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Perspectives from Melbourne Law School interns

Thursday 28 March, 2019

Image: Melbourne Law School interns, Eliza (left) and Melissa (right)

Twice a year, the McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer is fortunate to host students through the Melbourne Law School Public Interest Law Initiative Internship Program. The Program allows law students to apply their knowledge practically, while making important contributions to the work of the McCabe Centre for subject credit. Our latest interns, Melissa and Eliza, share what motivates and interests them, what they did during their internship, and where they see themselves going in the future.

What motivated you to do an internship with the McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer?

Eliza: I first learnt about the McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer at Melbourne Law School’s Public Interest Law Fair, where I had the opportunity to meet some of the team.

I had previously worked in a healthcare setting as a personal carer in an aged care residential facility and one of the reasons I decided to study law was because I was interested in how the law could empower patients and support the provision of quality healthcare. So, I was really excited to learn that there was a centre which conducts research into how the law can facilitate cancer prevention and improve treatment and supportive care for people affected by cancer. Finally, as I enjoyed learning about both domestic and international law in my classes and had not yet narrowed down my primary interests, I was keen to undertake an internship in which I would encounter different kinds of law.

Melissa: I applied for an internship with the McCabe Centre for Law and Cancer because I wanted to increase my exposure to different areas of law, especially those that were not frequently explored at law school. I was also keen to apply the skills and knowledge that I have acquired from my undergraduate degree in International Relations and my current Juris Doctor degree. An internship with the McCabe Centre offered me the opportunity to combine my passions through law and policy research.

I was also attracted to the McCabe Centre because of the valuable work it does on non-communicable disease (NCD) prevention and control, in conjunction with key partners such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Australian government. The prospects of inspiring positive changes to public health policies motivated me to gain a better understanding of how I could contribute to the public health sector and the wider community.

Moreover, past Melbourne Law School interns have all spoken highly of their positive and enriching internship experiences with the McCabe Centre. When I finally got to meet the Research Officers, Clare and Tarishi, during the interview process, I found their friendliness and enthusiasm incredibly infectious and immediately wanted to become part of the team.

Why are you interested in public health law?

Eliza: Every person needs healthcare throughout their life, and we all depend on healthy lifestyles, foods, and environments, so public health law is an area in which the law serves a vital role. Well-designed public health laws can lead to lower incidences of diseases like cancer, so it’s no exaggeration to say that the law can contribute to saving lives and improving our quality of life. 

Also, public health law is fascinating and challenging. It involves intersections between international and domestic law as well as connections between many different areas of law. During my internship, I was able to gain some insight into how the McCabe Centre’s staff traverse and draw links between varied sources of law. For instance, I learnt that legal issues around tobacco don’t just arise under Australian tobacco control legislation, but also stem from international treaties, human rights instruments, and multilateral trade agreements. 

Further, public health law is intertwined with other areas of public interest law which I’m interested in. For instance, one cancer risk factor which the McCabe Centre’s Prevention team examines is air pollution. Air pollution is an environmental issue as much as a public health issue, and because certain social groups can be disproportionally affected by pollutants, it also implicates social justice.

Melissa: I have always been interested in the intersection of law and science and have previously conducted research into medical negligence and bioethics in the context of tort law. Law is a very powerful and effective tool for ensuring the protection of fundamental human rights, and I am particularly interested in public health law because of its wide-ranging implications for the health and wellbeing of the general population. At the same time, I am also fascinated by the various political, economic and cultural factors that come into play in different countries and regions, as well as the ways in which they interact with and shape public health policies.  

What did you work on during your internship?

Eliza: I worked on research tasks for both the McCabe Centre’s Prevention team and the Treatment and Supportive Care team, which meant that I was able to learn about a broad range of topics.

The first task I worked on was about the use and regulation of traditional, complementary and alternative medicine in Fiji. This was really interesting because I not only looked for relevant legislation and policy, but also examined academic sources about the social and cultural contexts in which people use traditional, complementary and alternative medicines. Another task I undertook for the Treatment and Supportive Care team was finding and summarising information, including court and tribunal decisions about workplace discrimination against people affected by cancer.

An example of work that I did for the Prevention team was to find examples of cases from around the world in which human rights violations had occurred in relation to cancer risk factors, such as tobacco. I also looked for examples of national policies which framed cancer and other NCDs as human rights issues. Another smaller task focused on tobacco-related public interest litigation.

Overall, my work largely involved finding information about the law, policy, or relevant context and writing summaries of my research. However, I also completed some proofreading tasks and I was invited to attend seminars, participate in meetings, and get involved in social club events! The whole McCabe Centre team was extremely friendly, supportive, and receptive to questions. I also received helpful feedback about my work.

Melissa: During my internship, I was working predominantly on law and policy research which allowed me to further develop my legal research and writing skills. For my first task with the Prevention team, I conducted research on domestic legal challenges against alcohol regulations and examined the arguments made by the alcohol industry. My second task with the Prevention team involved research into the intersection of NCDs and human rights at the international and regional levels. As for the Treatment & Supportive Care team, I carried out research on the regulation of direct-to-consumer genetic testing (DTCGT) in Australia and examined different ways to address consumer protection concerns with the e-commerce model of DTCGT.

Outside of research, I participated in McCabe Centre meetings and attended both the Plain Packaging Workshop and the Alumni Workshop that the McCabe Centre delivered to participants from around the world. I also interacted with many wonderful and accomplished individuals from the McCabe Centre and Cancer Council Victoria and participated in a number of social activities offered including yoga classes and walking club.

What do you hope to do after Uni?

Eliza: While I am interested in working in the public interest law sector, I am trying to keep an open mind. I would like to gain experience as a solicitor, possibly in a community legal centre or a plaintiff-oriented law firm. I am drawn to work relating to disability human rights and patients’ rights in healthcare settings. That interest has been strengthened through my internship!

Melissa: After my Juris Doctor degree, I would like to undertake my graduate legal training in the private sector in order to gain a better understanding of its operations and its role in national and global economies. I don’t have a concrete picture of how my long-term career will look like yet. However, I am certain that I want to maintain some form of international element in my career, whether it be international law or cross-border interactions and collaborations. I would like to keep an open mind and I am excited to see what the future holds. In the meantime, I will continue to embrace every opportunity to further develop my skills and expertise as a lawyer. Regardless of where I may end up, I hope I can make a difference in our society by empowering others to make more informed decisions. 

Internships at the McCabe Centre are organised through our formal collaboration with Melbourne Law School. Students from Melbourne Law School interested in applying for an internship with the McCabe Centre can find more information about the opportunity here