Wayne Law student aims for a career in health law

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Elizabeth West will be managing editor of Law Review next year

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Law student Elizabeth West likens the law to playing golf.

“It takes a lot of work and dedication to become a good golfer, but even then a large part of the sport is mental,” says West, whose grandfather taught her the game. “This makes golf a lot like the practice of law—a round of golf has eighteen holes, and it’s so easy to let one bad hole ruin an entire round.

“One of the hardest things for me is putting a bad experience behind me so I can focus on the present, and I think golf has helped me accept that I can’t win every case, but I can try my best and focus on moving forward.”

West, who earned bachelor’s degrees, summa cum laude, in criminal justice and psychology and a minor in addiction from Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) in Waxahachie, Texas, is certainly moving forward in her law studies. She is coming to the end of her 2L year at Wayne Law, where she will be managing editor of Law Review in her upcoming final year. With prior experience during undergrad as a writing tutor at SAGU Learning Centers, West served as an assistant editor on the Wayne Law Review in her 2L year. 

 “My experience on Wayne Law Review has enhanced my writing and editing skills, and my confidence in my research and writing abilities has grown so much,” she says. “I now feel comfortable navigating the Bluebook to find what I need when citing sources, and I’m more sure of my ability to produce quality work based on sound research.”

She also enjoyed getting to know the other members of the Law Review and getting feedback from mentors.

“It’s a huge honor to be working alongside so many wonderful people on the editorial board,” she says. “I’m so excited for next year, and I look forward to stepping into my new role as managing editor.”

West had originally planned to pursue a doctorate in psychology after undergrad but changed direction after completing an internship at a law office.

“I was exposed to so many areas of law, and I loved that each day at work was different,” she says. “I enjoyed writing bench memorandums, helping with jury trials, and observing client meetings and depositions.”

As the first person in her family to attend law school, West peppered the attorney she worked for with questions about the LSAT, admissions processes, course selection, and co-curricular activities.

“His advice was invaluable. I would have felt lost without getting advice from someone who had been to law school before me,” she says.

“After starting my internship, I learned the law was not only something I was passionate about, but something I could contribute to in a
positive way. I’m so grateful for that experience. I fell in love with the practice of law and gained a mentor and friend who has helped me through law school.”

She is particularly drawn to health law, as a result of work experiences during and after undergrad, and is a member of the law school’s Health Law Society. She became passionate about helping people with mental health and substance use disorders in a 2015 internship with the psychology department at Federal Medical Center Carswell in Fort Worth, where she was first exposed to substance abuse treatment groups.

“It was heart-wrenching to hear the women’s stories about why and how they began using drugs to cope with their past trauma and the way their substance use affected their families and friends,” she says.

She also was exposed to therapy sessions with individuals with severe mental health disorders such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
“While these conditions are considered some of the most severe and disturbing by society, I found that through therapy and proper
medication, these conditions that are so criminalized can be treated, and people who suffer from these conditions can live normal lives,” she says.

Soon after graduation, West worked as a utilization review specialist at Serenity Foundation of Texas, a drug and alcohol treatment facility in Abilene—an experience that helped prepare her for law school.

“Every day, I advocated for patients, who were likely at the lowest points of their lives, to receive insurance coverage and argued that their treatment stays were medically necessary,” she says. “I was also exposed to many legal issues that surround behavioral health that I didn’t even know existed.”

The experience solidified her desire for a career in health law.

“Those who struggle in this area are some of the most vulnerable in our communities, and they are also some of the most overlooked,” she says.

Last summer and for part of the fall semester, West interned at Advantasure, a subsidiary of Blue Cross Blue Shield that conducts compliance audits of many different health plans. She received training in HIPPA requirements, risk adjustment and data validation processes, and Medicare fraud. She also contacted provider offices and hospitals to request medical records that would substantiate the claims they submitted to Medicare plans for payment and would do a first review to ensure they met all of the Medicare documentation requirements.

“I really enjoyed working at Advantasure and learned so much from my experiences there,” she says. “It was awesome to work on the insurance side of things after working on the provider side at Serenity Foundation; it helped me understand why certain processes exist.”

She notes one large barrier to people receiving the care they need is lack of funds for treatment, or people may have health insurance, but their plans make it difficult to receive the right level of care.

“I want to ensure these individuals are able to receive the care they need—whether through appealing insurance denials or helping them apply for Medicare or Medicaid,” she says.

West has enjoyed her first two years at Wayne Law.

“The professors are wonderful. I feel comfortable approaching them with questions outside of the classroom and interacting with them during class,” she says. “It’s obvious they truly care about their students and want students to excel in their professional careers.”

West left law school for spring break expecting to return to class the following week—then the COVID-19 crisis put an end to all that.

“Things changed very quickly and drastically,” she says. “It’s definitely more difficult to learn by attending class via Zoom, but the professors made the entire process better by working so hard to learn the technology, checking in with us to see how we are doing, and by giving all of us grace.

“I think what’s helped me the most is staying focused on the present and continuing to stay busy. I have a lot more free time to read, outline, and study, and I was able to do some things around my apartment that I’d not had time to do yet. I’ve also started to appreciate things more. I took so many ‘normal’ things for granted before—concerts, sports, eating in restaurants. Through this experience, I’ve recognized the joy these things bring to my life and will be more thankful for them in the future.”

The Abilene native now makes her home in Taylor with her husband, a Detroit native and the youth pastor at Taylor Christian Church.

“I absolutely love spending time developing relationships with our students and helping them navigate life,” West says. “If you can’t find me in the law library, I’m probably with the youth group.”

West is very close to her family, back in the Lone Star State.

“They keep me grounded when I’m upset or stressed out about work, school, and life in general. I’m very lucky to have such a strong support system full of people who believe in me when I have trouble believing in myself,” she says. “Basically my whole family lives in my hometown so it was very difficult to move away, but I’ve grown so much individually through this experience and have become even closer to my friends and family despite the distance.”

She has enjoyed getting to know her in-laws and other members of her husband’s family in the Detroit area.

“Moving was so much easier knowing we would not be alone and that we have an amazing support system here, too,” she says.  “I’m also very grateful to have made such wonderful friends here in Michigan—it’s so hard moving to a new place hardly knowing anyone, and it feels good to know my husband and I are finally becoming rooted in our community and developing meaningful relationships.”

She enjoyed exploring the Great Lakes State before the pandemic shut things down, and she looks forward to doing so again.

“I enjoy exploring new places and trying new things,” she says. “I especially enjoy anything outdoors. My husband and I took a weekend trip to Torch Lake to kayak, and that was probably my favorite trip so far. I look forward to exploring more of Michigan once things open again.”

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