Checking in with Semester in D.C. Students

March 14, 2014

 

Each spring for the last four years, the Center for Health Law Studies sends students up to Washington, D.C., to gain real-world experience working with complex health care regulations in various federal agencies.  Including this semester, SLU LAW has sent a total of 20 health law students to D.C. Placement sites have included:

  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Quality and Safety
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of General Counsel
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Counsel to the Inspector General
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of General Counsel, Public Health Division
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of General Counsel
  • U.S. Department of Justice, Antitrust Division
  • Federal Trade Commission, Bureau of Competition, Health Care Division

Building on the success of the Health Law Semester in D.C., the William C. Wefel Center for Employment Law launched its own program in 2013, where students achieve in-depth, practical experience in federal labor and employment regulation and policy.

The Sidebar caught up with the five SLU LAW students spending this semester in the nation’s capital to find out what they’re up to and how they are enjoying their time away.

 

Erin Lenahan
Associate General Counsel, HHS-OGC, Center for Medicare & Medicaid

What has your experience been like so far?
My experience so far has been really great. It was definitely overwhelming at first, but I have learned so much in the past two months, and all of the attorneys have been great to work with. It has been a really wonderful experience, and I feel so lucky to have been given this opportunity.

What type of work are you doing?
I've been given a wide range of different assignments. I've gotten to attend depositions, draft answers, write briefs, sit in on meetings and phone calls, and I've gotten to do really extensive work on administrative law as well as Medicaid reimbursement. It is really interesting to work for HHS right as the ACA is beginning. I get to observe how the legal end of healthcare works to mesh with the policies behind the health reform, and it is really fascinating to be a part of something that is impacting people's lives at this moment in history.

What made you want to participate in the program?
As soon as I learned about the externship program in D.C., I knew it was an opportunity that was too unique to pass up. I've been interested in health law since I started law school, and to be in D.C. working in that field was something that I found to be incredibly exciting. I chose the program because I knew that I could not pass up such a great opportunity to further my education and gain exposure to healthcare issues in a way that extended beyond the classroom. There is so much happening in D.C. and with healthcare, and I wanted to be a part of it in some way.

What do you hope to do after graduation? Has your time in D.C. influenced that decision?
After graduation I plan on staying on the east coast. I would absolutely love to live and work in D.C., and my externship has reaffirmed my passion for healthcare issues.

What has been your favorite part about the city?
The snow! Just kidding. It has been a cold and snowy winter, but I love that it doesn't prevent the people of D.C. from venturing out. There is so much energy in the city, and there is so much to see and do. You never know who you are going to meet or what you will encounter. I've seen a protest in the American History Museum, and I've seen a hundred people running a 5K in their underwear in the middle of the winter. There is always a reason to go out and explore.

 

Eric Crowder
Bureau of Competition Health Care Division, Federal Trade Commission

What has your experience been like so far?
I have been working at the Federal Trade Commission since the beginning of the Spring 2014 semester.  Within the FTC, I am working with attorneys in the Bureau of Competition’s Health Care Division.  The office applies the federal antitrust laws to health care providers and pharmaceutical companies by conducting investigations and, when appropriate, bringing cases in federal court.

What type of work are you doing?
I have been assisting two trial teams involved in pre-trial litigation for cases involving “reverse payments” between pharmaceutical companies.  I have also assisted a team conducting a non-public investigation of a horizontal merger.  While working on these projects, my colleagues have provided me with reading materials to help me better understand the antitrust laws and their application to the health care industry.

What made you want to participate in the program?
I first learned of this program through an alumnus of its first class, Helen White (’11). From January -April 2011, she worked in the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General with me when I was a paralegal there.  As a D.C. local and intending to practice health law in D.C. after graduation, this program was SLU LAW’s most attractive asset.

What do you hope to do after graduation? Has your time in D.C. influenced that decision?
I want to work with the Anti-kickback Statute, Stark Law, and False Claims Law for a firm in the D.C. area.  I also would like to continue to become more familiar with the antitrust laws.  Because I am enjoying how my semester is giving me a first-hand look into pre-trial litigation practice, I would like to gain litigation experience working with these laws in the health care context.

What has been your favorite part about the city?
My favorite part about D.C. is my walk to and from work; I walk through Columbus Circle every day – Union Station on my one side, the Capitol dome on the other.      

 

Brennan Pratt
Office of General Counsel, Torts Division, Department of Veterans Affairs
Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Quality & Safety


What has your experience been like so far?
I get to write tort reports and do legal research. It’s pretty much what I figured my first years out of law school would be like. Much more practical than another soul-crushing round of law classes and finals.

What type of work are you doing?
At Office of General Counsel I'm looking at requests for reconsideration. It’s a part of the Federal Tort Claims Act administrative requirements, though only commenced at the request of the Claimant. I basically check the work of the Regional Counsel and answer any substantive questions they raise on request for reconsideration.

At the Office of Quality, Safety and Value I do legal research and statistical analysis. It’s turned out to be a very Excel-heavy position.

What made you want to participate in the program?
It seemed the more pragmatic choice... as opposed to subjecting my thinning psyche to another round of finals.

What do you hope to do after graduation? Has your time in D.C. influenced that decision?
Government work would be ideal, at least for the first couple of years. I have to hang around in St. Louis while waiting for the ever-lovely Victoria Marszalik (long-time girlfriend) to graduate from SLU. She's two years behind me, education-wise.

What has been your favorite part about D.C.?
The blizzards, of course.

 

Jesse Sifuentez
Antitrust Division, U.S. Department of Justice

What has your experience been like so far?
It has been a great experience. The attorneys at the DOJ-Antitrust division have been excellent mentors. They are friendly and concerned with my intellectual development in the antitrust field. They are not bothered by my constant questions. They go out of their way to bring me into meetings and cases that I might find interesting. 

What type of work are you doing?
I am working on merger cases in the healthcare industry. I am working primarily on the investigation side of the merger cases. Before a merger takes place, the DOJ investigates the agreement and determines whether it has anticompetitive effects. I help the attorneys with interviews of interested parties and review documents related to the antitrust analysis. This is interesting because I get to see what happens behind closed doors in the DOJ.

What made you want to participate in the program?
I wanted to participate in the program because I wanted to gain some agency experience on the federal level. I knew about the Semester in D.C. program since my 1L year and knew that was how I wanted to spend my last semester. I worked in state government before law school, and I knew the advantage of establishing a relationship with agency officials would have for my future practice. I wanted to learn the culture, routine and personalities in D.C. There are some things you cannot learn in a class room and this program helps me gain that practical experience.

What do you hope to do after graduation? Has your time in D.C. influenced that decision?
I hope to work for one of the healthcare agencies after law school or with a firm that deals with agencies. Yes, the Semester in D.C. program influenced this decision. Attorneys at the DOJ have been helping me make contacts with attorneys from other federal agencies as well.

What has been your favorite part about D.C.?
My favorite part about D.C. is that no one here is from D.C. I interact with bright and ambitious people from all over the country on a daily basis. I also enjoy the history of the city and knowing that I am in a city where the nation's important decisions are being made.

 

Joey Kirchgessner
Office of Federal Operations, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)

What has your experience been like so far? 
I have loved working here at the EEOC. The people here are great to be around, I get along well with the other interns, and I am learning a lot!

What type of work are you doing?
One of the main responsibilities I have is to write appellate decisions regarding federal employees’ discrimination claims. The Office of Federal Operations is a distinct entity within the EEOC that exclusively handles federal employee claims of discrimination claims. I also am working on a comprehensive research paper with my fellow interns about the Equal Pay Act - its history, landmark cases, and the availability of some new-age remedies that aren't yet widely known. I also have some other assignments here and there, like attending and documenting a summit on LGBT issues in the federal workplace regarding discrimination; working with our Training and Outreach Division to develop their program; and working on case summaries and articles for the quarterly EEOC Digest.

What made you want to participate in the program?
Ever since I heard about the program 1L year, I knew I had to do my best to make it happen for a couple reasons. The first is that I am much better at the real-world side of things than the academic. I have always been an average student, but I really pride myself in my ethic and work product in the workplace.  It seems silly, but school and work are two completely separate worlds for me and I really thrive more in the workplace. The second reason I wanted to do this program is because of its proximity to my hometown of Fredericksburg, Va. Lastly, the real world experience you can gain in a externship like this is unlike anything else you can do during school. Full immersion into the working world really helps you get an idea of what it will be like after graduation.

What do you hope to do after graduation? Has your time in D.C. influenced that decision?
I am planning on taking the Virginia bar. This has been pretty much my plan since entering law school.  Working here in D.C. has only reaffirmed my gut instinct to return to the east coast. The work, the people and the location are all factors that helped lead me to the decision to stay where I am now.

What has been your favorite part about D.C.?
Being from the D.C. metro area, the proximity to my family and old friends has been great.  I haven't spent much time with them the last couple years, and now I am able to visit much more often. A one hour car ride is much better and cheaper than the two hour flight! Other than that, D.C. has an awesome food scene with plenty of historic sights and landscapes.
 

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