We caught up last fall with Courtney Chu ’11 to talk about her work as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Visiting Attorney Fellow practicing public health law at ChangeLab Solutions, a nonprofit in Oakland, CA.
Courtney graduated in 2011 with a J.D. and Master of Public Health, having worked during her summers at the American Association for Health Freedom in Arlington, VA, Keller and Heckman LLP in Washington, D.C., and the Oregon Public Health Division in Portland, OR.
PSC: Hi Courtney. Thanks so much for joining us! What kind of work will you be doing as a fellow?
Courtney: ChangeLab Solutions provides technical legal assistance on public health matters and doesn’t do advocacy or form attorney-client relationships, so I’ll be doing somewhat non-traditional legal work. I've been hired on to help grow the organization’s new healthy housing program. Over the next year, I'll be assisting the program director, who's a senior staff attorney, with projects and strategic planning. At the same time, I'm developing a fellowship project that will relate to healthy housing, but also bring in some other areas of public health policy.
PSC: When you were a joint degree student at Virginia, did you know what kind of health care law job you wanted after graduation?
Courtney: I knew that I wanted to do public health policy, although I gave traditional legal practice a chance over my second summer at a firm that specializes in FDA law. I wasn't sure whether I wanted to go into government or the private sector (i.e., nonprofit policy organizations), and am still figuring that out for the long term.
PSC: How did you find out about your fellowship?
Courtney: The Network for Public Health Law announced it in an email newsletter that I receive. My supervisor and a coworker at the Oregon Health Authority, Public Health Division, also brought it to my attention and encouraged me to apply. Since my job at the Division was temporary, they knew I'd be looking for something soon. The Division has worked closely with some of the fellowship host sites, including ChangeLab Solutions, and regards them very highly.
PSC: Were you worried about your chances of getting this fellowship? How did you prepare to maximize your chances of getting it?
Courtney: I was very worried. I was still pretty fresh out of school and I really, really wanted it - it seemed like a dream job. The application process was standardized through an online platform on the NPHL website, and the only written portion that required a lot of work was the application narrative. I worked on that for a long time and got help from my partner and sister. Mostly, though, I was worried about the phone interviews. They always feel awkward. So, when I made it through the first cut and to the interviews, I practically flew over to the Public Service Center to seek help preparing. I think the practice interview and other advice I received from PSC were essential in landing me the job.
PSC: Well, you were already an excellent candidate! You graduated from school without a permanent job in hand and then landed this wonderful fellowship while studying for your second bar exam, as I recall. Do you have any words of advice for 3Ls who are anxious about postgraduate employment?
Courtney: I would encourage soon-to-be grads to see the messy market as an opportunity to keep exploring after school. I graduated with a full debt load, so I know how stressful that is, but I also wasn't entirely clear on what I wanted to do. The temp job with OHA was a great way to get started because I got to do real work, but also had the freedom to move on to something new once my project wrapped up. My current fellowship is only a year long and is intended to give me an opportunity to explore, learn more about the field, and network so I can get a better idea of the opportunities out there. I know that many people would be freaked out by the time limits on these jobs, and perhaps they wouldn’t enjoy my path as much as I have, but I think the varied experience I've gotten may make me more competitive for my next job than candidates who kept the same position for several years.
These short-term opportunities are also often meatier. At the Division, I had six months to start and complete a rulemaking, so there was no time to waste! I anticipate that my year here will fly by too, and, as a small non-profit, ChangeLab Solutions needs its fellows to do important work. There's no "busywork."
PSC: Great advice. Thanks so much for spending time with us and good luck digging into your new job!
Courtney: Thank you! I'm happy to share my experience.