Like it or not, healthcare has become inextricably intertwined with the law. The legal issues surrounding healthcare are becoming more complex and are changing quickly. 

This reality presents a challenge to patients and providers alike. Developing professionals to meet that challenge is the vision of the new Emerging Leaders Program in Law, which saw its first cohort of students begin classes in May 2019. 

Sobia Hussaini, Director, Academic Practice Partnerships, Wake PA

The ELP-Law program was developed in a partnership between the Wake Forest PA program and the Wake Forest School of Law. 

“For healthcare providers, including PAs, it’s becoming increasingly important to understand how the law can impact your clinical practice,” said Sobia Hussaini, MHA, director of academic practice partnerships with the Wake Forest PA program. “Insurance, malpractice, telemedicine, bioethics – these things will impact their careers on a daily basis.” 

Challenges of the future

The first program of its kind in the country, the ELP-Law program was developed to graduate practicing PAs who are familiar with the law as it relates to healthcare. This additional layer of knowledge will allow them to be more effective advocates for their patients, helping them navigate healthcare policies, insurance and local, state and federal laws. 

PAs who receive this degree will also potentially be effective advocates for the profession at the state and national levels. “The PA profession only just turned 50 years old,” added Hussaini. “There’s still so much advocacy to be done.” 

The program is structured as a sequential degree, with students first attaining a Master of Studies in Law degree through a 12-month, accelerated online program. Upon completion of the law curriculum, students then enter the PA program. 

Ellen Murphy, Assistant Dean of Instructional Technologies and Design, stands outside in front of green hedge

Students who complete the program will not be attorneys who can practice law. That’s not the intention of the program, according to Ellen Murphy, assistant dean of instructional technologies and design at the Wake Forest School of Law. 

Instead, students will gain an understanding of the law that will serve them and their patients well into the future. “The problems we have today will not be the problems we have in three years,” said Murphy. “This program teaches the fundamentals of the law in such a way that they can understand those problems and meet the challenges of the future.” 

Combining interests

This spring, the first cohort of students in the ELP-Law program began the online law courses. One of those students is Jonathas Carvalho.  

Carvalho followed a long road that led him to the ELP-Law program at Wake Forest. Most recently, he served as an EMT in Massachusetts, but also worked in several healthcare support, clinical and research roles in the Marine Corps and at the university level. 

“I’ve been moving around the healthcare field for some 13 years,” he said. 

Although he spent so much time working in healthcare, Carvalho said the law had always interested him. “I’ve always been fascinated with the law in general,” he added. 

When he heard about the ELP-Law program, he thought it would be a good way to combine his two interests. He also saw it as a way to fill an important need in the marketplace. “With the way things are trending in healthcare, with more laws being drafted, I thought it would be a good tool to have in my toolbox.” 

He’s just a few months into the program, but Carvalho already sees the possibilities that his education will provide. “My goal is to be able to navigate the legal side of healthcare, and be able to help my patients,” he said. “This degree will give me the knowledge to be able to answer their questions.” 

Carvalho added that his legal education will help him to advocate on behalf of himself, his colleagues and the PA profession in general. 

Enhanced skillset

Along with the ELP-Business program, the ELP-Law program is an extension of the Wake Forest PA program’s mission to create leaders within the PA profession. That mission, according to Hussaini, has led the program leaders to explore new approaches to graduating outstanding PAs. 

“For 50 years, we’ve been preparing PAs to enter clinical practice and provide a very high level of patient care,” said Hussaini. “Over time, we realized we could do things in an innovative way to enhance the skillsets that our students have.” 

Those skillsets, Hussaini added, will help the PAs provide excellent care while offering greater value to their patients and communities. “They will stand out when they’re providing care,” she said. “It will really elevate their careers.” 

Carvalho echoed those thoughts, saying that he anticipates a bright future when he enters the workplace as a PA with a Master of Studies in Law degree. “This program is giving me a different set of tools I wouldn’t get anywhere else,” he said. “It’s exciting.”