September 08, 2004

Medical, law students to explore ethical issues

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Mistakes happen. Future physicians and attorneys will explore ways to address errors with patients and clients on Saturday, Sept. 11, during Professional Responsibility Day at Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

Exploring critical and ethical issues that both professions face is the impetus for the ninth annual event, which is unique to SIUC, said law professor W. Eugene Basanta.

About 240 first-year students in the law and medical schools and students in the MEDPREP program participate in a three-hour seminar that starts at 9 a.m. at the Hiram H. Lesar Law Building. MEDPREP helps eligible students prepare for careers in medicine, dentistry or other health-related fields.

"Part of our goal in this and the whole professional development workshop program is to have students from Day One begin to think about those issues and to take seriously the ethical and professionalism responsibilities they have," said Basanta.

Media Advisory

The formal program runs from 9:30 a.m. to noon at the law school. Reporters are welcome to cover some of the small group discussions that start at 10:15 a.m. in various classrooms, but are asked to be unobtrusive. Interviews with students and faculty are available at noon. For more information, contact professor W. Eugene Basanta at 618/453-8748.

"It's important to the public, I think, that they know that professional scholars are taking seriously issues of ethical and professional behavior," he said.

The program is part of the law school's nationally recognized Professional Development Workshop Series. In August, the law school was one of two recipients of this year's E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award from the American Bar Association. The award recognizes projects that contribute to professionalism among attorneys.

Dr. J. Kevin Dorsey, dean of the medical school; Theodore R. Leblang, chair of the medical school's medical humanities department; and law Dean Peter C. Alexander will deliver opening remarks.

Students break into smaller groups and, with help from law school and medical school faculty, discuss three separate scenarios that present specific issues and problems.

"The idea is that students need to think about what is their responsibility as a professional in terms of being truthful with their client or patient," said Basanta.

Saturday's event is one of the first steps for students to critically think about complex questions they may someday face, he said. Those questions could include how and when to explain a mistake, who explains the mistake, and whether the doctor or attorney apologizes. Studies would suggest a professional is less likely to face a lawsuit for a mistake if there is an apology, said Basanta.

"Patients and clients sometimes simply want an acknowledgement that an error was made and an expression of conciliation and apology for the error," Basanta said. "It's not a magic talisman, like, ŒNow, you won't sue me.'

"But some significant programs are emphasizing apologies for errors and are finding that litigation is significantly reduced," he added.

Achieving excellence in graduate and professional programs is among the goals of Southern at 150: Building Excellence Through Commitment, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.