CARLISLE, Pa. — Penn State’s Dickinson Law students hosted pediatric medicine residents from Penn State Hershey Medical Center on Oct. 20 as part of the “Treating Medical Errors: A Medical-Legal Colloquium” in the Apfelbaum Family Courtroom and Auditorium on the Dickinson Law campus.
Together, six law students and seven pediatric medicine residents presented a medical malpractice trial with pediatricians serving as witnesses in the case and consultants to their respective legal teams, and community residents participating as jurors.
Dickinson Law Interim Dean Gary S. Gildin and Steven J. Wassner, M.D., chief of the Division of Pediatric Nephrology and Hypertension at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital, first collaborated more than 10 years ago to bring the medical-legal colloquium to fruition. At the time, Wassner was serving as director of the pediatric residency program and vice-chair for education within the Department of Pediatrics.
“I was asked to serve as an expert witness and while on the stand, I began thinking about how our residents had very little knowledge about the legal aspects of medicine or being an expert witness,” said Wassner. “We were entering the stage of medicine where we try and do simulations of so many things. We simulated arrests. We simulated procedures. I believed this could be an opportunity to expose them to the law, aspects of medical negligence, and the courtroom.”
The morning session included an abbreviated civil trial centered on the facts of the moot case. Over lunch, attendees and participants deliberated. A discussion on the merits of the case, as well as how the legal system does and should address medical errors, followed in the afternoon.
“I found that frequent communication prior to trial is crucial to success on the stand,” said David Talmage, a third-year law student and president of the Student Bar Association. “The doctors must teach the lawyers basic medical principles underlying the case, and the lawyers must ensure the doctors effectively communicate that to a jury. For me, from the legal perspective, the most valuable aspect was the jury comments following the verdict. Through their feedback, I heard exactly what the jury found important and how they formed their understanding of the doctors' technical medical testimony based on my questioning.”
Chief pediatric resident Dan McKeone, M.D., who played the defense expert, said, “This experience allows us to see the legal side of medicine. As much as we’d like to think this doesn’t exist and hope it never happens, we know that most doctors at some point in their lives will be subpoenaed to testify on behalf of someone or be named in a lawsuit. The opportunity to sit in the courtroom and watch how the proceedings play out, and observe the courtroom decorum, is really valuable.”
Students were placed into two teams, and met as a group twice leading up to moot court to review the facts of the case.
“I’ve been at the evening meetings where the law students and the residents get together, and that’s where the real work is,” explained Wassner. “I’ve seen the medical residents working very hard to explain the medical aspects, and I’ve seen the law students explain what negligence really means. They work together and teach each other aspects of their professional careers.”
Dean Gildin, who specializes in teaching trial advocacy, presided over the session.
“The partnership with Penn State Hershey allows us to offer students another practical learning opportunity as part of our commitment to producing practice-ready lawyers in a highly challenging market,” said Gildin. “The students learn greatly from communicating with professionals from another discipline.”
Learn more about Dickinson Law at dickinsonlaw.psu.edu.