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Elon brings legal and medical communities together for interdisciplinary dialogue

Elon University’s schools of law and health sciences hosted a forum about the intricacies of determining individual “capacity” in legal and medical contexts.  

The November 18 forum featured presentations by attorney A. Frank Johns of Booth Harrington & Johns of NC, PLLC and Dr. Kaycee M. Sink, Associate Professor of Medicine, Geriatrics, and Director of the Kulynych Memory Assessment Clinic at Wake Forest School of Medicine. Johns provided an overview of the ethical considerations in the practice of law for working with clients who have diminished capacity. He also distinguished the term “capacity” from the terms “incompetency” and “disability” and discussed various thresholds of legal capacity that exist for signing various legal documents. Sink provided an overview of cognitive impairments and educated legal professionals on behaviors that signal a potential cognitive concern. She also explained the medical evaluation process and suggested tools and resources that may be helpful to lawyers in practice. Students in Elon Law’s Elder Law Clinic and Elon University’s Physician Assistant Studies program also presented.

Hannah Vaughan, Practitioner in Residence for the Elder Law Clinic at Elon Law, said the program was designed to simultaneously educate students in medical and legal disciplines about how each discipline approaches patient/client capacity.  

“The idea for the program came out of a recognition that there is a need for better collaboration between medical and legal professionals in order to provide the best care and service to patients and clients,” said Vaughan. “Collaboration is difficult when professionals are speaking two seemingly different languages. When talking about capacity, medical and legal professionals each have their own definitions and standards based on the context. In order to collaborate effectively, professionals need to understand each other’s approach to the concept of capacity.”

Diane Duffy, MD, Director of Clinical Education in the Department of Physician Assistant Studies at Elon University, said faculty members in both schools hoped to collaborate on other issues that overlap medical and legal sectors.

"Our aim was to facilitate interprofessional education between the law school and physician assistant program around the issue of determining competency from the medical and legal perspectives,” said Duffy. “Learning to work with other professionals in the care of patients is a core competency for physician assistant students.”

The forum’s one hundred and twenty participants included attorneys, faculty members and students from Elon Law, Elon University’s Physician Assistant Studies Program and gerontology students from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

"It was a great opportunity to see how much I have learned in the Elder Law Clinic,” said law student Porsha Washington L’14. “Many of the legal issues discussed were issues that I dealt with during my semester in the Clinic. It was also a great opportunity to learn about capacity from a medical standpoint."

Margaret Robison Kantlehner, associate professor and director of externships, the wills drafting clinic and the elder law clinic at Elon Law, recognized several individuals for the successful collaboration, including Duffy, Vaughan, Tracey Tonsor, Assistant Professor of Physician Assistant Studies, Candy Albrecht, Administrative Assistant in the Elon Elder Law Clinic, and the student leaders of the Elder Law Society at Elon Law for their efforts in staffing and supporting the event. The program was held free of charge at Elon Law in downtown Greensboro, North Carolina and qualified for two hours of Continuing Legal Education credit for attorneys.

More information about the Elder Law Clinic at Elon Law is available here.

More information about Elon University’s Physician Assistant Studies program is available here.

Philip Craft,
11/26/2013 3:10 PM