Dr. Hamza Habib RLAW ’23 was already a successful palliative care, and surgical/ interventional cancer pain management specialist at Columbia University-New York Presbyterian Hospital in 2018, when he began treating a patient with aggressive soft tissue sarcoma who was about to take his LSAT test.
Dr. Habib knew his patient was nervous and offered to sign up for the test as well. So both men took the LSAT together and went on to apply to law schools. Dr. Habib, who said he is interested in public policy that affects prescription opioids, chose to attend Rutgers Law in Newark, where he could attend part-time and maintain his medical and surgical practice. Both Rutgers Law locations in Newark and Camden offer part-time options for students.
“My line of work can become extremely hectic, and doing a law degree can be very challenging. The flexibility of Rutgers Law's schedule allows me to work full time as a physician, and also gives me the flexibility of spending time with my wife and family,” he said.
Though his patient passed away from cancer, Dr. Habib followed through in attending law school, in part to honor his patient, and to also lobby for policies overseeing opioids at the state level. This spring, he has been working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic while completing his first year of law school.
He said his law school classmates surprised him with the gift of an espresso machine for the hospital staff and his law professors have been supportive of his limited hours during the pandemic. He said every time a patient comes off a ventilator at his hospital, they play “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas on the hospital paging system which boosts morale.
He said, “I really wish that people knew how contagious COVID-19 can be. Patients can be completely asymptomatic, and unknowingly transmit it to someone with weaker immunity and other comorbidities, and they can get really sick. Proper handwashing, and social distancing are very important. So it adds a whole new level of social and personal responsibility for the whole community to prevent it from spreading it to others.”
A native of Pakistan, Dr. Habib took part in the University of Illinois at Chicago Affiliated residency program, and medical fellowships at the University of Chicago, and the University of Utah. He also holds a faculty position at Columbia University Medical Center, and was previously on the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. He is a fellow of American College of Physicians, and American academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, in addition to Member of Royal College of Physicians in London.
He contrasted his law school experience with his medical training, “Law school teaches you to think about things in a totally new way. You learn the art of application of reasoning, statutes, and argument to different scenarios. It’s not something that I have experienced before in medical sciences. I am actually really enjoying it.”
He said besides its highly-rated part-time program, there were other reasons he chose Rutgers Law, “ . . .Its core values, large alumni network, and great reputation in the legal community. Also its fee structure is very reasonable and affordable as an in-state student.”
Once he graduates from law school, he said he wants to prepare a curriculum for medical students in basic medical law, with information on ethics, clinical responsibility and malpractice issues. He said, “I love teaching medical students, residents, and fellows in classroom, and at patients' bedsides.”