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Medical and health care law is one of the fastest-growing areas of the legal field today. Job market studies have shown there will be as many as 2 million job openings available in medical law by the year 2024, making it one of the fastest-growing practices for students pursuing their law degrees. Not only is it a broad and constantly expanding field, but there is plenty of opportunity for specialization and finding your own career niche.
What is Medical Law?
Medical law deals with the legal rights and responsibilities of both health care professionals and patients and covers medical ethics, intellectual property law, regulatory law, and more. Medical lawyers interpret regulations and statutes in order to advise hospitals, physicians, pharmaceutical companies, and other providers on issues such as risk management, licensing, and malpractice litigation.
While there is a broad array of legal issues surrounding medicine and health care, there are three main branches of medical law:
- Criminal law
Confidentiality primarily has to do with patient records and patient privacy. Who has access (or should have access) to patient records can often be a thorny legal question. Confidentiality law helps determine which patient records are to be kept confidential, and what might amount to a breach of that confidentiality. Confidentiality law also looks out for patients and their right to consent to have those medical records released or shared.
Negligence is concerned with the duties of health care professionals to their patients. This includes things like using good judgment when it comes to medical decisions and providing a good standard of care. Negligence law comes into play when a doctor fails in their duty to protect the patient, perhaps by botching a surgery or doing harm through inaction or error.
Criminal medical law becomes relevant when, either through deliberate action or negligence, a doctor breaks the law — perhaps by obtaining the proper consent, providing treatment against the wishes of the patient, or otherwise committing malpractice.
What Type of Careers Can You Pursue in Medical Law?
The medical field is constantly growing more and more sophisticated, and there’s an ever-increasing need for strong leaders to tackle and advise on the many changes to medical law. Here are a few of the kinds of careers you could pursue:
1. Medical Malpractice Attorney
Malpractice attorneys deal with cases such as surgical mistakes, incorrect diagnoses, unwanted or improper treatment, and more. Most medical malpractice suits don’t go to court, in part because they can be very difficult to prove. That’s where malpractice attorneys come in. Their job is to examine medical records to ascertain the truth about the case. This can be a challenging field of law, in part because of the difficulty of proving malpractice, but also because medicine is not an exact science. It’s entirely possible for a doctor or healthcare professional to draw the wrong conclusions from the correct evidence, and fail to provide proper treatment through no fault of their own.
2. Chief Medical Compliance Officer
Even in the field of medical law, pursuing your law degree doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be an attorney per se. The healthcare field is full of ever-increasing numbers of rules and regulations, which must be complied with in order to protect patient privacy and safety. That’s where medical compliance officers come in — their job is to act as a bridge between medical institutions and government regulators. An MCO must intimately understand the laws, guidelines, and best practices of their field in order to keep the hospital or other medical facility runs smoothly and within the bounds of the law.
3. Medical Legal Advisor
The role of a medicolegal advisor (as they are often called) is to guide doctors and other legal professionals through legal processes. As already established, the medical field has a lot of legal entanglements — criminal investigations, patient claims and complaints, regulatory issues, questions of malpractice, and more. A medicolegal advisor acts as a liaison to the healthcare professional or institution. This can be a challenging but rewarding career path, as it is often emotionally and intellectually demanding.
4. Medical Patent Attorney
Medicine and technology have always been closely intertwined, and trade secrets, trademarks, and patents all come with the territory. Those advancements and innovations can mean the difference between life and death for patients — but the intellectual property of the innovators must also be protected. Medical patients can be complex to apply for and obtain, and a medical patent attorney can act in an advisory capacity, helping guide clients through the entire process.
5. Nurse Attorney
Nurse attorneys are a particular kind of professional, licensed to practice both nursing and law. Much like a compliance officer or medicolegal advisor, the job of a nursing attorney is to advise legal professionals (particularly nurses) on changes to healthcare policies.
6. Health Law Professor
Of course, if the courtroom or boardroom isn’t your cup of tea, you can always turn your law degree into a teaching profession. Educating the next generation of medical law graduates can be a fulfilling and rewarding career.