Taking the plunge - When medical professionals decide to study law

For Dr Nicole Woodrow, obstetrician and gynaecologist, the intellectual challenge of the Master of Medical and Health Law has been the highlight of the program.

Dr Nicole Woodrow works at the Royal Women’s Hospital as a consultant and as a partner at Women’s Ultrasound Melbourne. She chose to enrol in the Master of Health and Medical Law at MLS to learn more about the legal aspects of the medical profession.

“I did it to increase my knowledge and to think differently,” she says.

“When you’re a senior doctor you hear your own voice an awful lot. I wanted to hear different ways of thinking, and also different points of view.”

For Nicole, the diversity of students and the ensuing class debate is what makes each class in the program so interesting.

“You’ve got a room with the most eclectic group of people. There is a diverse range of health practitioners and lawyers approaching legal issues from unique perspectives,” she says.

“The more subjects I do the humbler I become because you realise just how different the thinking in the law is to medicine.”

Challenging herself to try new things is an attribute that seems to pervade all areas of Nicole’s life. After learning to swim as an adult, Nicole is now a regular open water swimmer.

“I’m just so happy that I couldn’t even swim before, and now I can just have so much fun,” she explains.

Similarly, trying her hand at law has resulted in direct professional benefits for Nicole.

Since enrolling the Master of Medical and Health Law, Nicole has joined the Clinical Ethics Committee at the Royal Women’s Hospital and was asked to become a committee member of the Medico-Legal Society of Victoria.

“I was invited into that once I started my masters, because they like people with joint medical and legal knowledge,” she says.

In addition, Nicole has been invited to speak at the national conference of the Australian Society of Ultrasound and Medicine, and her talk will focus on pertinent ultrasound related legal cases.

“The masters has had huge spin-offs for me,” she notes. This year she commenced writing a regular column for the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists on medico-legal matters for her industry. She has written on a range of topics including vexatious complaints to AHPRA and adolescents and sexting.

The knowledge Nicole has gained during the masters program has also informed the work she does at the hospital.

“I work on issues with trainees that carry some legal import, and so you want to know when litigation, patient protection and disciplinary matters might come from them,” she says.

“I give talks to my trainees – we’ll talk about the medical aspects, and then I’ll say, oh and by the way, this is what a QC might say if you go to court. They like it, and it makes it interesting.”

By Tess McPhail

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