For nearly 20 years, the Ethics Center’s unique Health Care Ethics Internship, currently led by Director of Bioethics Charles Binkley, has provided students with an in-depth ethical perspective on health care and ensured that they are better prepared to affect ethically sound, positive health care outcomes. Traditionally, program interns have rotated through hospitals and health centers. Because of COVID-19, interns did not have access to these places. In response, the internship was adapted to bring a variety of health care professionals, lawyers, geneticists, patients, and often nationally recognized experts, into the class to better illustrate some of the key ethical dilemmas in health care.
Dr. Binkley explained that the program was benefitting from new COVID adjustments.
“Sometimes the shadow experiences were rather uneven. One student might watch a nurse or doctor tend to patients and not have much time for discussion, while another student was shadowing at a hospice facility and engaging in lots of ethical conversations. The classroom discussions really level the playing field and build a foundation for ethical care.”
These experts came from many different disciplines and from institutions across the country. A few diciplines covered in the program include racial health disparities; disability ethics and ableism; stem cells and personalized medicine; transgender ethics; physician-assisted death; and human enhancement technology. Students had a chance to interact with experts in these fields during class by asking questions and engaging in discussion. After exploring various perspectives, they are encouraged to arrive at their own ethical conclusions.
These conclusions are being featured in the program’s new Health Care Ethics Internship blog. The first post by junior, Aysha Gardner ’22 takes a dive into the deep end of the ethical swimming pool, discussing the difficult topic of forced gynecological surgeries in ICE camps. Gardner writes about the violation of human rights, principle of autonomy and nonmaleficence doctors committed when performing invasive and unnecessary procedures on unconsenting, vulnerable women. The immigration center’s failure-to-report was unethical as it used the women as a means to a financial end. Finally, Gardner takes time to address the country’s unfortunate and embarrassing history of forced hysterectomies and draws the audience's attention to current actions being taken.
Noel Del Toro ’21, another intern in the program, will write her blog post in the spring quarter. In the meantime, she has found inspirational material from some of the class speakers. Her personal favorite, Dr. Jill Cramer, is a neurologist, just like Del Toro hopes to be.
“It’s really great having these speakers in class because you get to ask and hear more personal information that may not come out in a typical shadow experience,” noted Del Toro. She said she learned that, “as a neurologist, you are not only a physician to the patient, but also their family. This is because you are dealing with tough conditions like Parkinsons and Alzheimers where the patient doesn’t always understand what is going on, but the family does. Realizing not only the severity of what the patient is going through, but also the family is an extremely important part of the job.” Dr. Cramer spoke to the class through Zoom as all the speakers are doing this year.
“Zoom is great because it opens up the possibilities of who we can bring in,” Dr. Binkley said. “It’s important, though, to balance the more prominent speakers with the practical ones.” He explained that they were expecting a male nurse who has transitioned gender to come talk to the class about the ethics behind requiring psychological consultation before receiving gender transformation hormones.
Like many things now, the exact nature of the internship next year is still evolving, but regardless, Dr. Binkley plans to keep the Zoom speakers as a part of the curriculum even if students are able to return to shadowing in health care facilities.
The internship is now accepting applications for the 2021-22 academic year. For more information visit https://www.scu.edu/ethics/hcei/.
Sahale Greenwood ‘21, a communications and political science major and a marketing and communications intern with the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, contributed as the interviewer and author of this story.