New UF clinic offers legal and medical help to victims of domestic violence

As of June 1, patients at the Shands at UF obstetrics clinic can get prenatal care and legal advice all in one visit.

Thanks to a two-year, $450,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, the College of Medicine and UF’s Levin College of Law have teamed up to open the country’s first medicine/law clinic dedicated to helping victims of domestic violence. The grant was awarded to the College of Law, while the College of Medicine and Shands at UF have agreed to dedicate clinic space to the Intimate Partner Violence Assistance Clinic. In September, the clinic will begin offering services to patients in the Shands at UF pediatric clinic.

According to Nancy Hardt, M.D., senior associate dean for external affairs at the College of Medicine, this development is something of a breakthrough.

“Health providers just don’t screen unless they have something to offer people, and this will be a very unique situation,” Hardt said. “I personally have never been able to work in an environment where I could screen for domestic violence and immediately say to the patient, ‘I’m going to take you to speak to someone right now.’ That’s huge.”

Health-care providers and medical students will screen patients by asking about their relationship history. Certified legal interns from the College of Law and social workers from Shands at UF and Peaceful Paths Domestic Abuse Network will offer help to those with domestic violence problems.

In addition to serving patients at the obstetric and pediatric clinics, the law students and social workers also will take client referrals from local courthouses, Peaceful Paths, other UF physician clinics and other parts of Shands at UF. Posters about the clinic also will be put up around the county.

The grant provides resources to train students from both colleges to address the problem of domestic violence in homeless communities.

“We wrote that into the grant because we really thought that would be the icing on the cake,” said Teresa Drake, J.D., director of the Intimate Partner Violence Assistance Clinic. “Giving law students and medical students that experience, and even the experience of just the clinic, hopefully will instill in them … how important it is to give back to your community.”

Hardt and Drake both said they hope the clinic will foster more positive relationships between doctors and lawyers.