5 questions with…CDC researcher, law professor Sharona Hoffman

HoffmanOn March 24, 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil tanker slammed into Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef, resulting in one of the most notorious environmental disasters in U.S. history.

As an associate for major Los Angeles law firm O’Melveny & Myers, Sharona Hoffman was assigned to work the defense on the major case. Although the high-profile case provided Hoffman with valuable experience, she realized she ultimately wanted to do something else with her career.

“While I learned a lot from working on the defense side of the Exxon Valdez case, doing so definitely motivated me to switch to public interest work as soon as I could,” Hoffman said. “I wanted to use my skills to help those who were underprivileged and in need of free legal services rather than large and wealthy corporations.”

After leaving the law firm, Hoffman took a job as a senior trial attorney with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Houston and also taught as an adjunct at the South Texas College of Law.

Hoffman’s experience stirred her passion for teaching and encouraged her to pursue a Master of Laws degree in health law at the University of Houston and a position as a full-time professor. Her specialization in health law made Case Western Reserve—the country’s first law school with a Law-Medicine Center—a logical destination.

“Case Western Reserve seemed like a good fit because it had great law and medical schools.” Hoffman said. “I knew I could work with both, so that was important to me.”

Now in her 15th year at CWRU, Hoffman is the Edgar A. Hahn Professor of Law, co-director of the Law-Medicine Center, and a professor of bioethics.

This semester, Hoffman took a sabbatical, splitting her time between Emory University School of Law and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. This is the second time Hoffman has taken her sabbatical at the CDC, where she served as a Distinguished Scholar in Residence.

At Emory and the CDC’s Center for Surveillance, Epidemiology and Laboratory Services, Hoffman focused on the intersection of health information technology, law and ethics. Hoffman gave talks on issues related to big data and electronic health records; consulted on how to maximize the potential of big data use; and worked on several scholarly pieces related to medical privacy, medical data quality, and aging and vulnerable populations.

Hoffman’s husband, computer science professor Andy Podgurski, accompanied her to Atlanta and spent his sabbatical at Georgia Tech.

When both return to campus, Hoffman and Podgurski will continue to combine their specialties of law, ethics and computer science to collaborate on research and co-author papers on the ever-changing world of health information technology.

Watch an interview with Hoffman detailing her work at Emory and the CDC—and learn more about her in this week’s five questions.

1. Facebook or Twitter?
I don’t have either a Facebook or Twitter account. I don’t want more of my personal information posted on the Internet. Also, I spend so much time on email and reading various websites, I don’t know how I’d get other work done if I also tried to keep up with Facebook.

2. What is your favorite building on campus and why?
My favorite building is the Peter B. Lewis Building. It’s the most architecturally interesting structure on campus.

3. What is your favorite vacation spot?
I went on a great vacation to Venice, Italy.

4. What is one of your hidden talents?
I speak Hebrew fluently.

5. What is your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
I am privileged to be a professor at the law school. I’ve had a happy and rewarding career here. I also take advantage of the rich intellectual life we have at the university and attend as many events as possible.