Dinner and an ethical dilemma

“We wanted students to consider the social, psychological and biological aspect of behavior when it comes to important medical decisions,” said Pat Lord, senior lecturer in the biology department and director of the Pre-Health Professions Program. “So I turned to my students and asked them to help develop a series of events designed to start these conversations.”

Her Bio 367 Virology class took on the challenge, coming up with “Dining Dilemmas: Bioethics in the Pre-Health Professions.” It’s a new program designed to encourage students, especially those planning a healthcare career, to talk about medical ethics.

Here’s how it works. One event will be held each semester and Wake Forest students who attend four events will receive a certificate at a special spring dinner.

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The first event was held November 13, 2012. The 50 or so students who attended watched the movie “Contagion” — a movie about a deadly virus that spreads rapidly. The film includes ethical dilemmas like how to quarantine, when and how to administer a vaccine and how medical professionals stand by their patients.

At dinner afterwards, they talked about ethical decisions that were made by characters in the movie. Each table had a different topic, thanks to Lord’s students who researched particular angles with the help of the Center for Bioethics, Health and Society, which also provides funding for the program.

“Bioethics issues are relevant for everyone, but it is especially important for students interested in the health professions to explore these issues,” Ana Iltis, the Center’s director said. “They can begin to appreciate the complexity of some of the questions, to understand the importance of different disciplines in helping us analyze questions and to learn to evaluate difficult topics with their peers.”

“It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a while,” Lord said. “It’s partly inspired by the upcoming MCAT 2015 that will include a new component asking students to use critical thinking skills about bioethics, as well as understanding how behavior leads medical professionals to make certain decisions – and why ethics are so important.”

The events are also designed to build community. It’s a chance for freshmen through seniors to gather socially, but also to develop and use their critical thinking skills outside the classroom.

“Pre-health students usually are so overloaded with science courses that they do not take many classes dealing with medical ethics,” Roger Khouri (‘13) said. “This program gives students a chance to actively engage in an ethical discussion, regardless of their major.”

Yana Klein (‘14), who helped market the event with flyers and Facebook, agrees. “This program is a great way stir some critical thinking in students and expose them to issues that are essential to understand, yet are often neglected,” she said.  “So many Wake Forest students, especially those interest in pre-med/health, are so hard-wired to read straight out of textbooks, get straight As, and build a resume, that many fail to find a real-life application to their field. By integrating pop culture with realistic ethically disturbing scenarios, it makes this program fun and interesting instead of work.”

The students who attended gave the program high marks in a survey and agreed they’d recommend it to friends. They also suggested topics for next semester’s event, ranging from gene therapy to pharmaceutical issues to euthanasia.

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