Interview with Practitioner-in-Residence Margaret Donnelly

May 1, 2013

Margaret Donnelly (‘88), former director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, joined the School of Law as a Health Law Practitioner-in-Residence for the Spring 2013 semester and has committed to teach in the 2013-2014 academic year.

Describe your role as Practitioner-in-Residence.
As Practitioner in Residence I'm striving to help students make connections between course materials and lectures and health law in the public sector. In addition to the seminar which I am co-teaching with Professor Sidney Watson, I have been a guest in several other health law classes and have assisted students with seminar papers. Several brown bag lunches discussing my experiences in government, as well as regular office hours, have provided less formal settings to talk with students about career choices and possibilities.

What do you hope your students take away from your class? 
The seminar which I co-teach with Professor Watson, Health Policy and Grassroots Advocacy, seeks to provide students with real world experiences in policy analysis and issue advocacy. The focus is on the Affordable Care Act and how it might be implemented in Missouri. The students are gaining an understanding of how health policy is shaped by political forces and how all of the moving parts must come together for legislation to pass. Most importantly, they are developing their skills as lawyers to advocate for policy and legislative changes.

What do you think sets the SLU LAW Health Law program apart as one of the best in the country?
The Center for Health Law Studies is very fortunate to have so many faculty members devote some part of their time to the health law program. Over the years this faculty has developed expertise in a number of areas. This creates not only an incredibly rich curriculum, but also has resulted in significant relationships flourishing with the broader legal and health care community. Students emerge with a strong knowledge base and enhanced career opportunities.

What have you enjoyed about being back in an academic environment?
Having the chance to interact with students and generate enthusiasm for making a contribution in the public sector has been wonderful. I am impressed with the interest and commitment shown by the students. In the seminar, the students have been so conscientious and eager to work with various community groups and individuals in order to make a difference in health policy and legislation. Playing a role in engaging future lawyers in government and public service is very rewarding.
I am also enjoying being back in St. Louis full time and having the opportunity to consult and work with other areas of the law school and University, as well as with community groups.

How is law school different from when you were a student? 
Of course, the campus looks very different than 25 years ago. The most important change has been the use of technology, which allows research to be so much more efficient and effective. And we wrote our exams in long hand! And I think the access to all sorts of free food is different- I don't remember that sort of generosity when I was a student! But as we approach exam time, the crowded library, the intensity in mood among both students and faculty makes me realize that many things are very much the same.

What do you remember most about your time at Morrissey Hall? 
The friendships that I formed have been enduring and very important in my life. I just had my 25th reunion and really enjoyed catching up with many of my classmates. I feel I had an excellent legal education and have stayed connected to many of the faculty over the years. It has been great to spend more time with them this semester.

What are your thoughts on the downtown move and new building?
I think the location of the new building offers all sorts of opportunities for creating connections with not only the courts and law firms, but also the larger community: business, government and service organizations. Also, any change in physical space requires a reevaluation of how work and human interactions occur, which can be a good thing periodically.

What are you most proud of from your time with the Department of Health and Senior Services?
The Department has done a wonderful job in supporting the efforts of local health departments and their communities in creating healthier populations. The efforts to create smoke-free environments, to have access to healthier foods and to build space that promotes activity and exercise are all part of the work to advance healthy living. The health research tells us that environmental factors and social conditions are the most important predictors of health, so I am very happy with the Department's leadership in encouraging communities to consider "health in all matters."
In addition, I was pleased with the progress we made in improving the Department's effectiveness in our regulatory functions, such as long term care and child care regulation, and food safety surveillance and regulation.

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