PFC Spotlight: Student Fellow Alumna Sara Abiola image

Petrie-Flom Center, September 7, 2017

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Sara Abiola, PhD, JD, was a Student Fellow during the 2006-2007 academic year, while a second-year law student and first-year health policy doctoral candidate. As part of the inagural Student Fellow class, Founding Faculty Director Einer Elhauge served as her mentor. Today, Sara Abiola is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Policy & Management at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. Her research focuses on the relationship between law, litigation, and health disparities with an emphasis on food policy, obesity, and noncommunicable disease prevention. She teaches courses on public health law, innovations in health policy, and healthcare law and governance.

When did you first become interested in health law policy, biotechnology, and bioethics?

During my first year at Harvard Law School. My focus at the time was on the politics of health policy and the utility of the international human rights framework for increasing access to medical care. I took international human rights law at HLS and explored the right to health as it had been developed through case law in other countries.  I also applied to the PhD Program in Health Policy during this time and was accepted into the program in the Political Analysis concentration.

What attracted you to the Student Fellowship program at the Petrie-Flom Center?

While I was a first-year student in the PhD Program in Health Policy I had the opportunity to observe numerous areas in which law interacts with health and health care.  The interdisciplinary nature of the Petrie-Flom Center seemed to provide a great opportunity to further develop the connection between the areas I had studied at Harvard Law School and those that are relevant from a research based perspective of healthcare and health policy.

What was the focus of your Student Fellowship project, and how did your advisor and mentor assist you in completing it?

As an inaugural Student Fellow of the Petrie Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at HLS, I wrote about judicially fashioned standards of care and their implications for emergency room treatment. My interest in this topic grew from the knowledge that a disproportionate number of low-income and minority individuals received health services through emergency rooms. This research increased my understanding of the interaction between law and medicine and the Health Law Workshop associated with the student fellowship provided significant exposure to the controversial and pressing issues at the nexus of law, medicine, and ethics.

What were your key takeaways from the SF? Have you continued to interact with the Center and/or its affiliates since completing your fellowship?

See above. I had a couple of very helpful conversations with Prof. Glenn Cohen when I was trying to decide what job opportunities I should pursue or investigate post graduation; he shared some great insights regarding the nature of working in a law school setting.

How has the Student Fellowship influenced your career?

The Student Fellowship was a great introduction to the diversity of research topics that exist under the umbrella of health law policy, biotechnology, and bioethics. My research has taken off in a different direction since I was a Fellow but the experience of attending the seminar and lectures was invaluable in terms of providing new ideas, methods, and avenues of policy-related work to consider and pursue.

einer elhauge fellowship i. glenn cohen spotlight