Topic: Education
March 30, 2016 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD

Those of you who have followed my blog posts know that I sometimes express my views about education. I have argued for the value of broad-based education and in particular I have advocated both that scientists should receive quality education in the humanities and that those in the humanities should receive quality education in science. Now I am ready to again argue for inclusion of broad educational requirements and in particularly disagreeing with a man named Andrew Hacker who has, for some years now, argued against the required teaching of algebra. Andrew Hacker is a professor emeritus of political science at Queens College of the City University of New York.  Mr. Hacker notes that some students drop out of both high school and college and that others fail courses. These contentions are most certainly factually correct. But Mr. Hacker than goes on, with an amazing disregard for citing actual evidence, to identify mathematics in general, and algebra courses in particular as the reason for students who fail to complete or succeed in their education. In an opinion piece published in 2012 by the New York Times. Hacker argues that making mathematics education mandatory is a barrier in developing young talent and a major obstacle to their continued education. He claims without data or attribution that eight million high school and college students struggle with algebra every day. He indicates that one in four fails to finish high school and again without data or attribution indicates that “Most of the educator’s I’ve talked with cite algebra as the major academic reason.” Not this educator. He does cite the agreement of a teacher named Shirley Bagwell of Tennessee who is apparently another anti-algebra crusader.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website. 

January 20, 2016 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

There have been dozens of papers in the past few years about our current biomedical science enterprise being unsustainable, starting with a prominent paper by Bruce Alberts, Marc Kirschner, Shirley Tilghman and Harold Varmus in 2014. They and others argue that the biomedical science environment is unstainable given its current growth and has led to a hypercompetitive environment where innovation has declined while possibly other factors have worsened such as authorship ethics, cutting corners, and the irreproducibility of results. There is tons of data from the NIH, NSF and academic researchers demonstrating the low rate of success in obtaining grants, longer post-docs, and less faculty level job opportunities, yet we continue to increase the number of students accepted into PhD programs. What are we going to do with the overflow of PhDs?

A recent article by Julie Gould in Nature writes about this topic. To summarize, she and others come up with several solutions of which I will discuss a few.

The first, and perhaps the most difficult for researchers and institutions to swallow, is simply reduce the number of PhDs (the entry rate). I and others have indicated that we need to decouple the labor from the training function of PhDs. Currently, PhDs and post-doctoral fellows are the labor backbone for the biomedical research workforce. Principal investigators (PIs) use PhDs as cheap labor to undertake research within their grants. The problem I think can be easily resolved if NIH was to set limits on the number of students which can be recruited for different types of NIH grants, or if academic institutions and graduate departments limit the number of PhDs they enroll. Yet there is really no appetite for such a policy shift and enormous resistance. Some argue that fewer PhD scientists could send a message that perhaps going into science is not the best vocation one can enter or that it may reduce scientific imagination overall. I’m not sure if this is a worthwhile reason to maintain the growing number of PhDs in biomedical science.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

January 12, 2016 | Posted By Bruce White, DO, JD

As is their publishing practice, the American Journal of Bioethics recently invited submissions for an Open Peer Commentary to an article they plan to publish in the next few months. The article is entitled “A Pilot Evaluation of Portfolios for Quality Attestation of Clinical Ethics Consultants” and authored by Joseph J. Fins, MD, Eric Kodish, MD, and the other members of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH) Quality Attestation Presidential Task Force (QAPTF). This paper is a sequel to their earlier paper “Quality Attestation for Clinical Ethics Consultants: A Two-Step Model from the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities” which was published in The Hastings Report. [http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24092588] The first paper described the ASBH plans to “attest” to the “quality” of self-identified, randomly-selected pilot clinical ethics consultants who submit a “portfolio” illustrating their consultation activities. When the article appears, all involved in clinical ethics consultation and the training of future clinical ethics consultants should read the paper. The QAPTF and the ASBH should be congratulated for doing this work and sponsoring the activity.

However, in thinking through this process again, one wonders how much of this is about the past and not about the future. Shouldn’t any process be more prospective and less retrospective? Maybe this is not possible? But how important is it really to show that people who are currently offering clinical ethics consultation services and recording their efforts in portfolios for other “experts” to review and compare do their consultations satisfactorily? Will this “attestation” somehow change their employment or practice circumstances or patterns? Will their employers dismiss them if they fail to obtain “attestation” status and hire clinical ethics consultants are meet the attestation standard? Will it add public recognition? In truth, is “attestation” really a quality standard that matters?

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

October 16, 2015 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD

I have a riddle for you.  Start with six attorneys; add three management consultants, three financial executives/advisors and a couple of bankers. Sprinkle in, one each, clothing store chain CEO and entertainment retail chain CEO. Add executives from a supermarket chain, a construction company, and a paper products company. Fold in a hedge fund manager, real estate executive, and an accountant. Finish with a reputation management expert and exactly one educator and one physician. What have you got? Perhaps you have the membership of an exclusive club, perhaps a class reunion of an exclusive prep school. No not these.  I will not make you guess any more. What you have is the Board of Directors of a large academic medical center which includes a major teaching hospital and a medical school. This academic medical center educates medical students and physicians, graduate students in science and other health professions. This teaching hospital is a major health care provider in the state capital of a large northeastern state. The academic medical center is the leading biomedical research organization in the region.

The Board of Directors is fully responsible for the governance of this large and complex organization. This organization has a mission to educate, to conduct biomedical research, and to provide patient care services. I was expecting to see that this list of directors would include expertise from renowned educators with national reputations. I was expecting to see a list containing outstanding biomedical researchers who discovered knowledge which made the world a better place. I was expecting leaders from the field of healthcare and medicine. But that is not what I found. I was surprised.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

June 18, 2015 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

Let me say emphatically at the outset of this blog, as someone who has been a clinical ethics consultant for over 20 years, I am quite sure that clinical ethics consultations overall improve the quality of patient care and currently are an important, even essential, part of the providing excellent patient care in hospitals. Contemporary medicine is filled with value laden questions and issues that often can be effectively addressed by someone with expertise and training in clinical ethics. Having said this, I am still somewhat skeptical about clinical ethics consultation becoming a professional area of healthcare that parallels other professional areas like medicine, nursing, and social work. I think there are some special considerations about the field of clinical ethics consultation that makes its future status as a professional activity uncertain.

First of all it is well-known that CEC’s come from a variety of backgrounds and training—from philosophers to physicians to social workers to nurses and lawyers and on and on. People enter the field of clinical ethics consultations from very different disciplinary backgrounds and seemingly learn a common vocabulary and methodology of clinical ethics and a basic familiarity with and ability to function in the clinical setting. They learn this vocabulary in very different ways—some informally, some through short 1-2 week long intensives, some with certificate programs, some with master’s degrees, and some with 1-2 year long fellowships. No other area of healthcare work admits of such diversity. Though this is a positive feature in some ways by providing diverse perspectives in understanding value dilemmas, it creates a challenge of considerable controversy when we try to define the kind of educational training a future CEC should have. At the moment there seem to be many pathways into the field and no clear answer has emerged.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

April 14, 2015 | Posted By John Kaplan, PhD

Last week we posted an article to our Facebook page from the Washington Post entitled “We don’t need more STEM majors. We need more STEM majors with liberal arts training”.  

Reading this got me to thinking and a bit of reminiscing about my own education. Long before STEM meant science technology engineering and math I was a STEM major. I received my undergraduate degree from the University of Illinois in 1972 from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. That is, I was a STEM major who received a liberal arts education. The replacement of the word “education” for “training” is intentional on my part as I value education far beyond training but I digress.  I focused on science to the greatest degree possible with a biology major and a chemistry/physics minor. But as a student in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences I was required to complete requirements which were satisfied by sequences in social sciences, humanities, foreign language, and rhetoric. I remember these experiences to varying degrees. Some are fond memories, some seemed more like torture. Collectively, however, I look back on these courses as a great well rounded and very rewarding educational experience. I do have every confidence that I benefited greatly from my non-STEM courses and they helped me with the skills and the experience to better communicate as a scientist and the non-scientific responsibilities I also had as a faculty member.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website. 

December 22, 2014 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

Recently Dr. Christopher Thomas Scott of Stanford University wrote a great paper titled “The Case of Stem Cell Counselors” in Stem Cell Reports which draws parallels from the field of genetic counseling arguing for the need for stem cell counsellors (1). Scott outlines that due to increases in the number of stem cell trials combined with fraudulent therapies being offered around the world, the time is ripe for having counsellors help patients navigate the clinical stem cell research/therapy landscape. These experts can help patients identify and distinguish legitimate trials from unproven interventions, explain the risks, benefits and therapeutic options, and serve as a resource to provide them with educational information.

On a related topic, my colleagues and I at AMBI were going to write a paper arguing that clinical ethics consultants should be involved in countering the impact of stem cell tourism and serve as a resource for patients who are contemplating undertaking an unproven stem cell based intervention (SCBI). We thought that clinical ethics consultants are in a unique position to offer advice and counselling to patients seeking unproven SCBIs for a few reasons.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website. 

August 11, 2014 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

In my last blog I asked the question, “What is ethics doing?” where I contrasted the armchair, academic ethics that I knew as a graduate student with the clinical ethics cases in which I am now involved in clinical ethics consultations. I alluded to the famous paper by Stephen Toulmin (1922-2009), “How medicine saved the life of ethics” by providing ethics with many practical value laden problems to address. The very process of becoming involved with applied ethics and ethical problems of practicing physicians in the healthcare system was itself as, or perhaps more, transformational for ethics than it was for medicine. Even though medicine needed a serious study of its value-laden issues, which has evolved into bioethics and clinical ethics, the very activity of doing applied ethics has evolved into a better defined field of inquiry with a clearer purpose. But what about the armchair, academic pursuits of philosophical ethics of old? Is there anything left for it to do? This is the question I will attempt to answer in this blog.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website. 

July 22, 2014 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

I recall being a PhD candidate in philosophy in the 1970’s, I often pondered the subject matter of my graduate courses in ethics. I would ask myself, what does any of this have to do with ethics? What are we doing?

As our courses went from Kant to Mill to G.E. Moore to the Emotivists and others, I couldn’t help but have a sense of unreality about the content of what I was learning.

How can we use reason to find a basis for knowing right action? What are the ways we can define right action based on a normative moral theory?

What is the meaning of good? Right? And obligation? Can these terms be defined within a theoretical, substantive moral framework or are they just expressions of feelings and emotions without any cognitive content? If they are more than the latter, what do they mean?

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

July 10, 2014 | Posted By Zubin Master, PhD

Both parts I and II of this blog were originally published as a commentary in the Office of Research Integrity’s Newsletter (http://ori.hhs.gov/newsletters) Volume 22, Number 2, March 2014 and has been reproduced with permission for the AMBI blog.

In Part I, published last month, I discussed my experience organizing and developing a responsible conduct of research (RCR) workshop for stem cell scientists that was held at the Till and McCulloch Meeting in October 2013 as part of Canada’s Stem Cell Network at http://www.stemcellnetwork.ca. In Part 2, I discuss the importance of developing RCR pedagogy that includes both lecture and informational components, and provides ethical cases such that students have a rich understanding of normative, policy, and practical aspects to different RCR topics.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.
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