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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics


Vincent Whelan

Vincent Whelan

Vincent Whelan '08

Hospitalist, Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital

As a new hospitalist for the Stem Cell Transplant Unit at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, Vincent Whelan ’08 is learning everything he can about the use of this cutting-edge therapy for the treatment of cancer, bone marrow failure syndromes, and rare genetic disorders. 

Whelan has had his own experience with rare genetic conditions. At the age of 9, he was diagnosed with Fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP), a musculoskeletal disorder that causes his muscles and connective tissue to be replaced by bone.  The disease inhibits mobility, but it has not slowed Whelan down. 

Instead he says it has helped him understand his patients. “I’ve gone through a lot myself, so I know about when people are going through difficult things,” he says.  “I think FOP has made me more compassionate.”

Compassion has been a theme in his pursuit of medicine, ever since he participated in the Health Care Ethics Internship at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.  The program allows students to shadow doctors and nurses as they encounter ethical issues in a hospital setting.  Whelan still remembers the case of an older patient whose family was reluctant to spend the money he needed for his treatment because they were worried about losing their inheritance.  Disturbed by their lack of compassion, Whelan determined then that when he became a physician, he would be persistent in helping patients and families work together for the best care possible.

Whelan credits Santa Clara’s Health Care Ethics Internship with raising his awareness of the need for more compassion from all the players in medical settings.  He believes it contributed to his acceptance to the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine.  Once in medical school, his interest in and commitment to compassion and ethics in health care grew. “I was on the Ethics Board at UC Irvine, so that was interesting, getting to be part of difficult conversations,” he says. He believes he was selected for the board because of his internship experience.

Eventually Whelan hopes to become a pediatric oncologist.  When asked about the most difficult ethical dilemmas in this specialty, he cites the physician’s duty to do everything possible to save a patient but “not to needlessly prolong the agony that the patient is going through.” 

Whelan’s heart is always with his young patients.  “I’m just a kid at heart,” he says.  “I love working with little kids.  They just make me happy.”