There is no doubt that ‘expert’ witnesses, particularly those in the medical fraternity, have come under the spotlight recently – for the wrong reasons. Expert medical witnesses are not born that way, nor do years of clinical experience in the field qualify them to testify. It is a field where the status is achieved only through experience, hard work and skills training. It also requires knowledge of the constitution, the law in our country, the court procedures, report writing and legal procedures.
The identified need for expert witness training as a health professional was what led to the inaugural course on the Provision of Expert Opinion as a Health Professional that took place in November 2017. The week-long program was designed by Burns-Hoffman Consulting, accredited by and presented at UCT medical school. A number of health professionals completed the course, which judging by their feedback was a resounding success. The professionals who attended the course evaluated the content and level of presentation as being excellent, noting that the practical sessions were invaluable.
The course was the brain-child of Elise Burns-Hoffman, owner of Burns-Hoffman Consulting. Burns- Hoffman is an Occupational Therapist (OT) with 30 years’ experience who actively engaged in the development of the program at the start of 2016, commenced discussions with UCT Health Sciences Faculty in late 2016 and from early 2017 onwards has been working with and alongside the UCT Faculty of Health Sciences’ Continuing Education Unit in order to roll it out last month.
The course program was designed to ensure that health professionals gain proper understanding of their professional role in the non-clinical contexts, such as business and law, alongside providing practical guidance and advice on running one’s own business. It included the following topics: business principles and strategic planning; an understanding of the Constitution as a health professional; the law of contract; the law of delict; an overview of the civil and criminal legal procedure; expert witness training via a ‘court day’ and professional report writing.
Burns-Hoffman says that, added to her own professional experience in this line of work, her research included discussions with various professionals and investigations into what other suitable courses are on offer. In her discussions she spoke to numerous attorneys; health professionals; advocates; risk companies and related disciplines. She says that the course is unique in a number of ways, the most pertinent of which is the hands on, practical approach taken, with the specific intention of imparting skills – not attained by merely listening, but rather via interaction and roleplay. To quote Benjamin Franklin: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn” – quoted on the course.
The lecturers engaged in this course have all enjoyed extensive exposure to the provision of expert opinion and evidence in their particular professional environment(s) and included a highly respected retired judge of the SCA; senior and junior counsel; independent business practitioners and others.
Although the vision for this course was initially taken to the UCT occupational therapy department for the specific purpose of providing relevant training for OTS (Burns-Hoffman’s professional area of discipline) there was such support for the proposal that it was decided to make it available to all health professionals who wish to become and or are already involved in the provision of expert opinion and evidence to society; government; business and the courts.
Health professionals working in the areas of medical negligence; MVAs; employee incapacity; relevant contractual and incapacity / disability claims assessments are encouraged to attend the course. The course is suited to all claims and other life insurance personnel who have a heath professional qualification. Burns-Hoffman says, ‘it is by no means limited to those in independent practice and business.’
The request for follow up courses from the delegates is testimony to the need for the continuing education of health professionals in a domain in that is not necessarily discipline based, but draws on the experience of such disciplines in the resolution of conflict and attainment of justice.
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