Kelly Dineen, RN, JD, PhD, started her position as director of the health law program and assistant professor at Creighton University’s School of Law in July 2017. With a new academic year around the corner, we spoke with her to find out more about her background, her vision for the health law concentration and about health law in general.
You began your career as a registered nurse (RN). How did you transition from being an RN to becoming a lawyer and now working in academia?
It was never my intended career path to become a lawyer, but I got to a point in nursing—after 11 years in the field—where I wanted to go back to school. I had thought about law school over the years, so I took the LSAT and did well and got a scholarship at Saint Louis University (SLU)—where I also received my bachelor’s in nursing degree, as well as my PhD in bioethics. After receiving my JD, I went to work in a law firm for two years where I wound up working on a variety of health care matters. I was one of the only attorneys who had experience as a health care professional, so I assisted with litigation where knowing the medical context was paramount. I represented health care institutions in business and administrative matters.
After two years, I moved to SLU to serve as the assistant director of its health law program. Over eleven years there, I worked also worked in law school administration and taught health law and health care ethics courses. I worked on my PhD part time and finished it in 2015. Once I had my PhD, I decided I wanted to be part of the tenure track of academia. That’s how I got to Creighton.
What was it about Creighton that was so appealing to you?
Social justice and the Jesuit mission are really important to me and the ability to move to another Jesuit institution was incredibly appealing. Here at Creighton I am thrilled to be able to build out the health law program. It is a unique opportunity.
In the year that you have been the director of the health law program, what have you done to increase its visibility?
I started by revising some of the health law curriculum and by bringing in nationally recognized health law speakers. In the 2017-18 academic year, the law school hosted Seema Mohapatra and Elizabeth Pendo. This fall, we are bringing in Kathy Cerminara. Stacey Tovino is coming in the spring of 2019.
I also got students involved in national health law competitions. Last winter they took third place in oral presentation at the national transactional health law competition in Chicago. I also built relationships with other schools and colleges across campus. I am very involved in national academic circles of health law and bioethics.
Because my scholarship is focused on the opioid crisis, I have also been busy working on public interest and policy in that area as an advisor and presenter for groups like the American Health Law Association and the American Bar Association. All of these activities are important for extending and building Creighton’s reputation.
What goals do you have for the 2018-19 academic year?
I’d like to develop a mentorship program with alumni in practice and pair students interested in health law with those already working in the field. I’m also working on designing several dual degree options for health law students, as well as implementing a graduate certificate in health law. I’d like to also create a health law option within the GOAL Program. I will also continue to bring in nationally renowned health law speakers. I am coordinating with students to plan the Law Review Symposium in March 2019. The focus of the symposium will be bias and discrimination in health care and we will be highlighting the impact of factors such as immigration status, socioeconomic status, race, and gender and sexual identity on health care treatment and outcomes.
What makes a health care concentration along with a JD from Creighton so valuable?
This concentration is good for a couple reasons. First of all, there is always work in health care for those with legal training. Second, at some point in everyone’s life, it is really helpful to have a reasonable understanding of the health care system. Third, these courses really push students to grapple with problems that don’t have straightforward answers.
Plus, this concentration gives students real exposure to administrative law, which is a significant part of most law practices these days. Working through administrative law issues in health care matters will also help prepare students to tackle administrative issues in other areas. Even if students graduate and don’t wind up practicing health law, this concentration helps in any highly regulated area of the law.