Photo courtesy of Joseph J. Fins (RightsCometoMind.com)
Photo courtesy of Joseph J. Fins (RightsCometoMind.com)
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New ‘Purple’ Fellowship Brings East and Gulf Coasts Together for Medical Ethics

New ‘Purple’ Fellowship Brings East and Gulf Coasts Together for Medical Ethics

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New York-based medical ethicist Joseph J. Fins, M.D., the E. William Davis Jr., M.D., professor of medical ethics and co-director at the Consortium for the Advanced Study of Brain Injury at Weill Cornell Medical College, visited Houston Wednesday to co-present at Houston Methodist Hospital’s Bioethics Grand Rounds.

Along with Susan M. Miller, M.D., the John S. Dunn Research Chair in General Internal Medicine at Houston Methodist Hospital and associate clinical member at the Houston Methodist Research Institute, Fins presented on the “Ethical Basis of Research Regulation: A Return to Foundational Obligations and Responsibilities in Medical Science” to discuss research ethics and the current challenges they face.

“It’s not a Texas fellowship or a New York fellowship. It’s really an American fellowship, and I think it brings us all together in commonality and common purpose to meet the needs of patients wherever they come from.”

But his visit was also prompted by the development of a new joint fellowship for medical ethics that captures the spirit of nationwide collaboration and is designed to bring the East Coast and the Gulf Coast together.

“I’m really excited about this [because we’re] training the next generation, but also it’s a purple fellowship,” Fins said. “You know, there are red states and blue states. Well, this is a purple fellowship: A little bit of us, a little bit of you guys, and together our trainees will have exposure to two different geographic locales.

“It’s not a Texas fellowship or a New York fellowship,” he added. “It’s really an American fellowship, and I think it brings us all together in commonality and common purpose to meet the needs of patients wherever they come from.”

The existing Baylor College of Medicine-Houston Methodist Hospital Medical Ethics Fellowship Program, which has fellows based in Houston, came as a result of a collaborative effort between leaders from various Texas Medical Center institutions — including Charles Millikan, vice president for spiritual care and values integration at Houston Methodist; Courtenay R. Bruce, assistant professor at Baylor’s Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy; and Amy Lynn McGuire, Ph.D., the Leon Jaworski professor biomedical ethics and director of the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy.

“We wanted to create a collaborative framework for two fellowship programs, one being the existing Baylor College of Medicine-Houston Methodist Hospital Medical Ethics Fellowship Program […] and the newly created Weill Cornell Medical College-Houston Methodist Hospital Medical Ethics Fellowship Program, with fellows based in New York,” Bruce said. “By acting as a consortium, combining forces and faculty in Texas and New York, we could be an innovative, dual-campus collaboration, allowing us to combine and leverage our talents to recruit and train outstanding fellows.”

Bruce explained that the joint program will draw from Baylor’s expertise in law, medicine and clinical ethics consultation; Weill’s strong physician presence in clinical ethics; and Houston Methodist’s pastoral care to train the next generation of clinical ethicists. Because of the unique and challenging role clinical ethicists play in patient care, she said it’s important for fellows to acquire a distinctive set of competencies that will help them more effectively respond to certain ethical concerns and resolve value-based conflicts that often emerge in health care.

This is especially true with medical advancements, such as genetic sequencing and regenerative medicine that involve stem cells, changing the general discourse of medicine and the way doctors approach patient treatment. To keep up with the rapidly evolving landscape of health care, the fellowship will bring in experts in specialized ethics topics—including neuroethics, transplant ethics, genomics, medical decision-making and narrative medicine—to cover a wide range of medical fields.

In addition, the New York and Houston programs have some of the highest volume consultation services in the country, with approximately 300 to 500 ethics consultations annually, according to Bruce.

“It would be difficult to find another fellowship program where fellows can come out of the program having conducted hundreds of ethics consultations as an independent consultant, as well as being strong academics,” Bruce said.

Although fellows will be trained at their home institutions, the consortium component includes a series of seminars, journal clubs, case conferences, observerships and orientations to allow fellows and faculty members in both programs to interact with each other.

“As a training vehicle, I think it’s the only fellowship in the United States that has such geographic dispersal and will have such a rich mix of experiences for our fellows,” Fins said. “We’re really, really excited about that and we’re really thrilled to be collaborating with our friends in Houston. We’ll see how it plays out.”

Fins said he hopes this visit is one of many in the future for more opportunities to collaborate with his new colleagues in Houston.

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