January 10, 2010
By Shannon McNulty, law student
I never thought law school could prepare me to think like a doctor. After attending medical rounds at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Hughes Spalding, I began to realize that it did...sort of. As a student in the HeLP Clinic, I got a rare glimpse of how the medical world operates. After rounds, I had a revelation: I could be a doctor.
Admittedly, my epiphany came from spending only 90 minutes watching doctors discuss their patients which, as a mere spectator, was a cost-free experience. However, from this vantage point, I saw how strikingly similar professional training is in the two professions.
Particularly, I was struck by the similar instruction methods used in both professions. As we moved from room to room, the medical students gave a "wrap up" of each patient before the chief resident spoke with that patient. This wrap up included: a brief history of the case, who the child was, the medical problems presented, the treatments, and how the patient responded to those treatments.
As the students did this, the chief resident interjected, asking questions regarding relevant information that the students had possibly forgotten to mention during their synopsis. After the wrap up, the chief resident asked the students for the patient’s diagnosis and what medicines or treatments they would prescribe. Even more interestingly, the chief resident would ask them the most popular question among law professors-"Why?"
In watching this interchange, the case rounds began to look like an oral version of law student case briefs: the background facts to set up the case (the history of the patient), the procedural posture of how the case came to this point (previous treatment and how the patient arrived at the hospital), the issue presented (the patient’s current problem), the applicable rule of law (current medical rules relevant to this patient), the law applied to the current facts (apply the medical and treatment standards to the fact-specific symptoms this patient is presenting), and finally the conclusion (recommended treatment).
And then it hit me: doctors are just like clinical lawyers!
The chief resident applied the Socratic Method, just like law professors, albeit in a medical context. The doctor continually asked probing questions forcing students to articulate their ideas succinctly and accurately.
I empathized with the medical students as they defended their ideas to the chief resident. I felt their anxiety as they attempted to convince both the chief resident, and themselves, that they were going to be good doctors.
If I didn’t love the law, I could be a doctor...maybe.