Academic Immersion

Editor’s Note: The Petrie-Flom Center is now accepting applications for Student Fellowships for the 2017-2018 academic year. See our website for more information about applying! 

Last week, the New England Journal of Medicine published a Perspectives article describing the “Immersion Day” it holds for its board members. On the Immersion Day, participants don scrubs and shadow front line employees across various parts of the hospital – this might include attending ICU rounds or observing a surgery. The day gives board members the opportunity to meet and engage with staff in a meaningful way as they go about their jobs, painting a vivid picture of the issues and concerns that arise on paper in the board room. In its third year, the program is a resounding success, garnering rave reviews from the trustees. In fact, the hospital has now created an Immersion Day for state policymakers.

Having worked as a clinician before moving into policy and research, this piece resonated deeply with me. I have found my clinical experience to be essential and formative for how I view policy questions. In addition, as I approach the end of my year as a student fellow, I realized that this piece and the concept of immersion describes my experience with the Petrie-Flom Center.

My main experience with health law prior to the fellowship was dealing with practical headaches related to HIPAA, and I had only limited exposure to bioethics and biotechnology as formal disciplines. Over the course of the year, I’ve gained an invaluable substantive understanding of key issues in these fields, and, more importantly, have had the opportunity to see familiar topics in a new way, through the lens of legal scholars and my law school classmates. I’ve read my first law review article. I’ve come to appreciate new complexities in questions that I previously thought were straightforward (I’m looking at you, data sharing!) We’ve covered topics in the Health Law workshop that are centrally important to health care, but that I might not have gotten in any other class, such as disability rights and laws. And then there have been classes on constitutional law that were as novel to me as a hospital trustee observing an open-heart surgery. Most importantly, I’ve learned a way of thinking and analysis that has sharpened my own rigor of thought, and which I will carry forward in my own work.

Like the hospital board members, I will come away from my student fellowship with a deeper appreciation for how the law works. Although I have only scratched the surface and have mainly learned how much I don’t know, I have a stronger set of tools with which to engage with legal scholars and scholarship – and will probably follow topics I never would have otherwise. I have long been a proponent of clinical immersion experiences, and this year I have learned that academic immersion offers similarly eye-opening exposure to my colleagues in other fields and intellectual traditions. I’m grateful to my classmates and professors for the opportunity to get a glimpse of this new world.

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