O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble is pleased to announce the winner of the 2023 Law School Scholarship, Mary Elizabeth Galloway!

To be eligible for the scholarship, Mary Elizabeth had to answer this prompt in a 500 word essay:

"What are the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions that may lead to a med-mal lawsuit, and what are the legal repercussions of each?"

Read Mary Elizabeth's Essay

I focused my undergraduate education in biology. As a researcher in molecular biology internship at the University of Kansas, I investigated the genetics of Enterococcus faecalis, a pathogenic bacterium that is a leading cause of antibiotic resistant hospital infections. My knowledge of molecular biology helps me understand the genetic mechanisms behind several misdiagnosed health conditions. These health problems include sepsis and cancers, as the symptoms of these issues are not uniform and can be missed by physicians. Medical malpractice lawsuits can result from misdiagnoses, because if a physician does not screen a patient properly or ignores relevant symptoms, a patient can be seriously harmed from the misdiagnoses.

E. faecalis, the bacteria I researched, is a common cause of sepsis in hospitals. My research aimed to understand how the bacteria can survive in human hosts. Sepsis is commonly misdiagnosed, because a proper diagnosis involves recognizing that a bacterial infection has occurred and treating the patient with appropriate antibiotics. As antibiotics are becoming more frequently prescribed, antibiotic- resistant hospital infections are occurring more often. Therefore, patients suffering from sepsis might have to go through multiple rounds of antibiotics to recover. A misdiagnosis could prevent immune- compromised patients from receiving life-saving care in time to fight off the infection.

Many cancers are often mis-diagnosed, which can delay a patient’s ability to receive time- sensitive medical treatment. Since cancers can cause a multitude of health issues, which can vary between individuals, a physician might not initially conduct a cancer screening for patient-reported symptoms. Instead, the physician might wait until other treatment plans are un-responsive, putting the patient at an increased health risk to the repercussions of their cancer.

I believe the future of healthcare and healthcare-related legal disputes will be revolutionized via Next Generation Sequencing (NGS). NGS is a molecular biology screening that can compute a patient’s entire genome. Human genome sequencing is not a recent development, but it used to be tremendously expensive and take several days to read one person’s genome. Now, however, NGS is much cheaper and faster, as a genomic read can be finished in a few hours. NGS is applicable to preventing misdiagnoses, as it will be able to identify specific, foreign agents quickly. Regarding sepsis cases, a physician could use NGS to identify that a patient is suffering from a bacterial infection and specify the bacterial species and strain afflicting the patient. Not only will this result in a quicker diagnosis, but it will result in quicker treatments as the correct antibiotic can be prescribed. Cancer results from mutated DNA, so NGS can be used to identify tumors and genetic predispositions to cancers in patients. As NGS becomes more commonly used in clinical applications, this will likely change the proper standard of making diagnoses to include genetic screenings in medical malpractice cases.

We will be resuming the Law School Scholarship for 2023-24, so please be sure to apply here if you are interested: https://lawnj.net/about-us/community/law-school-scholarship/.