By Helen Williams, MD
June 19, 2012
The Health Law Partnership (HeLP) serves as a practicum site for the Master of Arts in Bioethics program at Emory University. For the spring semester, I worked with HeLP for my 150-hour service learning practicum, under the supervision of Professor Sylvia Caley, who is the Director of HeLP and co-Director of the HeLP Legal Services Clinic at Georgia State University College of Law.
I am an attending neonatologist at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Grady Memorial Hospital and Emory University Hospital Midtown. I am also an assistant professor at Emory University School of Medicine. During my time in the bioethics master's program, I have developed an interest in health law and how the law impacts the care of my patients. Working with HeLP and at the HeLP Clinic in the law school provided an excellent opportunity for me to further explore this area of interest.
While at HeLP, I was able to participate in the clinic classroom curriculum at GSU. I also joined the students for their supervisory meetings and provided both a medical and bioethics perspective on the cases. My medical background allowed me to assist the students in their case preparations by reviewing medical records and educating the students about the various diagnoses.
For example, I worked closely with three 2L students, Ramona Condell, Chris Lessard and Patrick Smith, and Professor Lisa Bliss, Co-Director of the HeLP Legal Services Clinic, on their preparation for an SSI hearing at administrative court and was able to participate both in the moot hearing and the official hearing. I consider their successful verdict in administrative court to be one of the highlights of my semester with the clinic. It became obvious to me when working with the low-income clients/patients that good care within the hospital was insufficient if a child is unable to continue that care after discharge. Working in the clinic has given me a new appreciation for the complexities of poverty law and the immense challenges that low-income families face when seeking to obtain services for their medically fragile children.
I was also able to attend the weekly case acceptance at Scottish Rite Hospital. I was invited to attend an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting at a local Dekalb County Middle School with one of the HeLP attorneys and his client. After this experience, I remarked that it should be a requirement for all practicing pediatricians to attend an IEP meeting. It is enlightening to see the extent to which parents must advocate for their child to receive the needed services in the school system.
In addition to working with the clinic, I had the opportunity to study health policy at the Capitol. Under the supervision of Professor Caley, I attended many committee hearings and legislative sessions. Prior to this semester, my activity in the political process was limited to the single act of voting on Election Day. I consider my new-found engagement in the political process to be a double-edged sword bringing with it both frustration and motivation. I plan to continue to stay involved in the crafting of health policy.
Although my practicum is now over, I will continue my collaboration with HeLP. The medical-legal partnership model has great ethical appeal. By looking beyond the basic medical needs of the patients, medical-legal partnerships are able to address many of the social determinants of health that physicians alone are often powerless to impact. I enjoy teaching bioethics and medicine and plan to continue working with HeLP for many semesters to come.