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Acad Med. 1995 Sep;70(9):777-86.

Educating medical students about law and the legal system.

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Department of Preventive Medicine, School of Medicine, State University of New York at Stony Brook Medical Center 11794-8036, USA.


The study of jurisprudence--law, legal reasoning, and the legal system--has become progressively more common in medical school curricula. Familiarity with jurisprudence helps physicians practice medicine well, collaborate productively with lawyers, and be more effective in public discourse about health care delivery. Moreover, the study of jurisprudence can help physicians polish the methods and clarify the purposes common to law and medicine. Empirical studies over the last 30 years demonstrate patterns of change in the frequency and focus of jurisprudence teaching in medical school curricula that can guide contemporary efforts to devise or refine curricula in medical jurisprudence. The general goal of such curricula should be to enhance physicians' clinical, institutional, and public effectiveness. These curricula should adhere to principles of sound pedagogy and be based on informed answers to the central questions of what should be taught, when, how, and by whom, and how the curriculum should be evaluated. Developing skills and changing attitudes are more important than imparting information about particular doctrines and laws. Curriculum planners should take into account the intellectual styles of the learners; integrate, not just coordinate, the new courses with the rest of the curriculum; build on features that medicine and law share and where they collaborate; and ensure intra- and inter-curricular coherence and continuity. Even though limitations of time, people, and money and differences in educational goals will influence what, when, and how medical jurisprudence is taught, the effort should be made if physicians are to be better empowered to use the law and their law colleagues to serve patients and promote public welfare.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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