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Pediatric anesthesiologist Ronald Litman, D.O., uses Penn Law ML degree to advocate for increased patient safety

January 14, 2019

For pediatric anesthesiologist Ronald S. Litman, D.O., the Master in Law (ML) program has begun to transform the way he teaches, writes, and speaks about the practice of medicine, increasing his attention to the way the law intersects with issues like patient safety.

Litman is a Professor of Anesthesiology and Critical Care at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. He was drawn to ML program after hearing about course on health law that would be taught by Penn Law’s Dean and Bernard G. Segal Professor of Law Ted Ruger. Litman had previously audited undergraduate courses at Penn, but when he reached out to Ruger personally to learn more about the health law class, the Dean encouraged him to take it for credit in case he ever wanted to pursue more legal education in the future. Enrolling in the course turned out to be the right decision.

“I enjoyed the class so much, it was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done in my career, to be in that kind of environment. Medical school is so different—there’s not a lot of interaction in class,” said Litman. But the health law course “was a lot of dialogue … between the professor and the students, and [Ruger] would always ask me my perspective as a physician. Even though there were about 100 students in the class, there were active and lively discussions that revolved around cases or case law.”

Having experienced the rigors of an education in medicine, Litman found that law school courses challenged him in new and enjoyable ways.

“There was a lot of reading, but it was so enjoyable that I couldn’t wait to come home and read the assignments,” he said. “I had to learn a lot of legal terms, the kind that you would normally learn in your first year of law school. All of it was new to me and it was a great challenge, but it was really enjoyable.”

After Litman completed the course, Ruger told him Penn Law was forming a new Master in Law degree program for members of the Penn Community who wanted to learn more about the law and the many ways it connects with other disciplines. Seizing the opportunity to increase his legal knowledge, Litman decided to enroll. He completed the degree in four years, taking one course per semester.

Since then, he has incorporated his newly-earned legal education into his work and his teaching at Penn.

“I teach my residents and fellows a lot about legal issues related to medicine,” he said. “I’ve shifted my academic interest to more legal emphasis, so when I lecture and write, it has more to do with the legal implications of our practice.”

The ML program also helped Litman to further pursue his interest in regulations related to the safe administration of medicine.

“Over time in my career, I became very interested in medication safety. I once investigated a case where a child died during anesthesia from receiving the wrong drug, and my investigation came up empty as to how to prevent those kinds of mistakes. I wanted to learn more about using knowledge of the law to effectuate safer regulations for medication administration,” he said, pointing out that the United States has enacted surprisingly few pieces of legislation or regulation that address the administration of medication from a patient-protection perspective. 

Going forward, he hopes to advocate for increased regulations on precisely those issues.

“I’m grateful to Dean Ruger, Cathy Restrepo, and Natalie Green for all their efforts with the ML program and its cross-disciplinary approach,” he said. “The arc of my academic studies here at Penn has been changed for the better, and I am confident this will translate into enhanced patient safety someday.”