Student Spotlight: Pilar Mendez, A passion for health law and policy

Pilar Mendez, a 1L at Loyola University Chicago, wants to use the law as a tool to become a better advocate and policymaker.

Mendez holds a BS in public health from New York University and an MPH in global health p0licy from The George Washington University. “Given my public health and policy background, it’s beneficial to my career to better understand how the law works so that I can write effective legislation,” she says. “Learning the business and transactional side of health care is critical to this process.”

The fact that Loyola’s Beazley Institute for Health Law and Policy was ranked #1 in the country in 2017 by Law Street Media and #6 in the country by U.S. News & World Report helped to solidify Mendez’s decision to attend law school at Loyola.

Experiencing racial disparities
Born in Hawaii and raised in both Honolulu and New York City, Mendez plans to concentrate her area of study on the intersection of health law and public interest law. Drawing upon her personal experiences of public health systems, she hopes to keep pursuing her passion for understanding and eliminating racial and ethnic disparities in health.

After experiencing persistent asthma attacks as a child, Mendez felt that her race negatively impacted her ability to receive equitable, quality care.  “The doctors treated my family with indifference—as if to imply that what they were doing to care for me was not in my best interest health wise,” she says. “It turned out that the actual location of our home caused my respiratory issues, and after we moved back to Hawaii, I never saw an inhaler again.”

Bridging the health care gap
Mendez decided early on that she wanted to use her education to find opportunities to bridge the health care gap so that everyone who sought medical assistance could receive a positive patient experience. She completed several health care internships during her undergraduate studies and was bitten by the policy bug in Washington, DC, after she began working for the U.S. Department of Human Services Office of Minority Health. There, she was surrounded by people equally committed to finding community-driven solutions that translated research into policy.

Life as a law student
Mendez is the recipient of a competitive health law fellowship with the Beazley Institute, as well as a merit scholarship that she says has been helpful in financing her legal education. While her first-year studies have kept her busy, she participates in activities outside the classroom as a section member of Loyola’s Health Law Society and a BARBRI student representative.

Asked if she has a favorite professor, Mendez declines to name just one. “Honestly, I learned so much from each of my professors this past semester,” she says. “But it was amazing to be a student in Dean Nina Appel’s last Torts course before she retired—we learned a lot about medical negligence, malpractice, and the effects of tort reform, which became an area of law I find interesting.”

She continues, “I love the fact that everyone at Loyola is so supportive and wants me to do well. The professors are extremely approachable and well-connected. In fact, I’ve received emails from faculty members who’ve offered to put me in contact with practitioners in the community or forwarded information about health care-related programs I might want to attend, just because they know I’m passionate about this area of study.”

Focus on the future
What’s ahead for Mendez? “As a lawyer, I hope to one day join the ranks of the few Hispanic women working on Capitol Hill who are creating a more cohesive and comprehensive vision of what it means to be healthy in America,” she says. “Linking social justice issues with policy to reduce health disparities will help shape our national agenda. It’s exciting to think about being a part of that.”

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