Black Robe program gives USF Health students, faculty a better look at link between law and medicine

Getting a glimpse of our legal system at work helps USF Health students and faculty gain better perspectives of the link between law and medicine and could have a profound impact on their careers. That is the aim of the Black Robe program, an annual effort that partners lawyers and judges with doctors, medical students, and faculty from medicine and pharmacy.

The morning-long event is organized by Jay Wolfson, JD, USF Distinguished Service Professor and associate vice president for Health Law, Policy and Safety at USF Health, and Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Gregory Holder, and coordinated by Megan Monroe, JD, assistant professor in the USF Department of Internal Medicine, and Laura M. Daniels, judicial assistant to Judge Holder. The program is also linked to the Law and Medicine Scholarly Concentration, one of several programs offered by the Scholarly Concentration Program in the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine.

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This year’s event was held Nov. 13 at George Edgecomb Courthouse in downtown Tampa. The group of mostly medical students, but also faculty from the Colleges of Medicine, Nursing, and Pharmacy, met with judges for part of the morning, and then split into smaller groups to shadow individual judges and access many of the court cases taking place that day.

Guests of the court heard details about drug possession, theft, battery, and termination of parental rights, among other types of cases, as they watched the proceedings.

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˄˄˄ “These cases are difficult; some are heinous,” Judge Greg Holder told the group at lunch, helping to convey the real-life experiences families face inside the courtroom every day.

Medical students participating in the Black Robe event were: Stephanie Desouza, MSIII; Pedro Sanchez-Herrera, MSIII; Max Chikovsky, MSII; Steven Housley, MSIII; Alex Fernandez, MSIII; and Nikhil Bhatia, MSI. Reflections from the students and faculty about their day in court included gratitude for the inside look at the court system and a newfound appreciation for the legal process. Some of the quotes from the morning included:

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˄˄˄ “It really opened my eyes to the real-life situations people are going through,” said Steven Housley, a second-year medical student.

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˄˄˄ “We saw the finalization of an adoption, and to hear the family’s voices on the phone was really nice,” said Stephanie Desouza, third-year medical student. “I’m also amazed at their caseload and the number of hours they work every week. I thought doctors’ schedules were crazy.”

“Being here, I saw similarities between medicine and law,” said Nikhil Bhatia, a first-year medical student. “Your interviews are a lot like what I learned about interviewing our patients.”

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˄˄˄ “Opportunities like this show we all have to work together to make this system work,” said R.B. Friedlander, JD, senior deputy general counsel for USF Health. “I’m fortunate that my career is a great marriage allowing me to work with both lawyers and doctors.”

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˄˄˄ “I was impressed by the speed of some of the cases, going through some 40 cases in 20 minutes,” said Roberta (Bobby) Collins, administrator for the MCOM Scholarly Concentrations Program. “I was most moved by a case with a 17-year-old. He pled guilty and the judge kept telling him what his options were, kind of giving him an out. But he told the judge he just had to take this, that he was guilty, that jail was his only option anymore. His mother and godmother were in tears.”

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˄˄˄ “It’s one thing to help write laws and changes laws in Tallahassee and then to see laws put into practice here,” Pamela Pfeifer, associate vice president for USF Health Governmental Affairs. “I was very impressed to see the compassion and discretion you all convey in the courtroom.”

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Dr. Susan Pross, director of the MCOM Scholarly Concentration Program.

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Jay Wolfson, JD, USF Distinguished Service Professor and associate vice president for Health Law, Policy and Safety at USF Health.

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Sarah Steinhardt, PharmD, JD, assistant professor in the USF College of Pharmacy.