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Navigating a path to health law: Samantha Grund-Wickramasekera

The daughter of a Chicago nurse, second-year law student Samantha Grund-Wickramasekera (BA ’14) has always had the public interest at the back of her mind.

As an undergrad at DePaul University, she double-majored in political science and women’s & gender studies, with a minor in LGBTQ studies. She also worked as a legal intern for Chicago’s Domestic Violence Legal Clinic. Although Grund-Wickramasekera enrolled in law school with a focus on public interest law, her work at Ohio Northern University’s Pre-Law Undergraduate Scholars Program indicated a natural grasp of intellectual property law (her exam scores were the highest in the class). 

As someone with many interests, Grund-Wickramasekera spent her last two years of undergraduate school, as well as her first year of law school, working at real estate, business law and estate planning firm, Spencer & Rozwadowski. At DePaul she gravitated to both the Center for Intellectual Property Law & Information Technology (CIPLIT®) and the Mary and Michael Jaharis Health Law Institute (JHLI)With three years' experience in real estate and  nearly a year of legal coursework behind her, she decided to pinpoint her passion beyond the classroom. This past summer, Grund-Wickramasekera secured an internship at the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History’s Office of General Counsel and an externship as a law clerk at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, Bureau of Administrative Hearings.

As she navigated her path through her work experiences, Grund-Wickramasekera felt the constant and strong support of the faculty. She credits CIPLIT for the Field Museum internship tip: “CIPLIT Director Ellen Gutiontov was active the entire year making sure we had something lined up for the summer.” Grund-Wickramasekera also found a fellow Double Demon in her supervisor, Office of General Counsel attorney Sarah Ebel (JD ’14, BA ’05). 

Grund-Wickramasekera’s role at the Field Museum involved contract reviewing, copyright issues and work with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which she found particularly captivating. “I was interested in the way museums are fulfilling the objectives and regulations stipulated in that law,” she detailed, “but also spearheading the way toward total inclusivity at museums, given that their academic missions are to open education to as many people as possible.”

Grund-Wickramasekera said her interest in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) led her to the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, the government agency that oversees the distribution of Medicaid benefits, as well as child support.

“When the agencies underneath the Department of Healthcare and Family Services make decisions, such as denying requests for additional funding for children with disabilities, the family has the opportunity to appeal the denial all the way up to our agency, where the agency reviews whether a lower agency made the proper determination in light of the evidence available,” she explained. At the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, she worked under various hearing officers and administrative law judges who oversaw these hearings. She also wrote numerous final administrative decisions (FADs) and was able to further educate herself on the ACA, Medicare and Medicaid through lectures and attendance at the Chicago Bar Association events.

Ultimately, she reached her own verdict. “I realized I loved government and healthcare-related work and decided this was the field I wanted to pursue,” she said. “There is a huge human element to the practice of health law that makes it less abstract than other areas of law and makes me feel as if my work can still make a difference in someone’s life.” She cites JHLI Faculty Director Wendy Netter Epstein as a sounding board for jobs and direction in health law. Following Netter Epstein’s promotion of the Health Law Institute, Grund-Wickramasekera joined as a Health Law Fellow.

“The Health Law Institute really fuses together things I’ve learned from my undergrad—public policy issues, minority access to healthcare—but combines it in a way that brings together my first-year law courses, such as contracts, civil procedure and constitutional law, all classes which I excelled at during the first year.”

Though offered a continuing externship position with the Department of Healthcare and Family Services throughout the fall, Grund-Wickramasekera is choosing to invest her time as a member of DePaul’s Journal of Health Care Law and the Appellate Moot Court Society. More recently, Grund-Wickramasekera secured a judicial externship position with the Honorable Sara L. Ellis, United States District Court Judge for the Northern District of Illinois.

She aims to use the skills learned from these activities in pursuit of a healthcare litigation-based career. As for her hectic summer schedule, she accepts it as the nature of the field. “The law is constantly a learning profession—there were changes and updates that my supervisors were also learning,” she commented. “If you have a grasp of the foundational principles, that’s good; but even then, those skills are put to the task in the summer. I’d say there’s still obviously a lot left to learn, but I am so excited to keep learning and following my passions in my field of choice at the same time.”