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University of Iowa News Release


Dec. 18, 2009

Law students to become med students for class

Eight University of Iowa law students will play med students for a week in January.

The group is taking a weeklong medical tutorial intersession class designed to give them a taste of the legal issues that health care practitioners face every day. The students will spend the week at the UI Hospitals and Clinics, going on rounds with doctors, residents and med students, sitting in on medical team meetings, and talking with clinic and department heads about the legal and ethical issues they contend with.

"I'm interested in having the students experience at some minimal level the kinds of legal problems that can arise with a health care provider's day-to-day interactions with patients," said Sheldon Kurtz, the Percy Bordwell professor of law and health care law expert who will teach the course.

The class will meet for 40 hours in the hospital from Jan. 4-8. Kurtz said most of the students who enroll are interested in careers in health law and the class introduces them to issues they'll confront in their careers and how the law affects health care. For instance, he said the students would tour an operating room and briefly view an operation through a window.

"My intent is not for the students to understand medicine, but to be exposed to some of the legal and ethical issues that arise in the practice of medicine," Kurtz said. "For example, when touring surgery I want the students to know what the room looks like, who's in the room during surgery, the role they play, how quality control works, and the legal and public policy issues potentially arising from this information.

"I also want, for example, for them to think about what is done with medical waste, because that brings in issues of environmental law, or what is done with outmoded equipment," he said.

The class also exposes students to some of the cultural differences between the health care and legal professions.

"A medical practice is much more collegial as opposed to a law practice, which is by nature adversarial," he said. "Doctors work together and generally get along well with each other during the patient care process and the law students should see that, and perhaps learn from that."

Kurtz has taught the January class for 16 years, modeling it after a similar program he took at the Cleveland Clinic. In those 16 years, he said he's had three students decide to attend med school as a result of the class, and only one student has passed out.

The rapidly changing nature of the health care profession means he's had to make frequent changes to the curriculum. At the start, he said, topics like organ transplantation and genetics were hardly discussed, cost was only a minimal issue and HIPAA didn't exist. Now, he said all of those are topics spark significant discussion.

Kurtz said that on top of the practical experience, the class also provides some perspective for law students about the career they'll be entering.

"The law is important, but the truth is that lawyers don't have peoples' lives in their hands with each decision they make, not like health care providers," he said. "Even a relatively simple thing like an appendectomy has more risk than coming in to see your lawyer about a will."

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Service, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 371, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Tom Snee, 319-384-0010, 319-541-8434 (cell),