Andy Walkup spent the first part of his career as a molecular biologist at Monsanto, which has since merged with Bayer, trying to solve problems like increasing the crop yield of cotton.
The same curiosity that led Walkup to look intensely at molecules now drives him to dig into health law as regional general counsel at SSM Health in St. Louis.
“I found my true calling in the law,” said Walkup, who has spent eight years at the Catholic health system.
Walkup became interested in science at a young age and then had a great microbiology professor at Truman State University in Kirksville, he said.
“It was still a relatively young field, and I just kind of got drawn to it,” Walkup said.
He pivoted to law because he liked the challenge of finding solutions to legal issues.
“I found a lot of synergies between the law and science,” said Walkup. “The problem-solving and analytical skills I learned in science translate well into being an in-house health care attorney.”
Walkup also saw that Tony LaRussa, then the St. Louis Cardinals manager, had a law degree, which made Walkup think that acquiring one would provide him with significant flexibility.
“It was just a great way to learn how to approach a problem,” said Walkup.
In spite of his realization that the degree would provide him with a variety of opportunities, Walkup decided on a specialty — health law — related to his passion for science.
“Health law is such a broad topic. It covers everything that happens in a health care setting. You get labor and employment issues. You get intellectual property issues. You get litigation. You get the core regulatory issues,” Walkup explained.
At SSM, Walkup recently has spent much of his time dealing with issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Guidance from the different regulatory agencies were coming out for a period of time on an almost daily basis, so there was a lot of information to stay on top of,” said Walkup.
It is new territory for health care attorneys.
“We are trying to make decisions where there is very little or no legal guidance. We are trying to take a one page statement from a certain administration and trying to dive down and parse out the words,” said Walkup.
That included changes in regulations around practices such as telemedicine. Walkup is now waiting to see if those changes will become permanent.
“There’s a lot of neat innovations that occurred to bring health care to our patients that would be great if we could extend past the pandemic,” Walkup said. “We have learned a lot.”