Wake Forest Bioethics Graduate Program Embracing the Human Side of Medicine

We all come face-to-face with issues of bioethics at some point during our lives, whether through an aging parent’s treatment choices and end-of-life directives, or on a deeply personal level, in struggling with in-vitro fertilization or genetic testing.

Known as the ongoing discussion—and, more often than not, the debate—of ethical standards, bioethics is a crucial topic, and not just for doctors. Its social and moral issues are also heavily weighted in the media and influenced by public opinion. Political and economic factors nearly always affect these topics as well.

At Wake Forest University, a highly successful graduate program has been designed to encourage students—largely health care professionals who have been inspired to return for this vital master’s degree—to practice, teach, and research bioethics in the “ongoing conversation” that affects us all. Wake Forest University’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences offers an exciting Masters of Arts in Bioethics program that works closely with the University’s Center for Bioethics, Health & Society. The Master of Arts degree can complement a variety of other advanced degrees and offer new directions for career opportunities for both present and future health care workers.

Gerardo Maradiaga, MA (2012) and Bioethics Project Coordinator, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, notes the wonderful diversity within the program. “The program has graduates who are doctors and nurses who practice in multiple specialties, such as hospice and palliative care or neonatology; lawyers involved in health care policy and research oversight; researchers engaged in various dimensions of biomedicine; and hospital chaplains who typically serve on their hospital’s ethics committee, to name a few.”

A 30-credit hour program—24 hours of course work and six thesis hours—is ideal for health care providers, researchers, lawyers, professionals in religion, health, research administration and those in the biotechnology industry. As a well-respected liberal arts university with its own professional schools in medicine, law, divinity and business, Wake Forest has a national focus and countless resources, which adds to the appeal of joining the program. With small class sizes that can include evening and once-a-week classes to fit the needs of working professionals, the curriculum includes exposure to bioethics in the clinical setting and instruction to fit the individual’s particular bioethics interests—perfect for the wide variety of educational backgrounds represented in its enrollment.

This is a shining example of theory meeting practice. As controversial ethical issues continue to arise from the infinite new possibilities brought about by amazing advances in biology and medicine, bioethics will continue to be an ongoing conversation with a never-ending conclusion. At the heart of these conversations are topics such as a patient’s right to learn about, and accept or refuse, certain procedures; end-of-life issues, such as withholding or withdrawing life-sustaining measures and palliative sedation; along with in-vitro fertilization, abortion, organ donation, and even cloning.

Clinical practitioners see ethical concerns and patient advocacy issues on a daily basis, and enhanced knowledge of the balance between medicine and morals is crucial as they guide decision-making in both patients and their families. On the research side, they see issues arise with the testing of human subjects, genetics, and animal testing, while lawyers and public health officials face a different set of moral issues, including access to healthcare, insurance, advance directives and living wills, malpractice, and health care system reform.

Current program participants—health care workers and other professionals alike—agree this course of study simply makes them better at their chosen profession. Many are doctors and nurses who already work in hospice care and who know firsthand that in the world of medicine that seems black and white, there are many gray areas when it comes to providing complete and compassionate patient care.

The issue of ethics touches us all.

For more information on the Masters of Arts in Bioethics program at Wake Forest University, visit Bioethics.wfu.edu/academic/graduate-programs/ or call 336-716-1499.

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