Studying Healthcare Law: Degrees at a Glance
Graduate programs in healthcare law are designed for professionals who need an in-depth understanding of the legal aspects of the healthcare system. The master's program can be useful for workers in a variety of sectors within the healthcare industry, including insurance, pharmaceuticals, hospitals and litigation. The healthcare law doctorate degree program is meant for those interested in research or teaching.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that medical and health services managers could see a rapid 22% increase in job opportunities from 2010-2020, while lawyers were expected to experience an average 10% increase in employment. Attorneys may face strong competition for jobs, but those with the most experience and who are willing to relocate should have the best opportunities.
|Who is this degree for?||Healthcare professionals who need an advanced understanding of laws and regulations within the industry or lawyers looking to specialize in health law||Individuals who have a master's degree and wish to research or teach healthcare law|
|Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary)|| - Healthcare compliance director ($113,000 - with 7 years of experience)*|
- Medical and health services manager ($86,000)**
- Mid-level attorney ($113,000 - with 2-5 years of experience)*
| - Postsecondary law teacher ($93,000)**|
- Dean of law ($266,000 - with 7 years of experience)*
|Time to Completion||1 year, full-time, to complete the Master of Laws (LLM) program; About 2 years, full-time, to finish the master's program||Roughly 2-3 years, full-time|
|Common Graduation Requirements|| - Roughly 6-10 courses related to healthcare law|
- Thesis/research project
| - Advisor-selected coursework |
- Qualifying exams
|Prerequisites|| - Bachelor's degree or Juris Doctor, depending on the type of program|
- Work experience (usually about 3 years)
- Letters of recommendation
| - Master's degree, LLM or Master of Jurisprudence (depends on which doctorate you're pursuing)|
- Faculty member commitment
- Writing sample
- Letters of recommendation
Sources: *Salary.com (August 2012 figures), **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).
Master's in Healthcare Law
The master's program in healthcare law is typically designed for professionals who already have a career or want to advance to a higher position. You may need some experience in the healthcare field to be admitted to the master's program. Some law schools offer a Master of Laws (LLM) in Health Law, which is a degree program designed for students who have a Juris Doctor (JD) and are looking to practice health law. A Master of Jurisprudence (MJ) in Health Law is a similar program, but designed for students without JD degrees.
Pros and Cons
- Skills and knowledge learned from the program can be applied to a variety of different occupations within the healthcare industry
- Some schools offer externships, which could give you experience and credit at the same time
- Programs are very specific, allowing you to learn advanced healthcare law concepts
- Work experience may be required for enrollment
- What you learn in the program is usually limited to the healthcare industry and doesn't provide you with skills that are easily transferable to other industries
- Few careers you're qualified for actually require this degree
Common Courses and Requirements
Most master's programs in healthcare law begin with an introductory course in legal writing, law or healthcare practices. After you complete the foundational course, you'll start taking required and optional healthcare courses, such as healthcare transactions, healthcare ethics, Medicare laws, health policy and healthcare finance. In your final year, you'll take on a thesis or research project with the help of a faculty member. You can focus your research on a topic of your choosing, giving you a chance to learn about a specific area of healthcare law. Some schools may offer an externship opportunity during your second year, but this is not usually required.
The LLM in Health Law program may include courses in fraud and abuse, medical malpractice, health law transactions and research regulations. The final seminar course typically requires a 30-50-page research paper or thesis on a topic of your choice.
Online Degree Options
Healthcare law master's programs and LLM programs are commonly found in online formats. Your coursework is basically identical to an on-campus program, but you should be aware that you may have to attend campus to meet with faculty members and students and take part in some hands-on workshops. You may also need to make a trip to campus at the end of the program to present your thesis to a committee.
Stand Out with This Degree
If you're planning on practicing healthcare law, you may want to look into joining the American Health Lawyers Association (AHLA). This organization offers continuing education programs, publications and webinars that can keep you up-to-date with the latest developments in healthcare law. Members of AHLA are eligible to receive discounts on the services and programs offered.
If you work in healthcare administration, you might be interested in joining the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE). This credential requires a master's degree, 5 years of relevant healthcare experience, continuing education, a passing exam score and membership in ACHE for at least 3 years. ACHE also offers webinars, educational seminars and a number of publications that may benefit you.
Doctorate in Healthcare Law
Two of the most common doctoral programs in law are the Doctor of Laws (DL) and the Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD). If you have an LLM, you may qualify for either program, but if you have an MJ, you may only qualify for DL programs. DL programs are more likely to be focused on a specific focus area, such as healthcare law, while SJD programs tend to concentrate more on the dissertation, which requires you to choose your topic of interest.
Pros and Cons
- Can lead to careers unavailable to master's degree holders (teacher, researcher)
- Limited number of graduate courses allows you to focus your time on the dissertation research you're interested in
- Program can be finished in as little as 2 years (most doctorate-level programs take 3-5 years to complete)
- Highly competitive program (some schools only admit 1-2 students each academic year)
- Very few careers actually require this degree
- Curriculum is intense and can be exhaustive
Courses and Requirements
The DL and SJD programs give you the opportunity to take some graduate-level courses, which are typically chosen with the help of an advisor; options may include law and public health, children's health law and corporate healthcare transactions. You may also be required to pass some qualifying examinations before you're admitted to candidacy. You'll generally begin your dissertation research in your first semester. With the help of a mentor, you'll pick what area of health law you'd like to research for your dissertation. If you're interested in becoming a teacher, you may be able to earn some teaching experience as part of your elective coursework.
Due to the fact that the SJD and PhD programs in health law are focused on the dissertation, you'll need to meet with your mentor and other faculty members on a regular basis. You may be able to take a graduate-level course in a distance-learning format, but you won't be able to satisfy most of the requirements through online courses.
Getting Ahead with This Degree
Regardless of whether you're interested in the SJD or the DL, you may want to talk with the professors at each university you're considering. This can help you figure out if a faculty member shares your research interests before committing to a program. Depending on your career goals, you may also want to pursue additional research or teaching opportunities. For example, if you're interested in teaching law, check with each school to see what kind of paid teaching options you'll have while you complete the program.
If you wish to pursue a research career, you may want to explore the law research centers are at the universities you're interested in attending. Some schools may have publications dedicated to health law, which could lead to an opportunity for you to get some of your work published before you graduate.