Future doctors and lawyers team up in MSU?Law elective

 Doctors and lawyers might not be considered partners in practice, but students in a new elective at  Michigan State University recently learned how they could become allies and learn to better communicate with their patients and clients.

“Law and Medicine: Mediation in the Clinical Setting,” a class offered earlier this year, was led by MSU?Law Associate Professor Brian Pappas, along with Elizabeth Petsche, an assistant professor in the College of Osteopathic Medicine, who is also a lawyer.

“I’m into interprofessional education, but usually that is within the health care side,” Petsche said. “People tend to not consider the positive relationships that can be between doctors and lawyers and how much law can impact patient care when it comes to getting resources and things of that nature. There’s a lot of legal components to health care.”

Ten osteopathic medical students and seven law students worked in small, mixed groups during the four-session course and focused on skills that are used in negotiation, as well as communication tools that can prevent lawsuits from happening. Students completed the course in the law school’s moot courtroom, where they observed what could happen when communication breaks down.

“I was surprised with how receptive the law students were with receiving medical advice in terms of explaining the risks versus benefits of medical procedures or the patho-physiology of certain diseases,” said Peter Boateng, a second-year osteopathic student. “I realized that as doctors, we will provide the legal world with the practical application of patient-centered medicine.”

Osteopathic medical student Alfred Nesaraj appreciated learning about how law students are taught to approach their work and how it differs from medical training. “I enjoyed working with the law students and watching them work during mediation,” Nesaraj said. “Their thought pattern is very different than the linear thinking we’re conditioned to after taking countless credit hours of core science classes. I think it was a very valuable experience that helped me appreciate how similar and different the skills required in our two fields are.”

Petsche watched as the medical and law students worked together and built joint understanding of each other’s worlds.“They would engage in discussions and genuinely listen to the other profession’s perspective,” she said. “It was refreshing to see the medical students have fun talking to the law students and have either of them stop during the class and ask, ‘I don’t know what that means.’”

Boateng found very practical benefits from the course.“It was worthwhile to practice negotiations with the law students,” he said. “Taking this elective allowed me to learn alongside and build connections with future lawyers. I believe that the communication techniques and ideas related to mediation can easily be translated to taking care of patients in the future.”


Reprinted with permission from MSU?Today