My name is Melina Zúniga, and I am a fourth-year medical student at Morehouse School of Medicine and am originally from California. I first heard of the Health Law Partnership (HeLP) Legal Services Clinic from my resident during my pediatric rotation. We had a child patient with a complex medical history that affected all systems of her body. Given her family’s financial situation, she had difficulty paying for all the specialists she required. My resident, an alum of the Law and Medicine elective, recommended the HeLP Clinic to our patient for legal advice as to how to apply for disability benefits. It was then I discovered that Law and Medicine was an elective course during which fourth-year medical students work alongside Georgia State University law students in the HeLP Clinic. Once I heard about the HeLP Clinic again during my Fundamentals of Medicine class in my third year, I knew I had to learn more.
Another thing that attracted me to the Law and Medicine elective is my long-term interest in health policy. I was lucky enough to participate in this rotation while Georgia lawmakers were in session. It was amazing to see and hear bills presented and learn what must happen for a bill to become a law. It is important to me, as a health practitioner, to be an active participant in health legislation. I often feel that many decisions related to my patient’s health and what they qualify for in terms of benefits is determined by people without medical training. Having seen this process and what lawyers need to help their clients will be very helpful in guiding me in my career.
The best aspect of this rotation was learning the importance of documentation. In the future, if I have a patient who may need to apply for benefits, I will be sure to familiarize myself with the requirements so that I can document appropriately. I believe that this lesson will greatly benefit my patients and assist any lawyers helping my patients develop a strong case. I am very thankful for this experience and the knowledge I have gained.