Blog author Professor Devin Schindler teaches Constitutional Law and Health Care Regulation at WMU-Cooley Law School’s Grand Rapids campus and is a frequent commentator on numerous healthcare and Constitutional issues, having been interviewed over 200 times by radio, television, print and internet media sources.
Early in my career as a healthcare attorney, I made a deal with one of my physician clients. I promised her that I would never perform surgery, so long as she promised me that she would not practice law. The reason was obvious. Law schools, generally speaking, do not teach science. Medical schools do not teach law. Medicine is science; law is law, and never the twain shall meet. In the last 20 years, however, the practice of medicine has changed dramatically. Law and medicine are not only involved, they are married – for better or for worse.
The Affordable Care Act, among other things, has imposed literally thousands of regulations on how physicians must practice medicine. The penalties for failing to follow these regulations can be draconian, including loss of licensure, treble penalties and even criminal prosecution. Medicine is perhaps the most highly regulated industry in our country. As a result, physicians have no choice but to develop at least a passing understanding of how the legal system operates and impacts the practice of medicine.
Medical schools have historically done a poor job of preparing their students for the realities they will face upon licensure. To fill this gap, the Western Michigan University Homer Stryker School of Medicine has partnered with WMU-Cooley Law School to develop a series of creative programs specifically designed to ensure that medical students will be prepared to practice in this highly regulated world. Recently, for example, law school faculty from WMU-Cooley’s Grand Rapids campus partnered with the medical school’s chief ethicist to design and teach a three-hour module on the corporate practice of medicine. This module, entitled “What do you want to be When You Grow Up” explored various practice models, including small office practice, hospital practice, large multidisciplinary practice groups and Accountable Care Organizations. In addition to reviewing basic corporate structures, this program explored the benefits — and drawbacks — of various practice models.
Another faculty member from the law school’s Grand Rapids campus recently taught a class to the medical students on informed consent. Future modules being designed include topics like medical malpractice law and responsible billing and coding.
This unique program benefits both medical and law students. The medical malpractice module, for example, will include a mock trial in which law students will partner with medical students to develop expert and direct testimony. This and other modules being planned will give law students interested in pursuing a career in health law “hands-on” experience with the people they will someday represent.
Although in its infancy, these type of cross-disciplinary programs are examples of how the legal and medical community need to partner and collaborate together. Future health care attorneys will need to understand beyond what is in tort textbooks. Experiential learning is critical to the success of any student who wants to leave law school ready, on day one, to practice law. The law school’s affiliation with the medical school is one of many new and innovative programs the law school is implementing to ensure its students stand above their brethren when it comes to the knowledgeable, ethical and skillful practice of law.
Today, attorneys and medical professionals can’t afford to be adversaries. The fields of law and medicine must unite and walk down the aisle together as life partners.