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David Faigman: “We’re still in a very dynamic area in terms of health policy in the U.S.”

Advances in health policy and law do not happen in a vacuum. Professionals from the medical and legal fields must interact with each other, but more often than not, they don’t speak each other’s languages. To understand the complexities of health law and policy, you must have this “multilingual” skillset.

David Faigman knows the importance of speaking the language of health, health policy and health law. Originally working toward a Ph.D. in psychology at the University of Virginia, Faigman took his M.A. in Psychology and switched gears to earn a J.D. “I decided to be “primarily a lawyer-psychologist rather than a psychologist-lawyer,” Faigman says, “but I learned the language of science and of statistics.” Understanding the language of health and the language of law is a crucial skill that Faigman believes is necessary for tomorrow’s professional.

We recently spoke with Faigman—Acting Chancellor and Dean at UC Hastings College of the Law and founding director of the UCSF/UC Hastings Consortium on Law, Science and Health Policy—to learn more about the degree and the seemingly endless career possibilities it affords.

How does this degree fit with our current health landscape?
It fits in perfectly—almost like a jigsaw puzzle. We’re still in a very dynamic area in terms of health policy in the U.S. There’s a lot of unanswered questions about accountable care organizations; expansions in Medicare, Medicaid and Medi-Cal; and issues about compliance. The big issue in front of the U.S. Supreme Court was to what extent the Affordable Care Act and the Act of Congress have substantially affected interstate commerce. It was recognized that that was about 17 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. It’s hard to imagine a single area that has as much consequence to the current situation in the U.S. and to future expectations about what the economy is going to be like. Having a skillset in health policy and health sciences situates people to have a very rewarding career in an area that is highly dynamic and requires a good deal of creative thinking.

Being able to understand the language of medicine and law makes you invaluable in a lot of legislative and administrative agencies. There are a lot of areas where the HPL empowers you to do many different jobs.

How does this degree complement a J.D. or an M.D.?
The HPL master’s could be a stand-alone degree as an alternative to an M.D. or a J.D. Someone with the HPL degree would likely do something that is quite different from someone who has an M.D. or a J.D.
It might be somebody who works in Sacramento or Washington, D.C., working for an agency or in the legislature as an aid. Or at the Department of Finance. Or at the California Department of Insurance. In a business context, it could be someone working for an HR department or in compliance.

Being able to understand the language of medicine and law makes you invaluable in a lot of legislative and administrative agencies. There are a lot of areas where the HPL empowers you to do many different jobs.

What we’re seeing more of at Hastings are people who are interested in the J.D. and the M.S. in health policy. They want to be practicing lawyers, as well as gain the research skills, the health policy knowledge, the health sciences knowledge that the M.S. would provide. That could be someone who specializes in health law at a law firm, in health concerns for a major company like Google in the General Counsel’s office.

Someone who is an M.D. would be interested in not only practicing medicine, but also wanting to affect legislative policy or FDA policy, such as labeling. Getting that critical training from the HPL would give you a leg up to work in an area that is affecting health policy at a local, state or national level.

Back to that multilingual skillset. Why is that so important?
The well-trained professional in the future will be able to speak law and to understand the culture of law—such as the relationship between the state and federal courts; the relationship between the judiciary, the legislature and administrative agencies in the executive department. Someone who understand the details and the language of the law. Similarly, you want someone who understands the health profession and understands medicine and can speak that language. A third language would be policy: both the basic aspects of politics and the policy understanding in terms of economics and making judgments about cost-benefit analyses and policy.

You can tailor the HPL to the areas that you’re most interested in pursuing.

And the two different tracks will really help a student become fluent in both areas.
It is an empowering degree. To some extent you can tailor it to the areas that you’re most interested in pursuing. So if you’re interested in regulatory work and administrative agencies or if you’re interested in working with state agencies as opposed to federal agencies, that’s the type of work you can do. The HPL gives you a general knowledge base in that area, but you can fashion it in the direction you want to go.

Similarly, if you were interested in national politics and regulation, the opportunities are there as well. The HPL as a stand-alone degree gives you a lot of options in terms of doing policy work and then working for major corporations in the health area.

And there are a lot of issues that are coming up. Just the question of health privacy and HIPAA: As we’re wearing devices, we have to remember that there’s a lot of information about our basic health that is potentially being broadcast. Companies like Samsung, Microsoft, Google and others have to be aware of the ethical challenges associated with health information. I met with people at Samsung and one of the issues was if you’re wearing a bracelet that’s giving you information about blood sugar, what does that tell the individual and how do you broadcast that information to your provide? Do you give permission to others to use it because you could be a subject in a study? When you’re a subject in a study, you have to get informed consent. This raises really interesting, but quite challenging issues in our information age.

We may not be doing as good of a job as controlling that as we should. There is some legislation, but it’s not as comprehensive nor nuanced as either the tech companies or individuals want. There’s going to be a lot of tinkering going forward and a lot of legislation around what the appropriate parameters are in terms of informed consent and downstream use of health information.

We’ve also been very active in the elder-care area: We have an entire population of baby-boomers who are getting on in years and you have all the physical and mental challenges that raise policy concerns, health concerns and legal concerns. There are a lot of opportunities there for someone who has the interdisciplinary education in health law and the sciences.

Why is providing an interdisciplinary education so important?
The world that our graduates need to prepare for is fundamentally interdisciplinary. Whether you are working with private foundations or public agencies, the ability to cross the aisle and talk to different folks is increasingly necessary. Hastings, in particular, has been devoted to that. For my entire career, I have believed that interdisciplinary education gives you a leg up and opens up new areas that you may not have traditionally practiced in. This interdisciplinary focus is especially prudent.

More on Faigman
David Faigman is the John F. Digardi Distinguished Professor of Law at the UC Hastings College of the Law and holds an appointment as Professor in the School of Medicine (Dept. of Psychiatry) at the University of California, San Francisco.

He is the author of more than 50 articles and essays, and has been published in a variety of outlets, including the Chicago, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Northwestern law reviews, Science, Sociological Methods & Research and Nature Reviews Neuroscience. He is also the author of three books: Constitutional Fictions: A Unified Theory of Constitutional Facts (Oxford, 2008), Laboratory of Justice: The Supreme Court’s 200-Year Struggle to Integrate Science and the Law (Henry Holt & Co. 2004) and Legal Alchemy: The Use and Misuse of Science in the Law (W.H. Freeman,1999). In addition, Faigman is a co-author/co-editor of the five-volume treatise Modern Scientific Evidence: The Law and Science of Expert Testimony (with Cheng, Mnookin, Murphy, Sanders & Slobogin). The treatise has been cited widely by courts, including several times by the U.S. Supreme Court. Faigman was a member of the National Academies of Science panel that investigated the scientific validity of polygraphs, and he is a member of the MacArthur Law and Neuroscience Network.

Faigman is also the co-founder and CEO of JuriLytics, LLC, a company that brings high-level academic peer review to expert testimony. JuriLytics provides this service for both lawyers and judges.