Alumna Interview: Sumaya Noush
Conor Beath, MA student in the Philosophy department, catches up with alum Sumaya Noush about her experience as a philosophy major at Loyola as well as her current pursuits as a health care lawyer.
Conor Beath: What are you doing now, whether academically or professionally?
Sumaya Noush: I work as a health care lawyer at a national law firm called Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP. I represent health care providers and suppliers in transactional, compliance, and regulatory matters. The clients I serve are mostly nonprofit, tax-exempt, mission-based hospitals and health systems. My job is to help clients achieve their operational and business goals in a challenging regulatory and highly competitive care environment. I see first-hand how health care industry stakeholders respond to the call-to-action to improve access to affordable, quality health care. Change is hard in any field but the number of barriers and stakeholders involved in transforming the healthcare industry to make it more accessible, affordable, and accurate is overwhelming. I have had a powerful mix of experiences bridging the divide between payors, regulators, clinicians, administrators, board members, and executives to address institutional shortcomings and map out more effective strategies aimed at improving the health of whole communities. I learn something new every day.
I pride myself on being active in the local and national health law community. Recently, I was nominated and elected to the Board of Directors for the Illinois Association of Healthcare Attorneys which serves the informational and educational needs of attorneys representing the healthcare industry. On the national health law front – I authored the Illinois portion of the American Health Lawyers Association’s current Health Care Fraud Law 50-State Survey, sat alongside David Cade, President and CEO of the American Health Lawyers Association, as a co-panelist at this year’s American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics’s Health Law Professors Conference, and presented at this year’s Lavender Law Conference about health care privacy and cybersecurity. I routinely present and publish on privacy and security matters impacting the healthcare industry because this topic has proven to be a significant vulnerability for health care providers and suppliers. I also devote a significant amount of time mentoring health law students in Chicago. Outside of health law, I volunteer my time as a junior board member for SOS Illinois Villages, a local nonprofit organization that offers an innovative approach to traditional foster care, and spend time with my family and friends.
CB: What led you to study philosophy at Loyola? What were your majors and minors? Did you pursue any other post-bac degrees?
SN: Attending Loyola University Chicago was a goal of mine since I was a child and living with my family in Rogers Park. Loyola offers a wide variety of academic tracks, and even though I was pretty confident in my course selection when I started my first semester, I learned that there was a lot of flexibility in choosing a college major.
I was in college during the debates surrounding the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. There were so many questions being discussed regarding the government’s obligations with respect to health care, whether insurance companies should offer coverage for pre-existing conditions, the importance of preventative care, and what access to health care actually means. I drank the Kool-Aid when it came to these topics and I believed that I could make a difference and improve access to health care by becoming a clinician or a scientist. I enrolled in some science courses in addition to my general-education classes during my first semester at Loyola Chicago and ended up enjoying my general ethics course a lot more than my science classes. I ultimately declared a double major in philosophy and psychology and minored in political science. On the extracurricular front, I was on the bioethics and ethics bowl teams, took an executive leadership position with the philosophy club, and participated in the various honors societies that were available. By the time I made it to my third-year of college, I started to appreciate the importance of health policy and how laws, like the ACA, impact health outcomes and disparities. I decided to apply to law school also at Loyola Chicago because they had a strong health law certificate program available. During law school, I chose to apply for another post-grad degree at Loyola Chicago, specifically a Masters in Health Policy and Bioethics.
CB: Can you speak a bit more about your experience in law school? How did you navigate the transition from undergrad to law school?
SN: A full-time law program spans three years. The first year of law school is mostly bar-exam courses which are like your general education classes. With few exceptions, elective courses become available after the first year of school. I really missed my applied ethics courses and competitions that first semester of law school.
The summers between law school academic years are usually filled with experiential learning opportunities such as clerkships with judges, internships at organizations, or summer associateships at law firms. I opted to pursue a fellowship in bioethics at Yale University during the summer between the first and second years of law school to satisfy my interest in bioethics. While at Yale, I enrolled in seminars on a variety of bioethical topics, participated in debates, shadowed bioethicists in a variety of practice settings, and got to work on a research project of my choosing, which I then presented at the end of the summer. During this first law school summer while I was immersing myself in all-things bioethics, I decided to apply for the Masters in Bioethics and Health Policy program at Loyola, which I was fortunately accepted into, as well. I should note that before I enrolled in more classes (and agreed to pay more tuition), I spoke with the director of the masters program, Kayhan Parsi, and charted out out my two-year plan to graduate with both my JD and MA. Right before leaving Yale, I applied to teach a seminar the following summer at the same fellowship program that aimed to compare and contrast the challenges to accessing medicine all over the world. My proposal was accepted and as a result I had my summer plans between the second and third years of law school set in stone one year in advance! Although I was staying busy, I wanted to hug that border of law, health policy, and bioethics even more so I applied for a research scholarship at the Hastings Center in New York (a/k/a the mothership of bioethics) for the summer between my second and third years of law school. I was really excited to receive this opportunity and I planned out my summer schedule for that second summer so I could spend meaningful time at both Yale and the Hastings Center.
During the normal school year, I was managing the school work involved with the two graduate programs and gaining meaningful experience in the legal space by working at law firms and hospitals and competing in health law competitions. I knew it was going to be important to also make connections with my classmates while I was in law school because professors would emphasize all the time that our law school classmates would one day be colleagues, clients, or counterparts. So, in order to make friends and lay a strong foundation for future relationships, I served the school and its students in various capacities such as law journals, competition teams, student organizations, and clinics. Needless to say – I enjoyed being busy and I prioritized diversifying my experiences by exploring all of my options. During these three years, I learned critical skills that went beyond law or bioethics, such as time management and effective verbal and written communication. I ultimately opted for private health law practice because I enjoy being client-facing when the client’s end user is the patient and the goal is improved health outcomes.
CB: What were your philosophical interests and influences as an undergraduate?
SN: I was mostly interested in applied ethics and phenomenology which are different enough that I had the benefit of learning under many different professors.
On the applied ethics side – I worked with Dr. Jennifer Parks in preparing for and presenting at ethics and bioethics bowls. I did that for a couple of years and it was through this experience that I first learned the art of reasoned advocacy.
With phenomenology, I worked with Dr. Hanne Jacobs on my guided research in bodily, feminist phenomenology. With her support, I was able to present at both undergraduate and graduate level philosophy conferences as well as publish in a graduate level philosophy journal (which I proudly display in a bookshelf to this day!). This is when I first started to develop a foundation for critical thinking and effective writing.
CB: How do you feel your studies in Philosophy at Loyola contribute to your current pursuits?
SN: Being a philosophy major taught me to think critically, be skeptical and solutions-oriented, and to see other ways of improving healthcare access that are not clinical.
CB: Is there anything you can share from your own experiences as a philosophy major that might be helpful to current students?
SN: Take full advantage of any opportunities to develop your resume while you are in college by engaging in extracurricular activities that promote skills development. It will allow you to build confidence as well as point to things on your resume for future post-graduate programs or employers that suggest your likelihood to succeed in those new environments.