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Growing up, Allie McNamara, JD, MHA (’21), always thought she would follow in her father’s footsteps and become a doctor. However, with chemistry not her strongest subject, she looked to other options as she enjoyed being in the hospital and interacting with physicians and practitioners.  

“All of this led me to healthcare administration,” says McNamara, who is an associate with Bass, Berry & Sims PLC in Nashville. “The summers after junior and senior year of college I worked at a local community hospital, at first shadowing the chief nursing officer and later managing projects. It was in those meetings I discovered that leaders with clinical and legal expertise have the loudest voice at the table. Since a clinical path was off the table and I was a history major, I decided to pursue both law and healthcare.” 

This led McNamara to the University of Kentucky’s College of Public Health (CPH) Juris Doctor (JD)/Master of Health Administration (MHA) dual degree program. This dual program, which spans healthcare leadership and law, offers students the opportunity to complete two professional degrees in a year less than they would take separately. 

“The combination of healthcare management education and legal expertise opens many doors in health systems and the public sector,” says Dr. Maureen Jones, MHA Program Director, and associate professor in the college. “Graduates who earn the MHA and JD degrees are not limited to the traditional law career path of working in a government agency or law firm—they can also expand their opportunities to take on roles in health services organizations.” 

Brenton Hill, JD, MHA (’21), knew the dual degree route was for him after completing his undergraduate program with an interest in health policy, health law, and health administration.  

“With the unique opportunity to study and explore careers in all of these fields, I felt like this was the right program for me and my future endeavors,” says Hill, who is an administrative fellow at the Mayo Clinic

Both McNamara and Hill spent their first year in the MHA program and their second year fully focused on law before a mix of both in their final two years. Students in the program can also begin with one or two years of law school. 

Students consult with an advisor in the MHA program and the College of Law to determine the best path for them. The curriculum sequencing has some flexibility in timing and in emphasis areas. 

McNamara and Hill say the dual program gave them valuable opportunities to learn through internships and externships.  

 “I had the opportunity to work in hospital administration, risk management, public health, and with the legal team of a large health system for a total of six internships,” says Hill. “That is something that I believe sets our program apart.” 

While both are just starting their careers, they believe the JD/MHA program prepared them well. 

“Law school is not geared towards transactional practice, so the learning curve was steep,” says McNamara. “However, having completed the dual program, I felt like the words used, the research questions, and the agreements I have drafted were familiar. Healthcare is an alphabet soup. The JD/MHA program helped me to better understand the foundation of that alphabet, which has made me feel more prepared for my career.” 

Hill adds, “In the MHA program, I learned the leadership skills to help me solve problems in a large organization, specifically utilizing lean process improvement strategies. In law school, I was taught how to use a methodical approach to scrutinize and analyze problems while looking for rules and patterns to apply to any situation. I believe this combination of skills is invaluable to anyone looking to be part of a health system, working in public health, or practicing as a healthcare attorney.” 

Students interested in the MHA/JD dual program must apply and be admitted to both programs. Deadlines for each program may vary, so it is important for prospective students to track application processes carefully. 

Hill encourages those interested in the program to consider why both programs fit into their career plans.  

“I wanted the flexibility to explore my niche in healthcare and the degree gives me that opportunity,” he says. “Those who go to law school need to consider the rigor that is involved in the study and environment of law. While it is not for everyone, going through such an experience helps you realize your capacity and gives you instant credibility on any path you choose. If your passion is healthcare law and policy, this is the right program for you!” 

McNamara, who has served as a mentor to several students interested in the program, agrees that it gives students the opportunity to dive into a niche area of law and healthcare operations. 

“It challenges a person in ways you never thought possible, but the dual degree program gives you motivation and, for lack of better words, ‘want to,’ to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel when school is over,” she says. “You get to picture the real world and strive to be the best healthcare lawyer or healthcare administrator you desire to be.” 

For more information on the MHA/JD program, reach out to Dr. Jones at Dr.MJ@uky.edu

In 2004, the University of Kentucky established the College of Public Health to develop transformative solutions to health challenges through teaching, research, and service efforts. We are dedicated to transforming and assisting in the creation of a healthier community, state, and world—for everyone. 

Located in Lexington, Kentucky, we take seriously our public health responsibility to all communities and individuals in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and beyond. To learn more about our community and programs, visit us at cph.uky.edu

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