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Summer Reflections: 3L James Callahan Interns at the CDC

Third-year law student James Callahan IV fulfilled his dream of working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over the summer as a public health law intern. 

He reflects on the experience here.

James Callahan, third-year law student, Saint Louis University School of Law
James Callahan, third-year law student, Saint Louis University School of Law

What motivated you to seek a summer position at the CDC as a public health law intern? 
It has always been a dream of mine to work for the CDC, but I thought that dream was over when I decided to go to law school instead of medical school. I found this position by complete accident using the Arizona Handbook, one of the resources provided through Career Services.

What were some of your job duties?
Each of us had a main project and some smaller projects throughout the summer. My big project was assisting in conducting a legal epidemiological study on the definition of telemedicine and telehealth in the United States. This consisted of systematically reviewing all the laws and regulations that mention telemedicine or other langue that means the same. Next, we created a coding method for analyzing these laws in order to produce raw data to be used for statistical analyses. And excitingly, my partner and I on this project are in the process of completing a write-up for the study, which will be published on their website this fall.

In addition, the CDC emphasized that we utilize the numerous training opportunities offered across their campuses. A large portion of my time was spent attending conferences, lectures and webinars to teach us the skills to be successful as public health law attorneys.

Did you find anything particularly compelling about this field or the work you did?
One quote that has stuck with me is, “There is no public health without the law.” For example, in the event of an outbreak, the government cannot quarantine individuals if there are no laws giving them the power to do so.

As a society, we now have many laws that explicitly affect our population’s health (e.g. safe drinking laws, housing laws, environmental laws, etc.), but until very recently many of these laws are passed with little to no follow-up on whether they are effective. This is ironic to me because in medicine we demand studies to show the effectiveness of drugs and therapies, but when it comes to the laws that affect everyone, we generally don’t follow up on what their downstream effects are. To me, this is how my background is health care and legal education interact, and is a newly emerging field using legal epidemiology to measure the law’s effects.

What did you learn from the experience, and how did it help you grow as a future lawyer?
Two words: legal research. Before this experience, I had not seen legal research that is so detailed and meticulous as the work the CDC conducts. Through this summer internship, my research skills have been improved exponentially, and I will be a much better lawyer, public health or otherwise, in the future for it.

I also realized how small some fields — such as public health law — truly are. And I learned how important it is to maintain connections with people, as you’ll be interacting with them for the rest of your life.

Did anything surprise you about your position or about the CDC?
I was shocked by how much training I received during the internship. It would be safe to say about half my time was spent engaging in different trainings, conferences and activities. It was an internship that truly felt like they wanted to make us better people and prepare us for our careers.

Did you interact with any SLU LAW alumni during the internship?
Yes, I conducted an informational interview with a SLU LAW alumna who works for the CDC in global health. She is currently researching global health law and assisting other third-world countries in establishing their health departments and health laws.

How did you enjoy living in Atlanta?
This was a very new experience for me. Prior, I had never lived outside of Missouri. Atlanta itself is a beautiful city. One thing that really surprised me was all of the trees. I have never seen such a green city. The only negative was the infamous Atlanta traffic.

What are your long-term plans for the practice of law?
I definitely want to work within the health care field, but I am still figuring out where my exact spot will be. Prior to this internship, I was interested in working as in-house counsel in a hospital, but now I am also very interested in working on health law policy or health care impact litigation.

How do you see this experience as tying into SLU's mission?
The culture of this internship was very warm and inviting. It rewarded curiosity, and there was always a plethora of people willing to help you out if you wanted to start a new, independent project. Every person I interacted with was truly compassionate and sought to improve our nation's health.

Final thoughts?
I would encourage other students to consider non-traditional internships and to scour the website for opportunities, because you may be surprised what you find. Non-traditional internships can be incredibly rewarding, and one may be surprised what one summer in one of these positions can do for your career and outlook on life. If any students are particularly interested in this internship, they should feel free to contact me!