University of South Florida, Program in Bioethics and Medical Humanities

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In support of the University’s strategic goals to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration and engagement with the community, faculty in the Health Sciences Center (Colleges of Medicine, Public Health, and Nursing) developed a new Master’s Degree Program in Bioethics and Medical Humanities at the University of South Florida. The program is unique in that it gives equal and integrative weight to both bioethics and medical humanities. The program incorporates teaching partnerships with cross-college faculty whose domains of expertise range from modern theater to molecular biology and genomic medicine to death and dying. The goal of the program is to broaden students’ understanding of the health issues facing community professionals, activists, and leaders, especially those raised by advancements in technology, the distribution of scarce resources, and emergence of global tensions. Students in the program are often employed in fields that require the analysis and resolution of complex health-related issues, but lack the formal training to support their decisions. The Master’s Degree Program in Bioethics and Medical Humanities provides a unique opportunity for students to earn a graduate degree that will provide the foundation for ethical analysis and problem solving.

Students must complete four core classes: (1) Medical Ethics and Humanities: Tools and Foundations; (2) Philosophical and Religious Perspectives on Ethics; (3) Introduction to the Medical Sciences; and (4) Bioethics in Contemporary Society, as well as a seminar in research ethics. Core courses combine didactic sessions with small-group case discussions; individual projects; and exposure to community lectures, films, and special events. After completing the core courses students in the program may focus on questions associated with genetic research and therapy, new reproductive technologies, health care delivery systems, end-of-life decisions, bioterrorism, and crucial concerns associated with cultural sensitivities and competences. A wide range of elective courses offered in all colleges and departments on campus include Aging and End-of-Life Issues in Literature, Film, and Art; Faith and Reason in Western Religious Ethics; Principles of Health Policy and Management; Seminar in International Relations; and Pathobiology of Human Disease. Students also complete required internships that allow them to begin to work in the areas that interest them, whether domestic violence programs, University of South Florida’s Globalization Research Institute, institutional review board committees, or a basic science laboratory exploring innovative therapies for Alzheimer’s disease.

The program is founded on the premise that questions posed by contemporary health care dilemmas, whether local, national, or international, do not reside within the province of any single discipline, but require collaborative integration of insights from the entire university: science, humanities, communication, history, law, medicine, public health, nursing philosophy, education, anthropology, and sociology. Future plans for the program include offering online and distance-learning courses that will encourage working professionals to participate in the program, and a University-wide lecture series that will bring leaders in bioethics and the humanities to the campus and community.

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Academic Medicine, v. 78, issue 10, p. 1061