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Becoming a doctor/lawyer at the same time

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Becoming a doctor/lawyer at the same time

UF’s Kimi Swartz seeks concurrent dual degrees in medicine and law

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When Kimi Swartz was a preschooler, she had to dress up for graduation, so she borrowed her dietician mom’s white coat. Even before kindergarten, she pretended to be a doctor and she’s never changed her mind.

Kimi Swartz When Swartz was 14, she was in the car with her dad, who tuned in National Public Radio. The topic of this day’s on-air dialog was the controversial end-of-life case of Terry Schiavo and the Florida governor’s and Legislature’s attempts to block her husband from removing life support, even though the woman was in a persistent vegetative state. Her dad asked her what she thought about it all, and Swartz said she couldn’t understand how politicians without medical degrees were making personal decisions about a patient’s care. During that car ride, she thought: “They needed a doctor in their midst, and one day that will be me.”
When she was a junior in high school, she seriously considered her dad’s earlier suggestion when she was in the fifth grade that she become both a doctor and a lawyer. As a fifth-grader, she thought his suggestion was “crazy.” Now, as a high-schooler, she agreed to give it a shot.

That’s how Swartz, of Weston, became the one and only University of Florida student seeking concurrent dual degrees in medicine and law in its formal MD-JD program. In May, she graduated from law school, with grades that ranked her 25th out of 330 students in her class for the spring semester.

Impressive for a 27-year-old student who is currently an intern at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital, where she endures 13-and-a-half-hour days doing pediatric rotations six days a week.

“I see patients and wake them up at 6 a.m. I poke and prod them and hopefully make them feel better,” Swartz said. “I inhale coffee at the hospital. I get home at 7:30 p.m. and heat up leftovers and go to sleep. I think it’s inhumane!”

But she keeps her eye on the prize: a career involving public policy and medical ethics, perhaps at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I started all this because I love patients and care about patients,” she said, adding she hopes to keep hands-on experience working at a clinic. But at the same time, she wants to “help patients out with a large-scale effort. I won’t be filling out prescriptions, but I will be helping at the policy level involving medical ethics.”

FDA law, she said, “pits private interests against personal health,” because drug companies’ huge profit motives and research costs can stand in the way of patients being able to afford life-saving medications.

She was lured to UF law specifically to learn from Professor Lars Noah, who received his law degree from Harvard and teaches classes in medical technology and the law, and public health law. And he wrote the book Law, Medicine and Medical Technology: Cases and Materials.

“Rare” is the word Noah uses to describe his bright student who tackled law school and medical school at the same time.

“I have seen very few people in the country who can pull it off. It requires a certain adaptability in thought processes. There are fairly different styles of learning that you see in law schools and medical schools,” Noah said.

“Kimi has tremendous discipline. She’s very organized and conscientious and knows she can’t fiddle around. She is attacking this with all of her vigor and doing it very successfully.”

Swartz admits she schedules every hour of her day, but insists she still knows how to have fun: She’s big into baking sourdough bread,and she has a boyfriend she met the night before she began med school.

Dutifully, she hits the gym every morning at 5:30 to keep body and mind balanced.

Asked if she’s a genius, Swartz laughs and modestly offers that she did skip the second grade.

“My sister once told my dad that she felt bad for me because she felt like I never had a childhood. I was always sitting at the grownup table. My dad always talked to me like a grownup. My first concert was when I was in the first grade and my dad took me to see BB King.”

When she was in middle school, her family lived outside Chicago and her dad drove her to Northwestern University on Saturdays, for a special program for bright young people, and they’d go to lunch someplace different every time and talk about what she had learned.

John Swartz, now a professor in Grenada teaching business ethics and entrepreneurship, taught his daughter: “Nothing is off limits or out of bounds.”

So Kimi Swartz reaches for the sky.

Professor Noah describes how Swartz “outshined everyone else” in his classes and received book awards, based on exams coupled with classroom participation.

“She was not just prepared and enthusiastic, but she was so thoroughly engaged in the material, and she started pressing at the higher order of the questions that fall between the cracks,” Noah said. “I get a kick out of that. All too often, it’s just me having a conversation with myself. I ask a question and hear the crickets.”

While a stellar student, Swartz was never an obnoxious show-off, Noah said.

“She was a very personable student and got along famously with everyone. Sometimes, there are people in law school who are full of themselves. Nothing like that at all.

“In class, I throw out a question, and there’s silence. Kimi would sheepishly raise her hand. There was never a sense she was dominating. She was able to fill the void when the others weren’t up to doing that.”

Noah is impressed with her independent research paper on “algorithmic medicine,” described as “this idea that physicians, before too long.. . will collect enough raw information and use automation to crunch numbers, to be able to make better diagnostic or treatment choices.”

“But there are real problems with this,” he said. “The literature is just now emerging and there’s not much to go on. Kimi asked: How it this going to be regulated? How will they ensure privacy protections for patients? It was a meaty, cutting-edge project. And with a little more polishing, it could get published in a law journal.”

Already, Swartz is the student member on the Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, a branch of the American Medical Association, made up of seven physicians, a resident, and a med student.

“She is part of making decisions about contested questions involving professional ethics and legal policy questions,” Noah said. “I can’t think of any student better in that role.”

Asked where he sees his star student in another decade, Noah said: “She is not going to be a practicing lawyer or doctor. She will be involved in public policy issues in these areas. With that drive, ambition, and discipline, it means we will see Kimi Swartz down the road in a very significant position.”

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