America's medical students, rocking the boat in youthful rebellion, have announced their collective opposition to caps on noneconomic damages in medical malpractice lawsuits, a stance that directly contradicts the position of most other U.S. medical groups.
The American Medical Student Association, which represents about 40,000 future doctors, denounced caps on damages as a "simplified" approach that hurts patients and will do little to solve the so-called malpractice "crisis."
"I think we have less invested in the status quo, so we have a lot more freedom to take this kind of action," explained Lauren Oshman, the group's president-elect and a senior at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
She described the members' motives as idealistic rather than rebellious. "The word `rebellion' is not the best descriptor," she said. "The more accurate description is that we seek the best path-the truth-for our patients."
Breaking with the policies advocated by the rest of the established medical community, including the 250,000-member American Medical Association in Chicago, the student organization argues a more "comprehensive, multifaceted approach" is needed to deal with medical malpractice reform and skyrocketing insurance rates.
It's not the first time students have bucked the system. Last year, the Reston, Va.-based AMSA, concerned about the pervasive influence of drug companies, established a policy that prohibits pharmaceutical advertising in any of its publications.
"I think students bring a different perspective, but they don't have the maturity that comes with being in practice and having to cope with these issues," said James Martin, a San Antonio physician who is president of the 94,300-member American Academy of Family Physicians in Leawood, Kan.
Joshua Cohen, chairman of the AMA's 50,000-member student section and also a member of the more progressive AMSA, said he strongly disagrees with the latter organization's new policy. He said caps are the only way to address a "crisis" that has forced physicians to curtail their practices, relocate or retire.
The decision by the students could serve to undercut the arguments of groups such as the AMA, which has mounted a vigorous national lobbying campaign to push for laws that cap noneconomic damages at $250,000. Congress is now considering such a measure, and several legislatures recently have enacted laws to limit doctors' liability in malpractice lawsuits.
Eric Hodgson, the AMSA's current president, said the goal of medical malpractice reform should be to reduce errors and ensure that injured patients receive fair and timely compensation-not to create a system that helps to shield doctors who make mistakes.
"Caps on noneconomic damages will harm only patients who have been deemed worthy of receiving compensation by our legal system," said Hodgson, whose group established the new policy during its convention last month.