Building a Law/Medicine Bridge to Tackle Domestic Violence

Antoinette Sedillo LopezWith domestic violence a perennial concern in New Mexico, the UNM schools of law and medicine have begun a collaboration to better prepare law students and medical residents for serving people affected by the problem.

"We want to improve the response of professionals when dealing with patients and clients," says Dr. Cameron Crandall, vice chair of the UNM Department of Emergency Medicine, "By looking at the different approaches we take in medicine and law and providing a little cross training, hopefully we can raise the awareness of both professional groups. We need to work together on this problem."

The collaboration began with a family law course taught by Professor Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, who also serves as associate dean for clinical programs. Crandall introduced to the class medicine's longstanding practice of using standardized patients as a teaching aide. Standardized patients are actors who take the role of patients, or at the law school, as clients, providing students a safe hands-on opportunity during which they can work on their skills.

At the law school, students learned about the health-care consequences of domestic violence clients and at the medical school, residents learned about legal remedies available to their patients in the emergency room.

"By exposing every student to the same experience, we could evaluate them better," says Lopez. "In this class, their knowledge level and motivation for learning was over the top."

Assisting with the project was Carrie Martell, now a third-year law student. As Lopez's research assistant, she helped create the stories for the clients.

"This was a great stepping stone for students before going into their clinical rotation," she says. "Even if the students were not interested in going into family law, they gained interviewing skills and insight into domestic violence. No matter what type of practice we go into, it is likely we will run into this problem."

After the semester, Lopez, Crandall and Martell traveled to Cork, Ireland to present a paper on the collaboration at the Sixth International Journal of Clinical Legal Education Conference. Martell's travel expenses were paid through the Lee Teitelbaum Fellowship.

Now, Lopez and Crandall have begun to build on this collaboration, seeking funding to add a skills-based training component.

"Any bridge between the legal and medical communities is positive," says Crandall, who also serves on the Governor's Domestic Violence Leadership Commission. With between one-third and one-half of all female homicides in New Mexico the result of domestic violence, "we want to create a cadre of lawyers and health-care providers who understand this issue."