A dinner dilemma

Pat Lord and Ana Iltis have a hit on their hands.

Almost three years ago, students in Lord’s virology class came up with the idea of creating “Dining Dilemmas: Bioethics in the Pre-Health Professions.” Held once a semester, it’s a program that is sponsored by the Center for Bioethics, Health and Society and designed to encourage students, especially those planning a career in health care, to talk about medical ethics.

Attendance continues to grow, doubling since the first event, and students are lobbying Iltis, director of the Center, and Lord, who is on the Center’s faculty core, to consider expanding it to twice a semester. To date, a total of 275 students have participated in at least one program and those who attend at least four are awarded a certificate.

“The Dining Dilemmas program has really taken off,” said Lord, associate teaching professor of biology and director of the Pre-Health Professions Program. “Students tell me all the time that they learn a lot, they get to meet other students interested in health professions, and the topics challenge their own thought processes about ethics in medicine.”

The spring semester event was held last week at The Barn where about 85 students gathered to view an episode of the hit medical drama, “House,” that dealt with patient’s rights and informed consent, which is the process by which health care providers disclose appropriate information to patients so they can make choices about whether to accept or refuse treatment.

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Wake Forest graduate Nick Ashburn (’14), who was one of the initial members of the virology class, said that as a first-year medical student at Wake Forest School of Medicine, this particular topic of informed consent resonated with him.

“This program raises relevant and practical ethical issues that arise every day in health care and discussing these issues early on in medical education is crucial for cultivating caring and compassionate physicians of tomorrow,” he said.

One thing Lord and Iltis are particularly proud of is the diversity of the group that the event brings together – students range from first years to seniors and represent fields of study such as biology, sociology, religion, psychology, health and exercise science and ROTC.

The program is student-driven with an executive steering committee picking the topic, the episode and deciding how the group discussions should be led. Lord and Iltis also asked students to discuss how medical dramas can impact people’s perceptions of medical care and doctor-patient relationships in the “real” world.

Two of the student organizers of the event, Daniel Buchen, a senior biology major, and senior Ekta Patel, a double major in biology and Spanish, agreed that medical dramas can influence or distort people’s perceptions of medicine and health care.

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“I grew up watching ‘House,’ a whole lot of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ and ‘Scrubs,’” Buchen said, “and I think a lot of people who come to college after watching these shows think they want to be doctors when they really have no idea how its going to be.”

Patel, who is headed to dental school after graduation, said the shows provide “a double-edged sword” when it comes to awareness. “People love them, but they don’t see a realistic view of the medical field because it’s so dramatized and that’s important to keep in mind.”

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