LAWRENCE — A partnership between the University of Kansas School of Law and the KU Medical Center is preparing students from both disciplines to understand and appreciate the importance of the other, all while serving community members who need medical and legal assistance.
Students of the School of Law’s Medical-Legal Partnership Clinic provide free legal services to the low-income patients of the KU Medical Center’s Department of Family Medicine. This spring, the MLP Clinic will expand its interdisciplinary coursework through participation in Studio Pop, a part of the Interprofessional Teaching Clinic that pairs medical and legal students both in the classroom and the community.
The students will continue to help low-income individuals in the Kansas City area get the medical and legal help they need and now will spend more time together in the classroom to further their education and understanding of the inherent importance of collaboration.
“Hopefully by the time these students graduate they will understand how medicine and law can work together to improve patient outcomes,” said Katie Cronin, clinical associate professor of law and courtesy professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the KU Medical Center. “We’re doing offering our students a unique opportunity to collaborate across disciplines to provide holistic patient care that addresses both medical needs and the social determinants of health.”
The Interprofessional Teaching Clinic provides a setting in which medicine, pharmacy and nursing students see patients six mornings a week and law students consult with the patients as legal issues arrive. This spring, law students will take part in the Studio Pop, a seminar in which medicine, nursing, pharmacy and now law students discuss cases they’ve seen throughout the week. The students share how they served individual patients and brainstorm how they can improve patient care through their collaborative efforts.
“The students gain insight into each others' training and profession, and through this, they gain respect for each others' expertise. We learn how to talk with one another without using the jargon associated with each professional culture,” said Dr. Jana Zaudke, assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine. “In doing this, we have a chance to reach out to one another as human
beings and professionals, all for the sake of a common goal, our patients.”
The students also take their services to the community, doing in-home visits with individuals who have complex medical/legal issues and assembling inter-disciplinary teams to serve others in similar situations. Law students have assisted people in end-of-life legal care, such as establishing powers of attorney and drafting living wills as well as situations where the medical and legal connection is not as obvious. Individuals who have not sought medical attention because of immigration issues or lack of insurance have worked with students in the partnership.
The MLP Clinic has even provided representation in immigration proceedings for victims of human trafficking, an area in which the clinic hopes to increase its focus in coming years. Legal representation can help victims of human trafficking obtain work permits and resources to become independent and leave forced sex trade or other forced labor behind.
“It’s really about developing champions within the medical community who can identify legal issues that are impacting health,” Cronin said. “The medical students are able to share how the MLP Clinic was able to help their patients, and they become excited to refer others. The MLP Clinic students gain a good knowledge base for whatever area of law they go into, whether it’s health-related or not. They learn how to work up a case, communicate with clients and see the law at work, helping people to improve their lives and the lives of their families.”
There are often barriers to individuals receiving the care they need. The MLP Clinic and the Interprofessional Teaching Clinic have allowed students to learn how to break down those barriers by working together.
“Patients often have problems we are not trained to address. Often, these problems — financial, safety, housing, immigration, disability — have to be addressed before our medical therapies even have a chance,” Zaudke said. “One option is to remain blind to the 'hidden problems' of our patients, and recommend the standard therapies no matter the patient context. The other option is to remain open to the patient and meet them where they are. The first option can be one of denial and pessimism. The second option, while effective and real, can lead to distress. Distress is mitigated by partnerships with other professions. When we work as teams, the patients’ needs are addressed on multiple levels that matter.”