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Bioethics Service-Learning Practicum

Students in the MA-Bioethics Program are required to complete a 120-hour on-site experience that demonstrates the application of theoretical bioethics knowledge to a practical environment. The practicum is a service-learning experience, which means that students will engage in projects and activities that help the host organization meet its mission and goals.

Most students complete the practicum in one semester, averaging 10 hours on site/week. The practicum is offered in the Spring and Summer semesters.

We make an effort to match student interests to the available practicum sites on an individual basis. Below is a list of some of our practicum partners along with the actual experiences of some of our students.

“The hands-on aspect of the practicum has been my favorite part of the program! Even though I entered the program with significant clinical experience due to my previous career as a medical researcher, I learned something new each day and I was trained to look at situations through a bioethical lens. Due to my existing clinical knowledge, I was often treated as an equal and played a role in real bioethical decisions in various settings including pastoral care, respiratory therapy, intensive care, and medical student pedagogy.” Samantha Paige VanHorn, Practicum Student, Summer 2015

 “The Health Law Partnership (HeLP) and the HeLP Legal Services Clinic have had the pleasure of hosting two MA-Bioethics students, both of whom were attending physicians. We have learned through experience that interprofessional collaboration involving law and medicine is rich with legal and medical ethical issues. Having students focused on bioethics as part of our learning and problem-solving cohort has been very beneficial to our clients and our students.” Professor Sylvia Caley, Director, Health Law Partnership

Practicum Partners

CDC Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Georgia State Legislature Grady Memorial Hospital NASA

Bioethics Practicum Experience

2012 Placements

Georgia State Legislature

by Marjorie Timmer, Class of 2013

During the spring semester of 2012, it was my honor and my pleasure to serve as a legislative assistant to Mary Margaret Oliver, who represents Georgia’s 83rd Congressional District and is one of Georgia’s most respected lawmakers.  My purpose in choosing this type of practicum was to become familiar with the Georgia Assembly and the processes of lawmaking. I wanted to find a way of integrating my years of clinical and health care management experience, my bioethics education, and knowledge of the legislative process to positively impact health care policy.

Georgia General Assembly

I worked on two legislative projects and did a number of minor “legislative assistant” tasks during this experience, but probably the most valuable part of the practicum was simply being there at the Capitol during the legislative session.  It was an epiphany to experience first hand the impact of the legislative processes and rules, some of which I knew and others that were a surprise to me.  I conducted some research for two bills that were introduced during the session, one of which “died” in committee and the other of which was incorporated into another larger bill and passed.  In each case, the key to the bill’s survival was support or lack of it from the majority party, which has enormous control over the fate of legislation in any session.

It was the bill that withered in committee that offered the hardest lesson of the practicum. The Foster Children’s Psychotropic Medication Monitoring Act (HB23) proposed to require oversight by a psychiatrist when a foster child was placed on psychotropic medications, a condition that occurs with alarming frequency throughout the USA.  Because there was a mandate from the US Department of Health and Human Services for states to develop plans for such oversight, it seemed as if the bill would be a no-brainer.  The Health and Human Services Committee of the Georgia Assembly held a hearing at which representatives from the Barton Center, the Georgia Supreme Court Commission on Children, and two “graduates” of the Georgia foster care system gave powerful testimony supporting the need for this legislation, but the Georgia Psychiatric Physicians Association opposed the measure, and their lobbying efforts were enough to keep the bill stalled in committee.  It will have to be reintroduced as a new bill in another session if it is to be reactivated. 

This practicum was exhilarating for the exposure to the political process, for the opportunities it gave me to work with Rep. Oliver, her assistant, and students and staff from the Barton Child Law and Policy Center, and because I found myself immersed in the issues being considered during the legislative session, whether or not Rep. Oliver was directly involved in them. The lessons I learned included some very basic ones: 1.) vote for the people you want at the Dome; 2.) pay attention to what is happening there; 3.) write to your representatives.  And finally, it was difficult but enlightening to learn how differently the same ethical principles may be interpreted by different ideologies.  The importance of staying informed about the political process and holding our legislators accountable for their decisions cannot be overstated; it is essential to promoting and sustaining justice in our society.

Grady Health System

by Charlie Craig, Class of 2013

This practicum explores the role of a professional medical ethicist at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, a place where the vast majority of patients are poor with either no health care insurance or only government insurance through Medicaid and Medicare. Most of the patients enter the hospital through the emergency room. Challenges abound in realizing that simple vision: applying medical technology to care for sick and injured people…

Grady Hospital

Emory University Medical School and Morehouse School of Medicine use Grady as a teaching hospital, and like many urban hospitals, it is a sought after staging ground for residents from the best schools nationwide. Grady is a 950-bed hospital  with six out-patient clinics and a 288-bed nursing home. There are thousands on staff – physicians, nurses, technicians, and other health-care professionals equipped with the latest medical technology to diagnose, treat and often cure patients. Grady is considered one of the best medical centers in Georgia.

It won’t take long for the student to learn the medical ethicist at Grady is faced with the full range of clinical ethics questions and treads a fine line that runs between hospital and patient advocate. Although paid by the hospital, the medical ethicist is not there to reduce costs and protect the hospital and medical staff from liability. The ethicist also is not an advocate for the patient. Patients and their families decide what’s best for them. The ethicist helps them understand their choices…

At the conclusion of this practicum, a student will understand the role of a medical ethicist at Grady and will have a better idea of the knowledge, skills and temperament required to pursue such a career. By witnessing first-hand an ethicist’s interactions with medical professionals and patients, students have a unique opportunity gain a greater appreciation for the ethical challenges involved in these encounters.

Shadowing the medical ethicist provides valuable insight into the day-to-day work of this profession and into the enormous ethical conundrums that exist at Grady, and any hospital. For the uninitiated who may view the physician-patient encounter like a waltz with dancers gliding hand in hand, the reality is much different. The encounter is not scripted and the dance is not choreographed. Physicians and patients too frequently step on each other’s toes and stumble. The medical ethicist is there to help untangle them.