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Alumnus Finds Niche in Health Law

by Sarah Bello,

John Bauer
John Bauer BA'01, JD'05

Following in the footsteps of several family members, John Bauer BA’01, JD’05 attended Willamette University as an undergraduate. Though his father was a local attorney, he did not intend to take that path — instead, looking for a career that might fund his desire to travel the world.

After he graduated in 2001, he and a friend set out on an international adventure through Russia and parts of Asia. Upon returning home, the economy was suffering from the burst of the dot-com bubble. Bauer decided to take the LSAT and go to law school, still unsure where the degree would take him.

During his second and third years, formative experiences began to shape his future. Bauer spent the second semester of his second year in Quito, Ecuador, studying law under a joint program between a university there and the College of Law.

While there, two federal judges gave a presentation to the 1,000-student population, and Bauer was asked to translate. The only problem? Public speaking was not his strength.

“In undergrad, I took a Rhetoric class, and I think it was my worst grade,” he says. “[Translating in Ecuador] was one of many great experiences that continued to shape me along the way and helped me to overcome a fear of public speaking. It was a great experience to learn the law in a different language and learn that language to the extent that I was fluent.”

When he returned to Salem, Bauer found himself assisting his father with some bigger legal cases. Until then, he had neither considered practicing law, nor staying in Salem to do so. But he enjoyed the work, and he liked working alongside his dad.

“That’s what really drew me to law,” he explains.

A fit in health law

His father’s firm, Parks Bauer, had worked with Salem Health for decades. Following his graduation, Bauer joined the firm. He quickly became a partner and began developing an expertise in health law.

In 2011, still working for the firm, Bauer took over the in-house counsel duties for the hospital. His duties continued to increase until 2020, when he was named the chief legal officer for Salem Health.

“COVID was just starting to impact the US meaningfully at that time,” he says, making it an interesting transition. “The week I joined, I stepped in as one of three incident commanders within the incident command structure. It was a great opportunity to expand into non-legal, operational work.”

His role continued to grow, and when COVID vaccines became available, he took charge over the mass vaccination efforts in Salem. With COVID now in the rearview mirror, his everyday tasks are a mixture of operations, strategy and legal work.

“My job every day is different,” he says. “That is what I was always looking for — this concept of funding continuous travel fed into having continuously different experiences. What I do today fits where I wanted to be and what my goal actually was.”

Bauer appreciates the variety, working on projects dealing with emergency management, medical ethics, DEI and organizational culture, in addition to more traditional legal tasks in transactions and contracts. There are challenges in health care access, finances, continued care and workplace violence, but he finds satisfaction in working toward solving those issues.

Bauer now serves on the Health Care Leadership Programming Task Force, a joint venture between Willamette Law and MBA. The task force aims to advance the Health Law Certificate Program.

“I enjoy being able to provide my input now that I’ve been working in health law for a long time and for a large institution, trying to prepare students for a career in what I do,” he says. “For students, I’d say don’t get upset if what you thought you wanted to be isn’t what you become. What you become is what you should be.”

About Willamette University College of Law

Willamette University College of Law was the first law school to open in the Pacific Northwest. Building on deep historic roots, we focus with pride on educating the next generation of problem-solving lawyers and leaders. Our location in Salem, Oregon, directly across the street from the Oregon State Capitol and Supreme Court, cannot be matched in the region. Our thought-leading scholars advance and promote our shared responsibility to make a difference in society, placing justice, fairness, and equality at the heart of everything we do.

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