Wayne Law student awarded prestigious two-year fellowship

Kathryn Smolinski, a third-year student at Wayne State University Law School, has been awarded a prestigious two-year fellowship from Equal Justice Works.

As a fellow, Smolinski will work with Wayne Law's Disability Law Clinic to develop a medical-legal partnership with the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center focused on the legal needs of low-income cancer patients in Detroit. The fellowship is sponsored by Pfizer Inc. and the law firms of Kaye Scholer LLP and Jackson Lewis LLP.

Smolinski's duties will include assisting low-income cancer patients with issues related to health insurance, disability benefits, disability discrimination, family-medical leave, end-of-life decision-making, and estate planning. She also will work to establish a partnership between the Disability Law Clinic and the Karmanos Cancer Center that will train future lawyers and healthcare professionals to work with each other and to meet the unique needs of cancer patients.

"The medical-legal partnership will provide cross-disciplinary training to prepare future lawyers, doctors, nurses, and social workers to serve clients in the oncology setting," Smolinski stated. "It will lay the groundwork for emerging healthcare clinicians and attorneys to respect and collaborate with each other during their future careers."

According to Smolinski, the cancer-focused medical-legal partnership -- the first of its kind in Michigan and among the first in the nation -- will collaborate with other free legal aid services and pro bono attorneys to help respond to the overwhelming legal needs of cancer patients. Non-legal cancer-related community resources such as the American Cancer Society, Cancer Support Community and local area hospice organizations will all be utilized as well.

"This new partnership will provide an opportunity to directly serve low-income individuals who face a cancer diagnosis," Smolinski said. "It will also build a network of pro-bono attorneys and organizations who are willing to assist with the unique legal needs of cancer patients."

Smolinski has dedicated her career to working with individuals affected by cancer. Prior to enrolling at Wayne Law in 2008, she served as executive director of the Association of Oncology Social Work and as a senior oncology social worker at The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland.

She earned a bachelor of arts in psychology and English and a master of social work from the University of Michigan, a certificate in health care ethics from Georgetown University, a certificate in basic mediation from the University of Maryland and a civil court mediation-training certificate from Wayne Law. She will graduate with a juris doctor this month.

"Working with cancer patients and their families is truly my passion," she said. "I know through professional experience that health care is a fragmented system. I am convinced that legal assistance can be instrumental in easing the cancer disease burden and improving quality of life if provided in a timely, sensitive and competent way."

According to David Moss, Wayne Law's director of Clinical Education and director of the Disability Law Clinic, Smolinski is up to the challenge. "Kathy is the perfect person to lay the groundwork for such a partnership, given her legal training and her extensive social work experience. I am enthusiastically committed to working with her on the development of an oncology-focused medical-legal partnership. I congratulate her on this remarkable achievement."

Smolinski, who will begin in her Equal Justice Works Fellowship in fall 2011, looks forward to her new opportunity.

"It has been an incredible experience to learn the law and represent clients in the Disability Law Clinic directly in the heart of Detroit," she said. "I am confident that a medical-legal partnership can provide an opportunity for justice, care, compassion and increased quality of life for those who reside in this great city."

"One person can make a difference," she went on, "but that one person makes the most difference when working collaboratively with others. I am honored to be an Equal Justice Works Fellow and will continue to make a difference by representing individuals affected by cancer and other disabilities."

Published: Thu, May 12, 2011

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