Building Bridges Between Law, Medical Schools
Quinnipiac director seeks to overcome distrust between professions
It's no secret that many doctors aren't particularly fond of lawyers, especially if they have ever been threatened with a medical malpractice lawsuit. But officials at Quinnipiac University foresee a time when doctors and lawyers have a better working relationship. To that end, they hope it starts in their classrooms.
Attorney Leonard Dwarica, of Guilford, has been appointed as Quinnipiac University School of Law's director for the Center for Health Law and Policy. As part of his new role, he will be responsible for maintaining an active relationship with the university's soon-to-open Frank H. Netter MD School of Medicine and bringing law and medical students closer together. Beginning next fall, the law school and medical school will share the same campus in North Haven.
"Right now, if you ask any physician, most will say they view lawyers as the enemy. We hope to change that," said Dwarica. "We want the medical students to view attorneys as their colleagues. As a doctor, you need to understand as much about the environment of medical practice as possible. We can help the medical school faculty teach the medical students valuable information that is not part of the medical curriculum."
In turn, he said, the law students will have the opportunity to better understand how doctors are trained. "We are trying to shape a sense of cooperation," Dwarica said. "We are all in this together."
Since 2010, Dwarica has been a distinguished practitioner in residence of health law at Quinnipiac. He was previously an adjunct professor of law from 2001 to 2004 and again from 2008 to 2010. Before that, he was senior counsel at the Bayer Corporation.
Dwarica said the law school offers a number of health law courses, and a handful of students each year graduate with a concentration in that area. He envisions some medical students taking the health law concentration as well.
"Physicians today need to understand what their regulatory legal exposure is," said Dwarica. "I hope they could take some of our courses and be exposed to some of those things that would help them…When am I about to get in trouble? Who do I go to for help?"
Besides malpractice, Dwarica said doctors need to be careful when dealing with pharmaceutical sales representatives. "The danger is that the doctor might say, 'I'll be happy to prescribe your drug if you give me and my family four tickets to Disney World,'" said Dwarica. But such a move would put the doctor in violation of federal laws. And that could lead to prison, or short of that, exclusion from government programs such as Medicaid.
"Things for example, you'd do in the business world are frowned upon, in fact are illegal in the world of health care," said Dwarica. "That's something we want our medical school students to be aware of. Sadly they're very common....Unfortunately many physicians are going to jail because they jump on the quick buck."
In today's competitive marketplace, many doctors are merging their practices with someone else's. As a result, Dwarica said, doctors also need to be cognizant of antitrust laws, and know that they can turn to lawyers for advice on the issue. "Hospital mergers and physician practices are two areas doctors need to be sensitive as to what is going on," said Dwarica. "Whenever competitors come together there is a lot of concern. Those sorts of agreements can be quite legal but they've got to be set up in a certain way so that they don't run afoul of the antitrust laws."
Dwarica's appointment isn't the only step that Quinnipiac has taken to provide links between the medical school and the legal profession. Richard Silver, of Silver, Golub & Teitell in Stamford, is currently a member of Quinnipiac Law School's Advisory Board, Quinnipiac Medical School's Advisory Board and the University's Board of Trustees.
"They're trying to coordinate programs that are beneficial both to the medical students and the law students, which I think is a terrific idea," said Silver. He added that similar outreach is taking place in non-academic circles. Silver has given lectures to doctors in the Fairfield County area, including at Stamford Hospital recently.
"One of the things I've stressed when I've given these lectures is that communication between doctor and patient is extremely important and resolves a lot of issues," said Silver. "Are physicians giving the patient enough time to understand the issues? They have to learn that the patient comes first."
Both Silver and Dwarica recognize that as long as there are medical malpractice cases, doctors will never be overly fond of lawyers. But they believe that the animosity can be reduced.
"Those malpractice actions are going to continue to occur and generate the same reaction," said Dwarica. But Quinnipiac is tryng to "generate some sense that this isn't all that lawyers are, that they really do have a beneficial side. If that happens, we've made some progress in trying to improve the relationship."
Whether they know it or not, Silver believes doctors are better because of potential malpractice claims. "I think over the years, what's happened with medical malpractice litigation, is it's changed the practice of medicine for the better," said Silver.•