Medical-legal partnerships: addressing competency needs through lawyers

J Grad Med Educ. 2009 Dec;1(2):304-9. doi: 10.4300/JGME-D-09-00016.1.


Background: Many low- and moderate-income individuals and families have at least one unmet legal need (for example, unsafe housing conditions, lack of access to food and/or income support, lack of access to health care), which, if left unaddressed, can have harmful consequences on health. Eighty unique medical-legal partnership programs, serving over 180 clinics and hospitals nationwide, seek to combine the strengths of medical and legal professionals to address patients' legal needs before they become crises. Each partnership is adapted to serve the specific needs of its own patient base.

Intervention: This article describes innovative, residency-based medical-legal partnership educational experiences in pediatrics, internal medicine, and family medicine at 3 different sites (Boston, Massachusetts; Newark, New Jersey; and Tucson, Arizona). This article addresses how these 3 programs have been designed to meet the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education's 6 competencies, along with suggested methods for evaluating the effectiveness of these programs. Training is a core component of medical-legal partnership, and most medical-legal partnerships have developed curricula for resident education in a variety of formats, including noon conferences, grand rounds, poverty simulations and day-long special sessions.

Discussion: Medical-legal partnerships combine the skill sets of medical professionals and lawyers to teach social determinants of health by training residents and attending physicians to identify and help address unmet legal needs. Medical-legal partnership doctors and lawyers treat health disparities and improve patient health and well-being by ensuring that public programs, regulations, and laws created to benefit health and improve access to health care are implemented and enforced.