Honzel Fellow, Shelby Jennett ‘24, is an undergraduate senior studying neuroscience and philosophy. Her role in this fellowship is to work alongside Director of Bioethics Dorothée Caminiti in guiding this year’s class of Health Care Ethics Interns toward a better understanding of ethics in the medical field, as well as conducting her own research study. Participating in the previous class of Health Care Ethics Interns has allowed Jennett to serve as this year’s Honzel fellow.
In the beginning of the academic year, Jennett worked closely with Caminiti to create a curriculum for the 2023-24 interns. Now, she facilitates classroom discussions, prompting thoughtful conversation regarding ethics’ role in medicine. She says, “My really big role, aside from my own project, is mainly to facilitate that growth in the students, which is probably one of my favorite parts of the internship too. I felt like I grew so much from the program, so I try to push people outside their comfort zone, as well.” Jennett describes this role as more than a teaching assistant, she’s more of a student mentor.
Alongside leading group discussions, Shelby is deeply involved in her own research project, a large component of the fellowship program. Her research topic connects bioethics to her minor in philosophy, specifically discovering how one’s transformative experience impacts informed consent and autonomy. Jennett describes transformative experiences as an experience that changes one’s perception of themselves and the world around them after having gone through it. She notes that her own medically transformative experience may have inspired this topic of study.
Linking this to the medical field, she explains that oftentimes patients who undergo reconstructive procedures, such as burn or breast cancer patients, go into the procedure expecting to come out of it looking or feeling a certain way, but the result is often different than their preconceived notion. This is where Jennett believes the lines of informed consent become less clear; “The reason why it’s so tricky after consenting to certain procedures is that some people have a lot of regrets afterwards or it wasn’t what they really wanted.”
Having highlighted this as an issue, Jennett’s research will be taking a physician’s stance in learning what the medical community can do to aid this process. A subtopic of this matter is that oftentimes physicians treat the same malady with a standard course of treatment. Shelby argues that every person’s body and worldviews are different, therefore, physicians should take these factors into account when deciding on a course of treatment.
Jennett notes how influential her time as a Health Care Ethics Intern and Honzel Fellow has been to her current and future academic and career pursuits. She adds that she had not come to SCU with a declared minor in philosophy, but it was something that she was exposed to through her internship. She says, “Something I love about the internship is that it has really challenged my ability to think critically and apply theoretical frameworks to real cases – just learning how to think through something that doesn’t always have a satisfying answer. Ethics has the ideal, the theoretical, but also the ‘how do we actually apply this to life?’ It's been really awesome to fuse those things together. For me personally, it fostered a love of ethics. It highlights how important ethical decision making is in medicine.”
Shelby plans to pursue a master’s degree in bioethics after graduating this spring. She then intends to apply to medical school, where she can apply her research to her field.
For students wanting to learn more about the Health Care Ethics Internship and the Honzel Fellowship, Jennett will be co-conducting the upcoming Health Care Ethics Internship Informational Session on February 13, 2024.
Mia Kanter ‘24, dance & french studies major and a marketing and communications intern at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, was interviewer and author of this story.