Teams of law and medical students met across the negotiations table in a simulated malpractice lawsuit.
Teams of law and medical students met across the negotiations table in a simulated malpractice lawsuit.

Cross-college project offers students fresh insights

Participating in simulated malpractice lawsuits has given students from the College of Law and the College of Medicine at the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) a new, interdisciplinary learning opportunity.

During the collaborative pilot project, part of the College of Law’s upper-year negotiation course, 72 law students worked to resolve lawsuits involving claims by patients against their former doctors.

Working in teams of two, the law students paired with a student from the College of Medicine who played their client (either a doctor or patient). Each group met an opposing team across the negotiation table. 

The project was designed to offer students from both colleges a mutually-beneficial learning opportunity.

“This project was a great example of how effective inter-professional learning at the U of S can be,” said College of Law professor and project coordinator Michaela Keet. “We use simulations extensively in our negotiation course, but usually, the ‘clients’ are missing. This gave our law students the chance to practice relationship-building skills with clients, and the added challenge of experiencing the negotiation process with the client in the room.”

Mark Baerg, a sessional instructor in the negotiation course, added that the exercise was a valuable opportunity for cross-collegial collaboration. 

“Our hope was that the exercise offer students in each respective college a window into each other's world, and deepen their understanding of what they do and the challenges they face,” he said.

Law students have opportunities to work with real clients in the wider Saskatoon community through experiential learning, but the project offered them a new experience in the classroom.

It provided fresh challenges such as building relationships from scratch, and navigating a client’s lack of legal knowledge.

“This has been the only class I have taken where my client didn’t have legal training,” said law student Aaron Fritzler. “Our client, naturally, didn’t always recognize the strategy that my partner and I were pursuing at a particular moment. It was interesting to watch his reactions to legal issues.”

“I have negotiated with other law students in my class, many of whom were close friends or acquaintances. This project was exciting because I didn’t have a pre-existing relationship with either my client or the opposite team,” said law student Ian McRobbie. “Working to build good relationships starting at the negotiation table made the experience feel much more authentic.”

Coordinating the project for the College of Medicine, Dr. Susan Hayton explained that the medical students benefitted from experiencing how a lawyer would handle a malpractice suit, and the potential impact of the process on patients. 

“This pilot project allowed our medical students to see that physician error results in all sorts of challenges for patients,” she said. “It also served to reinforce the medico-legal rules that we try to teach our students in the College of Medicine.”

All medical students and practicing physicians hope to never be involved in litigation where a mistake that they’ve made in their practices results in harm to their patients. However, physicians, like all people, sometimes make mistakes, and therefore some physicians will undoubtedly have to face this situation in the future.”

Medical student Emily Stoneham participated in the project, and agreed that exposure to what a malpractice suit might involve was useful.

“An interdisciplinary process [such as this] helps to solidify the knowledge that we have been provided with during our lectures,” she said. 

One thing there is no dispute on, is the value of the project as a learning experience.

Both sets of students agreed that collaborating with another college was enjoyable and enriching, and offered them a better understanding of the other party’s position. 

The success of the project has paved the way for similar interdisciplinary work in the future. 

“It has certainly shown us the potential for all kinds of cross-professional learning,” said Keet.