Learning from Medical School—Resident and Law Student Interaction

Rob Schwartz, my colleague and renowned health law professor at the University of Mexico has been getting medical school students and law students together for years.  He has regularly organizes a Medical Legal Ethics day where students get together to discuss medical and legal problems.  These fact patterns are always cutting edge and very timely.   The groups of medical school educators, ethicists and law professors who facilitated these sessions always have very interesting discussions.  And, we usually learn how different lawyers and doctors are on their perspective.  Lawyers tend to value autonomy in trying to resolve the problems posed and doctors tended to value beneficence over patient autonomy.   This exercise is always enjoyed greatly by the participants and it gives medical students and law students some insights into the other’s profession.More recently my colleague Mike Norwood, along with several other professors in the clinic started a Med/Law alliance through our clinical law program. The clinic collaborates with the medical school pediatrics department to serve their patients in their legal matters.   We work on the issues in a multi-disciplinary collaboration with the medical professionals and social workers involved in the cases.   Mike Norwood has written about the ethical issues raised by such collaboration.

We have learned the importance of helping law students to communicate effectively with individuals from other professions and specialists in other fields.  So, for me, one of the attractions of collaborating with the Medical School on the domestic violence is to have the students from the law school meet the medical school residents to discuss the problem.  One of the classes was devoted to having the law students and the medical residents meet to discuss the pre-test problems.  The team created a list of questions for discussion among small groups with law student and emergency medical residents:

Did you develop a goal for the interview prior to meeting the patient/ client?

How much did you know about the patient/client prior to meeting her?  Is this typical?

During the meeting, did you feel that you were successful in obtaining sufficient information from her to help you develop an approach to her situation?  Why or why not? 

What were barriers to communication?  What could you do to improve the situation?

What were her medical issues?  What were her legal issues?  What do you think is the relationship between the medical issues and the legal issues? 

How could her needs be more effectively/ holistically addressed?

How did the domestic violence she experience affect her medical issues?  How did the domestic violence affect her legal issues? 

What do you think would be the ideal medical/ legal responses to the problems the patient/ client presented?

Can you think of strategies your profession could pursue to achieve the elimination of domestic violence?

What would you like to know about the case from your counterpart?  For example, what do the doctors want to know from the lawyers, what do the lawyers want to know from the doctors. 

Do professional rules facilitate or chill this type of information sharing?  How can information about the case be shared appropriately in a professional context?

Our goal was to stimulate reflection of the problems and to help the residents and the law students understand each other’s role.   I think this is an important initial first step in multi-disciplinary collaboration. And, consistent with best practices, page 132-133, it employs a different teaching methodology, including group discussion and reflection. I would love hearing about other law teachers’ experience with such collaboration! 


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