Law and medicine

Order in the classroom: MSUCOM students gain legal skills in new elective

Course focuses on the legal aspects of medicine and how mediation skills can strengthen the doctor-patient relationship.


“The Good Wife” producers might need to tweak the actualities of practicing law to fit the show’s storylines. But future physicians at the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine (MSUCOM) in East Lansing gain insight into the real thing in a new elective called Law and Medicine: Mediation in the Clinical Setting.

The elective, which is open to both medical and law students, features lectures followed by mock mediation sessions.

Ten osteopathic medical students and seven law students worked together in the interactive elective, which began this academic year, to better understand how the fundamentals of mediation may apply in various scenarios that could arise in a clinical setting. MSUCOM students also learned how legal mediation techniques can help them better communicate with their patients.

Outside-the-box thinking

Peter Boateng, OMS II, enjoyed seeing how law students approach problems differently from the linear thinking he is taught in medical school.

“When faced with a problem, the law students showed us how to think ‘outside the box’ and view the problem from various angles,” Boateng says. “I can use these skills to ensure my patients’ concerns are addressed.”

Working with law students proved to be an eye-opening experience for Alfred Nesaraj, OMS II.

“As medical students, we provided more factually correct mock clinical scenarios for the law students while the law students showed us their strategies for working through disagreements between different groups,” Nesaraj says.

Although their approaches to problem-solving might be different, Nesaraj learned law students and medical students have a similar objective.

“One of the first parts of mediation is to identify clients’ interests so we can understand what drives their objectives or goals. As future osteopathic physicians, getting to know our patients’ interests is a crucial component for their health care journey,” Nesaraj says.


This isn’t the first time MSUCOM students have had the opportunity to learn more about the legal aspects of practicing medicine. Two years ago, faculty from Michigan State University’s colleges of law, nursing and osteopathic medicine collaborated in a three-part series that included working together to conduct an analysis of a real malpractice case from a local hospital.

“The goal was to have them work together to get away from the concept of personal blame and get to the heart of what actually caused the negative outcome. Each profession brings its own skills, abilities and perspectives, which is extremely helpful when approaching an issue,” says Elizabeth Petsche, JD, an assistant professor at MSUCOM and a co-leader of Law and Medicine: Mediation in the Clinical Setting.

Petsche hopes exposing medical students to the work lawyers do through courses such as Law and Medicine: Mediation in the Clinical Setting will help alleviate any negative opinions about the legal profession and demonstrate the similarities between the professions.

“Medical students could see the thought process lawyers use when defending their clients, and the passion they have for doing what they can to help their clients—something medical students could relate to because it is similar to the passion they have for healing their patients,” Petsche says.

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