JDinteractive Program Adds New Skillset to Healthcare Professional’s Career Path

Yendi Fontenard L’26 walking down the staircase in Dineen Hall

Growing up in St. Lucia, Yendi Fontenard L’26 thought her life-long interest in science and healthcare would lead her to become a hematologist. But, due to unforeseen circumstances, Fontenard’s career took another path that eventually led to the Syracuse University College of Law’s JDinteractive (JDi) program.

At 19, Fontenard pursued a medical degree at the University of the West Indies in Trinidad and Tobago. Throughout her life, she had battled sickle cell disease, but in her fifth year of medical school she had a severe episode that required six months of recovery. She wasn’t able to complete medical school but, fortunately, had enough credits for a bachelor’s degree in medical sciences. Once recovered, she pursued a master’s degree in public health (M.P.H.) from the University of Miami, her first time experiencing higher education in the U.S.

After finishing her M.P.H., Fontenard took an administrative fellowship at Jackson North Medical Center, part of a community health system in Miami, FL, enabling her to work on both the clinical and non-clinical areas of healthcare.

Yendi Fontenard L’26 sitting in class

“It was an invaluable experience that allowed me to understand the inner workings of a hospital,” she explains, noting that in the last year of the fellowship she was offered a year-long role at the flagship hospital working on process improvement projects. Fontenard went on to work as a senior labor relations specialist for the same health system. Over the past eight years, she has continued working in labor relations, currently holding the position of employee labor relations manager.

“My role at Jackson Health requires me to work collaboratively with my colleagues and directors, many of whom are attorneys,” she explains. “I am fascinated by their way of thinking, as I witnessed my colleagues navigate negotiations with the union, conflict resolution and responses to discriminatory complaints or lawsuits. I was surrounded by advocacy—each with different styles, but equally effective.”

This sparked a desire to bridge her healthcare background with the law, so she began looking into law schools. “Full-time school was a non-starter for me since I was building my professional reputation at Jackson Health Systems,” she says. “I was only interested in online or hybrid programs.”

Yendi Fontenard L’26 takes the stand in a mock trial

Fontenard eventually enrolled in the Syracuse Law JDi program and has since successfully balanced her full-time career with law school. She appreciates the faculty support, specifically crediting Distinguished Lecturer Linda Whitton, Professor of Law Nina Kohn, formerly the Faculty Director of Online Education; and Distinguished Lecturer Daan Braveman for teaching the importance of being more critical of legal issues, noting each values the contributions of the diverse cohort.

While a hybrid online program was the right option for Fontenard, she raves about the required residencies in the JDi program. “The in-person residencies are invaluable. Advocacy does not occur in a vacuum or solely through an electronic device. The face-to-face experiences make us better advocates and help foster professional relationships,” she says. “Hands down the best residency was my most recent on trial advocacy with Professor Todd Berger and Adjunct Instructor Raul Velez III, L’18. I selected this option not because I hope to be a trial attorney but because I wanted to be quicker on my feet and understand the courtroom dynamics.”

Professor Todd Berger and Adjunct Instructor Raul Velez teach class in the courtroom
Professor Todd Berger and Adjunct Instructor Raul Velez III L’18 teach class in the courtroom

Fontenard is looking forward to her first international residency, which will take place in Rome, Italy, in March 2024, to tackle the Comparative Legal Systems course.

“While I set out to be a physician, I had to have the flexibility to create my dreams in other ways that I never could have pictured years ago—but I found a way,” says Fontenard. “That unexpectedly put law school in my path, which is a rigorous but impactful addition that will only help to enhance my career moving forward. I look forward to where the information learned through the JDi program takes me.”