Intertwining Surgery and Law: A Medical Student’s Mission to Pursue a Medicolegal Career

15 Feb 2023

By Alyssa Reese


In life and in medicine, we are often pulled by intangible forces to the next steps in our path. We go forward with uncertainty, yet we look back into the past to see that everything made perfect sense. We see how our interests have guided us and how the seemingly winding road evolved into a linear course. I personally look back on how my interest in law has and continues to shape my career goals.

My interest in law began in high school, as a member of my school’s mock trial team. I have many fond memories of meticulously preparing our cases, studying affidavits, and riding the bus to local tournaments. While I thought about pursuing a career in law when applying to college, I knew in my heart that I wanted to be a physician because of the patient care aspect of medicine. Nevertheless, I couldn’t leave my passion behind. Thus, I pursued degrees in both Biomedical Sciences and Legal Studies at the University at Buffalo (UB) and joined the UB Mock Trial Team. I loved how preparing for cross-examinations mirrored my clinical shadowing and how I could use my medical knowledge during cases. I also relished the opportunity to explore the realm of advocacy work and research as a Research and Public Policy Intern at Kids in Danger, Community Ambassador and Advocate for the Alzheimer’s Association, and Research Assistant for an attorney.

When I applied to medical school, I was once again at a crossroads. I thought about applying to MD/JD programs, but was told by many that the degree combination was useless. People would say, “A jack of all trades, is a master of none,” and I received little advice on how I could keep my passion alive. I also wanted to keep the plethora of connections I had made in Buffalo. However, while UB has both an MD program and a JD program, there is no dual program.

Ultimately, I decided to attend UB’s medical school and thankfully, I have found a number of mentors that encourage me to integrate my interests in legal medicine and surgery. As a medical student, I have founded the Buffalo Health Law Society, UB’s first interdisciplinary club for medical and law students. I also volunteer with medical-legal partnerships in Buffalo and Rochester, NY, and am aiding in the creation of a maternal-perinatal medical-legal partnership in Ithaca, NY. In terms of research endeavors, I currently have multiple projects that look at litigation involving surgical topics, medical legal curriculum, and the influence of medical-legal partnerships on patient outcomes. I have also met many physician attorneys and will be attending the American College of Legal Medicine conference this month.

Looking back, I am thankful that I followed my heart and pushed to keep my interest in law alive during medical school. In my future career, I plan to eventually get my Juris Doctorate in order to improve my advocacy skills and be more involved with malpractice litigation as a plastic surgeon. I also plan to continue advocating for Alzheimer’s Disease research, child safety, and plastic surgery-related topics, and will continue to seek research questions that explore the overlap between plastic surgery and legal medicine. While the path to my goals still remains unclear, I look forward to forging a unique road as I intertwine law and surgery.


I would like to dedicate this article to my incredible high school Mock Trial Coach, Ms. Mary Pignato. Thank you for always encouraging me to be curious and pursue excellence. The Hilton “Dream Team” will forever hold a special place in my heart!


Alyssa Reese is a third-year medical student at the University at Buffalo’s Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. She holds a BS in Biomedical Sciences and a BA in Social Sciences Interdisciplinary with a concentration in Legal Studies.  She is the founder and Co-Medical Student Director of the Buffalo Health Law Society and serves as one of the Assistant Directors of the University at Buffalo Human Rights Initiative. Alyssa looks forward to pursuing a career in plastic surgery, and is particularly interested in pediatric and craniofacial surgery as well as breast and gender affirmation surgery.

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