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Monday, November 05, 2012

Law, Medical Students Study Together in Groundbreaking Program

 As part of Law and Medicine Day at UC Hastings, more than 50 UCSF medical students and physicians attended a Health Law lecture and group discussion of the concepts of informed consent and shared doctor-patient decision-making.

“Law students and medical students should be studying together to understand how decisions are made” in a healthcare context, said Professor Rob Schwartz.

The class, Health Law I, is part of a larger focus on healthcare issues at UC Hastings. UC Hastings houses the UCSF/UC Hastings Consortium, which runs the Medical-Legal Partnership for Seniors. There, law students work in a medical clinic and help solve legal issues that might also help improve patients’ health or access to healthcare.

UC Hastings also has a Masters of Studies in Law program for medical professionals, where practicing physicians and policy makers can take classes at UC Hastings for one year to better understand the legal framework around their specialties. Several MSL students, including several psychiatrists, attended Wednesday’s lecture.

Professor Jaime King, an expert on informed consent, and Dr. Anda Kuo, a physician and professor  from UCSF, took turns lecturing and leading students in discussion. “This is a very exciting opportunity,” King said, “to talk to both law and medicals students, and let them learn from each other.” For most medical students, it was a first introduction to legal training. There are future plans for law students to train at least one day in a medical school classroom.

“It highlights the intersection of law and medicine. We’ve seen how law can hinder the practice of medicine, but also how it can improve it,” she said.

In many states, King said, informed consent has shifted from a “physician-based standard” to a “patient-based standard.” Many doctors don’t know the standard in their state, King said, and studies show that patients often understand very little about their own conditions and medical treatments, even though they routinely sign forms attesting they do. The goal, each professor pointed out, is a better doctor-patient relationship, and better, more cost-efficient healthcare.

The meat of the class came when the 90 law and medical students broke into small groups to discuss hypotheticals in which patients were at odds with their doctors after refusing a recommended course of treatment. Each got to see how their counterparts attacked the issue, to better understand the legal rights of the patient and how each might work to a resolution.

Students came away with a better understanding of what other professionals face, and the nuances of decisions in fields foreign to them. “We just felt sorry for each other,” James Kim, a discussion leader said. His groupmate, medical student Neha Gupta, nodded. “I’m glad I’m not going to be a lawyer,” she said. Kim grinned. “I’m glad I’m not going to be a doctor.”


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