Nancy Pheng Street
Staff Counsel, California Department of Managed Health Care in Sacramento
Area of Practice: Health Law
Year Graduated: 2005
When Nancy Pheng Street decided to go to law school, she had no idea that her legal career would one day require her to be intimately familiar with the medical industry. But today, as staff counsel at the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC), Ms. Street has in-depth knowledge of many medical procedures and healthcare provider policies as a result of her work.
Ms. Street graduated from the University of California, Davis in 2001 with a degree in International Relations. Knowing that a graduate degree would help her stand out in a sea of job applicants, she decided to take the LSAT "kind of on a whim." A few months later, Ms. Street became a student at McGeorge School of Law, University of the Pacific.
During law school, Ms. Street participated in intramural sports and campus social activities. "I've always been a social person, so I really liked Bar Review and Raft Race," she says, referring to two popular social traditions at McGeorge. Ms. Street spent her first summer during law school working at a small law firm in San Luis Obispo. "It was only three attorneys doing commercial real estate and business law," she explains. "I worked on commercial leasing research." The next summer, after her second year at McGeorge, Ms. Street decided to stay in Sacramento to volunteer as a law clerk at the DMHC. It was a decision that she would not regret. She carried the position over into her last year of law school, and after she graduated and took the bar exam, she returned to the state agency as a graduate legal assistant.
After she passed the California bar exam, Ms. Street was offered a job as staff counsel at the DMHC. The DMHC is charged with regulating managed healthcare in California, and is organized into several offices, each having a different function relating to the agency's mission. Ms. Street began her work in the Office of Legal Affairs, which serves as a sort of general counsel for the agency. There she spent much of her time handling personnel matters and issues arising under the Information Practices Act. Later, Ms. Street transferred to the licensing division of the Office of Health Plan Oversight, where she remains today. The licensing division is responsible for reviewing healthcare providers' business and product proposals before those proposals are implemented in the marketplace. "A product proposal will come in and we have to review it to make sure it complies with certain codes," Ms. Street explains. The division also ensures that the DMHC complies with any changes to California law that implicate the department.
"In my job, I don't do a lot of sitting down and just researching ...," Ms. Street says. "It's a lot of interface, interaction with people in the health industry — the people we regulate — so we're having meetings or phone calls. It's a lot of keeping up with what's the next step and what's the next new idea before it hits the marketplace ... Sometimes we'll get governor inquiries about a news story or some complaints, and we'll have to answer the governor's questions ... I [also] write a lot of business memoranda that go from me to management to the director [of the DMHC]."
Not only does Ms. Street find her work interesting and beneficial for her family life, she also finds being a civil servant very rewarding. "The bottom line is we're here to serve the residents of the State of California, making sure that the [healthcare] industry doesn't get unwieldy," she explains. "Our bottom line at the end of the day is consumer rights, consumer protection, the greater good. Our department's purpose is a good one."
Ms. Street notes that strong communication, interpersonal, and time management skills are important for practitioners of healthcare law. She recommends that students who are interested in a career in health law strengthen these skills and also take health law and administrative law classes. Ms. Street found the health law class she took while a student at McGeorge "really helpful because health law is such a broad area." She also points out that there are state agencies besides the DMHC that handle health law issues, including the Department of Health Care Services and the Department of Insurance. While students seeking work in the healthcare industry may not think to look to those agencies for internships, they can provide students with valuable experience in the field of health law.
When Ms. Street first chose to work at the DMHC, she did so in part because she thought, "There's always going to be a job in health law." So far, this has proven to be true for Ms. Street. "I started in health law and will probably practice it for the rest of my career because it's my niche now," she says. "I'm happy where I am."