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College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Fellowship Gives Humanities Students Taste of Doctors’ Real-World Ethical Dilemmas

Two University of Mississippi humanities students are making the rounds at the University of Mississippi Medical Center this summer, observing both patients and physicians while getting an up-close look at emerging ethical issues in modern medicine.

“The idea is to develop a population of humanities scholars who have a meaningful exposure to the modern biomedical enterprise and who will help us better understand health care in a broad socio-cultural context,” said Dr. Ralph Didlake, director of the Medical Center’s Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities.

A pilot program launched this summer, the Student Fellowship in Bioethics is a collaboration between UMMC and the College of Liberal Arts. Senior Kendra Schneider of Meridian, a double major in philosophy and religious studies, and sophomore John Montgomery of Shreveport, La., a double major in philosophy and public policy leadership, began the five-week immersion experience June 10.

The program is designed for juniors or seniors in the College of Liberal Arts. Students chosen as fellows get the same exposure to ethical issues as medical students, said William Lawhead, UM professor and chair of philosophy.

“The fellows are assigned to ward teams, which allows them to observe patients as they experience their illnesses, the environment in which their care is given as well as the physicians, nurses and other staff as they provide that care,” Lawhead said.

With rapid medical discoveries and technological advancements, bioethical issues are becoming more prominent in society, Montgomery said.

“Our lives are affected now and in the future by the bioethical standards set by our health care system and our government,” said Montgomery, who is contemplating a political or legal career. “The unique understanding and perspective provided by this fellowship will enable me to make informed decisions and arguments about bioethical issues in either of these fields.”

Besides interacting with medical and nursing students, the fellows also attend selected classes and educational conferences, attend meetings of review boards, participate in tutorials and small group discussions and will write an essay that analyzes an ethical, cultural or social issue encountered during the experience. They earn six hours of course credit for the program.

“One only has to hear one newscast to be convinced that ethics training is needed in many areas of our society, and this is clearly part of what we want to achieve with the fellowship,” said Didlake, who serves as course coordinator. “Beyond that, we want to fully understand how social and cultural issues impact health and health care.”

Using a gift from the Bower Foundation, UMMC established the Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities in 2008 to recognize the importance of ethics, professionalism and an understanding of the social context in which health care is delivered. The center strengthens the Medical Center’s education, service and research missions by providing a renewed emphasis on ethical integrity, moral reasoning and a deeper understanding of the complex relationship between medicine and society.

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