunities to do in-depth research in areas of special interest. Graduates can enter legal practice or practice medicine.

Joint J.D./M.D. programs require students to gain admission separately to both law school and medical school. In some cases, students apply simultaneously; in other programs, students enter the medical school first and then apply to the law school subsequently. Extensive planning and preparation is needed to meet the requirements of both schools.

Joint J.D./M.D. program students take core courses in law and medical school as well as electives, depending on their interests. Classes include:

  • Tort law
  • Criminal law
  • Psychology and law
  • Health law
  • Biomedical research
  • Neurology

Popular Career Options

A wide range of law firms, health care organizations and government agencies hire medical law specialists. Jobs include:

  • Medical patent attorney
  • Health care staff attorney at law firm
  • Privacy officer for health system
  • Regulatory compliance officer for health care organization
  • Hospital staff counsel

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected employment of lawyers in various specializations to grow at 6%, about the national average, from 2018-2028. In 2019, lawyers earned a median annual wage of $122,960. Doctors could expect more growth in their overall field, 7% from 2018-2028, which is faster than the national average. Doctors' earned median wages at or above $206,560 as of May 2019.

Continuing Education

A license is required to practice medicine or law. According to the BLS, aspiring doctors are expected to complete residency requirements, which could take up to seven years beyond medical school. To earn a license, these professionals can then take an exam. To work as lawyers, applicants take a bar exam in the state where they want to practice. Continuing education is also mandated by several states, the BLS reports.

Students wanting a career in medical law have a few educational tracks to choose form. Students with related bachelor's degrees may chose to apply to a Juris Doctor/Master of Public Health or Juris Doctor/Doctor of Medicine program, while students who already have a J.D. may try a master's degree in health law.

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