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Combining Law and Medicine


By Candace M. Ruocco.

One stereotype about lawyers is they chase ambulances. When she graduates in 2016, Southern Illinois University School of Law 2L Joyce Yong will have the opportunity to ride in one. Yong is a dual-degree-seeking student at Southern Illinois pursing both her JD and an MD.

“[I] would love to practice medicine and also be able to contribute to health policy in my community,” she says.

An extensive background in legal aid and medical research prepared Yong for a variety of work areas. As an undergraduate, she majored in bio-medical sciences and interdisciplinary research. She has also worked at the Land of Lincoln Legal Assistance Foundation on a poverty, health, and law project.

“I’m the kind of person who loves to do everything,” Yong says. “When I started college, I promised myself I wouldn’t rule out any fields I hadn’t tried yet.”

Yong’s varied education reflects her world view and philosophy of “walk[ing] through every open door.”

For the first 12 years of her life, Yong had few of those open doors. She was born and raised in Brunei, an Islamic nation in Southeast Asia. Yong’s education was limited by the national curriculum and the discrimination her family faced.

Yong says her grandparents immigrated to Brunei to escape Chinese communism. But in Brunei, all three generations of Yongs faced discrimination because they were in the Chinese minority.

Specifically, Yong and her family were denied Bruneian citizenship because of their Chinese heritage––meaning they were also automatically denied admission to Brunei’s only university.

“I was raised in a Chinese bubble within Brunei,” she says.

Yong says while Brunei loves progress, there aren’t very many opportunities. This makes it difficult for parents to motivate and encourage their children.

About 10 years ago, Yong’s family relocated to the United States––bringing their dreams of education with them.

After receiving her high school International baccalaureate diploma in 2007, Yong attended the University of Southern Florida.

“I didn’t know what I could be good at in college,” Yong says, “so I did everything.”

Although this philosophy helped Yong win honors in various disciplines, she says there was a negative aspect.

“Some of my grades suffered, particularly in pre-med classes because I had so much going on,” she says.

But, Yong notes she doesn’t regret spreading herself so thin because the experience allowed her to “grow as a person.”

Completing a JD and an MD will keep Yong busy. The way the joint-degree program is set up, students in the program take classes each summer following their 1L and 2L years. After a year at the School of Medicine in Carbondale, Illinois, students move to Springfield for two more years of medical school followed by a senior year that includes a special set of medicine, law, and health policy electives.

Yong will begin her first year of medical school in fall 2012.

She said the two programs are similar because both require an analytical mind and “a strong focus on caring for people.”

“I always thought, ‘doctors and lawyers don’t get along,” she says. “The more I learn about health policy . . . the more I understand there . . . is a need for discourse.”

Yong says she wants to work for a medical-legal partnership or other program that impacts a community by combining law and medicine. Medical-legal partnerships allow health-care workers to better care for their patients by referring them to the appropriate legal aid sources. Yong says, “Having such knowledge of law and being able to augment that when I go into med school is going to be a really tremendous gift.”

However, she says her ultimate goal is clear.

“More than anything in my life, I want to be a person who shows compassion.”



Medical residency with a health policy track


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Vol. 40 No. 5

Candace M. Ruocco, Saint Louis School of Law.

Student Lawyer Student Lawyer magazine provides guidance on educational, career, and related issues for ABA Law Student Division members and other subscribers. It is published four times a year by the Law Student Division of the American Bar Association. Student Lawyer is available online to members of the ABA Law Student Division and to print subscribers.

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