Q&A with Jason Sloan L’20 gives insight into JD/MPH
Why did you choose Penn and more specifically the Law School?
There were a few reasons why I chose Penn Law. First, one overriding aspect of Penn Law that stood out relative to the other top law schools was the collegiality of its student body. I knew law school would be difficult and stressful enough as is, and having to compete with my peers while trying to learn the material would only make the experience less valuable. I was happy to learn that everything I was told about Penn Law’s collegiality was accurate, if not more so than I had been told. Second, I wanted to attend a law school with a robust multidisciplinary program; I specifically crossed out some other peer schools because they did not advertise a JD/MPH program. Third, as someone who had lived in New York my whole life and who anticipated returning after getting my JD, I wanted to experience a different city for a little while, but still be in a big, Northeastern city with easy access to my friends and family. Philadelphia is one of the best values for a dense Eastern Seaboard city and, as a vegetarian, I could not be happier with the food options.
When and why did you choose to pursue a joint degree with Public Health?
I was pre-med in undergrad and had actually taken the MCAT before deciding that being a physician wasn’t the right career path for me. I wanted to address structural issues that impacted public health on a community and societal scale, and I wasn’t sure that an MD was the best way to get there. In fact, even before applying to law schools, I had attended a few MPH open houses. When I thought about how I would be able to best apply my skillset and knowledge base to the public health problems of today, I realized that I would need a strong foundation in the law, in addition to an understanding of public health. Getting an MPH in addition to my JD was the only logical conclusion, and I certainly feel like that decision was vindicated based on my experiences at Penn.
What was the best part of the MPH experience?
One of the best parts of my MPH degree was my relationship with Evan Anderson, one of the MPH core curriculum professors. During my MPH year (between 1L and 2L), I was his TA and Graduate Assistant. We collaborated on three published papers (one in the Penn Law Journal of Law and Public Affairs) and his contacts at the Philadelphia District Attorney helped me secure an externship the following semester in the DA’s Research and Policy office, where I helped the brand new (at the time) DA Larry Krasner update the office’s approach to criminal justice and especially diversion programs.
Did you take any classes in Public Health that were particularly relevant to what is going on with COVID-19?
I took an epidemiology class, which certainly helps with understanding the incidence and spread of COVID-19. I also took a GIS class, which focused on digitally mapping diseases and their causes, and which helps me appreciate and evaluate the many ways different outlets are trying to visualize and present COVID’s spread. Finally, the core class on public health policy and administration demonstrated the roles of government and health policy in general, which is especially important now with the divide between local, state, and federal responsibilities in addressing the crisis.
How did your experience in the MPH help/complement your learning at Penn Law? And what did you enjoy/value most about the ability to take classes at a Penn Law sister school?
My experience in the MPH definitely complemented my learning at Penn Law. One specific example that comes to mind is the experimental policy lab course that Professor Rulli taught a few years ago. We were tasked with updating Pennsylvania’s laws covering healthcare decisions at end-of-life and improving advance directive completion by senior citizens. At the same time, I was taking a behavioral economics class through the MPH and I was able to use the legal and medical background from the policy lab to draft a proposal in the MPH class that sought to improve advance completion. That proposal was later presented at the Gerontological Society of America 2019 meeting in Austin, TX.
One of the things I valued most about taking courses outside of the law school was the shift in instructional styles. While law is predicated on individual work and personal study, the MPH is fundamentally about bringing different stakeholders together and working in conjunction with each other to come to a more inclusive solution. Being able to work collaboratively with my peers from sister schools introduced me to many unique viewpoints and gave me access to the rich backgrounds and coursework that they could draw from to solve complex public health problems. Now that I’m graduating and entering the work force, my capacity to work with others with different experiences has improved and that will ultimately make me a better lawyer.
Where are you working after graduation?
I will be working at Hogan Lovells US after graduation.
What advice would you share with current students or prospective students who are interested in pursuing a cross-disciplinary program?
One thing I would say is that it is sometimes difficult to balance taking courses required by different schools and programs. Make sure that you have your schedules laid out in advance so that you can plan around the vagaries of the course registration algorithms. I also think it’s important to have a firm understanding of what you want out of each degree. With the JD/MPH degree, I had to balance spending an extra year out of the workforce against my life goal of being a public health lawyer. If you are unsure of what you want to do, it might be more difficult to justify the extra time or expense of taking classes outside of the law school. Finally, always find a way to incorporate what you’re learning at one school with what you’re learning at the other. The value in having two graduate degrees is in their interactions with each other; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.