Academic journal article Health Law Review

Teaching Law to Students in the Health Care Professions

Academic journal article Health Law Review

Teaching Law to Students in the Health Care Professions

Article excerpt

The survey results clearly suggest that most of the participating radiologists did not have a fundamental understanding of the legal definition of negligence..., most physicians obtained information on malpractice from the medical or lay press. Importantly, no physician reported reading the common law on malpractice cases, or even knowing what the common law was. Overall, the survey suggests that the participating physicians spent little or no time learning the mores of the legal system... in addition to having incomplete information regarding the legal definition of negligence, it also appears that some surveyed radiologists had incorrect information. (1)

"I say there are some things we don't want to know -- important things!"

--Ned Flanders (The Simpsons) (2)

I. Introduction

Do students in the health care professions need legal education? (3) And are they getting what they need? In light of the above quoted survey results, (4) and in light of some of the questions I have been asked to address in my role as an educator of health care professionals, (5) it certainly appears that students in the health care professions are not being taught adequately and effectively about the law. (6) As one professor of legal medicine has noted,

Legal issues have pervasively entered the modem medical school classroom. This phenomenon is perceived by many, if not most, traditional medical educators as at best a necessary evil. This is a viewpoint that is probably fostered by the fact that legal issues are frequently taught poorly and inadequately to medical students, reinforcing legal myths rather than conveying accurate information and encouraging clear thinking and productive attitudes. (7)

It seems, at least, that there is room for improvement in the ways in which legal education is currently provided to students in the health care professions.

As the author of a recent study has noted, "It has been long observed that non-lawyers appear to internalize certain "myths" about law and the legal system." (8) In this "information age", the lay public has access to voluminous amounts of information about the law from sources such as the news media, the internet, and popular culture (including television, movies and literature). In spite of this very high level of information, however, the lay public seems woefully uninformed, at least in the sense that much of what people think they know about the law is partially or wholly inaccurate. The concerns that led to Bowal's study are based on broad public legal education concerns; my focus here will be on a particular subset of the public -- students in the health care professions. While many of the issues raised by the public legal education study are relevant to this smaller population, there are a number of additional concerns that arise in this context and some of the consequences of the lack of knowledge ab out the law and the legal system are distinct.

Much of the academic work that has been done to date in this area has focussed largely on what should be taught to students in medical schools. The limitation of the focus to physicians and medical schools is narrow; in my view, a contemporary examination of the issue must include other health science disciplines as well, in recognition of the growing role these professions play in modem-day health care service delivery. (9) While most of the data relied on in this paper comes from the medical education context, much of what has been said in that context is applicable to other disciplines as well. Another facet of the question of legal education for health care professionals that has been largely neglected is the process of the teaching of the law to students in the health care professions--when, how and by whom should legal education be provided?

In Part II of this paper, I argue that students in the health care professions have a need for legal education and that, as a group, law professors ought to take an active role in the provision of this education. …

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