Public Health Law Center puts students on front lines of improving country’s health

Mitchell students who are looking for a career that combines law and public health have a nationally-recognized resource right on their campus. The Public Health Law Center at William Mitchell College of Law focuses on encouraging healthier lives, by working to reduce the harm caused by tobacco use, prevent childhood obesity, support healthy eating, and encourage physical activity.

“We’re really excited about the way our center has grown and the expertise and reputation we’ve developed,” says Doug Blanke, director of the Public Health Law Center. “Our path really aligns with the way America is beginning to address its health problems.”

The Center is a prominent presence within Mitchell. It provides adjunct professors who teach classes in public health law, appellate advocacy, and legislation. In addition, many Mitchell students work as research assistants, gaining valuable real-world experience.

Each student gets different assignments and is supervised by attorneys. “They do research, monitor lawsuits, look into legal questions,” says Blanke. “They could work on a specific assignment, or they could support legal technical assistance to help organizations.”

The Center has been entirely funded by grants since Blanke started it in 2000. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is a major funder, but money also comes in from organizations like the Centers for Disease Control, the Minnesota Department of Health, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

“By blood, sweat, and tears we’ve managed to stay out of the trap of chasing the money,” says Blanke. “We set our own agenda and find funders willing to do it.”

That agenda has included everything from working on changing the way cigarettes are displayed in stores to helping with a program to get kids walking and biking to school. Other states will enlist the Center to help with their own state-wide initiatives, like improving the healthiness of food and beverages and getting people to be more active.

“We try to bring people together,” says Blanke. “Between the trends we’re seeing, like obesity, diabetes, and tobacco use, and the growth in health care costs, all the leaders are understanding we must put more emphasis on the preventative aspects.”