This month the Center was proud to officially announce its new name: Center for Bioethics and Social Justice. This name change reflects an updated mission with a focus on social justice-oriented bioethics. This episode features a conversation between Director Sean Valles, PhD, and Assistant Director Karen Kelly-Blake, PhD. Together they discuss moving forward in the bioethics space, what engaging in service to the people means to them, and the important work to be done to a create a healthier and more socially just world. They also explore questions related to the practical application of bioethics, and the challenge of preparing medical students for clinical practice in an inequitable world.
This episode was produced and edited by Liz McDaniel in the Center for Bioethics and Social Justice. Music: “While We Walk (2004)” by Antony Raijekov via Free Music Archive, licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License. Full episode transcript available.
About: No Easy Answers in Bioethics is a podcast series from the Center for Bioethics and Social Justice in the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. Center faculty and their collaborators discuss their ongoing work and research across many areas of bioethics. Episodes are hosted by H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online.
In early March, College of Human Medicine student Brittany Ajegba presented at the second annual Diversity in Medicine Conference at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Ajegba presented a poster titled “Rationales for expanding minority physician representation in the workforce: a scoping review.” The poster presented the work of a multi-institution research team comprised of Karen Kelly-Blake (MSU), Libby Bogdan-Lovis (MSU), Nanibaa’ Garrison (UCLA), Faith Fletcher (University of Alabama at Birmingham), Brittany Ajegba (MSU), Nichole Smith (University of Chicago), and Morgan Brafford (Walden University). The team’s scoping review of the same name was published in the September 2018 issue of Medical Education.
Ajegba shared her experience on attending: “I was so happy I was able to attend and present at the [conference]. While I got to present on our physician-patient racial/ethnic concordance research, it was great to see what researchers from around the country are doing to address underrepresentation in medicine. Being from the area, it was nice to reconnect with future colleagues and to see what work was being done around various topics of diversity in medicine that included but was not limited to: unconscious bias projects, pipeline programs, LGBTQ+ healthcare, and much more.”
The team’s poster presented findings of their scoping review of the 2000-2015 literature on strategies for and approaches to expanding underrepresented minority (URM) representation in medicine, “which reveals a repetitive, amplifying message of URM physician service commitment to vulnerable populations in medically underserved communities. Such message repetition reinforces policies and practices that might limit the full scope of URM practice, research and leadership opportunities in medicine. Cross-nationally, service commitment and patient-physician concordance benefits admittedly respond to recognized societal need, yet there is an associated risk for instrumentally singling out members of URMs to fulfill that need. Additionally, the proceedings of a 2001 US Institute of Medicine symposium warned against creating a deterministic expectation that URM physicians provide care to minority populations.”
Listen to Episode 6 of our podcast series No Easy Answers in Bioethics, featuring Libby Bogdan-Lovis and Dr. Karen Kelly-Blake, to learn more about this ongoing research.
How can social determinants of health be integrated effectively into medical education and clinical practice?
This episode focuses on the topic of social determinants of health, or the social and environmental factors that influence our health and access to resources. Center for Ethics Assistant Director Libby Bogdan-Lovis and Associate Professor Dr. Karen Kelly-Blake speak with College of Human Medicine student Brittany Ajegba, who emphasizes the need for standardization when training physicians on social determinants of health. From medical education to clinical encounters, they provide a variety of perspectives on this increasingly important work.
This episode was produced and edited by Liz McDaniel in the Center for Ethics. Music: “While We Walk (2004)” by Antony Raijekov via Free Music Archive, licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License. Full episode transcript available.
About: No Easy Answers in Bioethics is a podcast series from the Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences in the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. Each month Center for Ethics faculty and their collaborators discuss their ongoing work and research across many areas of bioethics. Episodes are hosted by H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online.
Dr. Stanley Goldfarb is the former Associate Dean of Curriculum at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. In a recent Wall Street Journalopinion piece, “Take Two Aspirin and Call Me by My Pronouns,” he complained that curricula in medical schools “are increasingly focused on social justice rather than treating illness.” He goes on to say, “A new wave of educational specialists is increasingly influencing medical education. They emphasize ‘social justice’ that is related to health care only tangentially.” Really? Only tangentially?
Readers will recall Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician in Flint, Michigan. She had discovered elevated lead levels in many of her pediatric patients. She could have “stayed in her lane,” provided chelation therapy, hoped for the best, and gone home for dinner. If this is what we would have taught her during her medical education, we would have been complicit in suborning a major injustice.
Dr. Hanna-Attisha did the necessary background research, discovered that public officials had switched the source of Flint’s drinking water to save money, which, in turn, resulted in lead being leached into the drinking water. She brought her case to the media and vigorously advocated (successfully) for correcting this health hazard. She did this for the sake of the children in Flint, many not yet born. This was not tangential to her role as a physician; this was integral and essential. This was a matter of social justice. This was part of her medical education in the College of Human Medicine.
The practice of medicine today is suffused with social justice challenges. As we explain to our first-year medical students, the clinic is not an island of “pure caring,” isolated from the injustices that are pervasive in our health care system and governing policies. Those injustices frequently seep into clinical practice through the hands of physicians who, no doubt, see themselves as just and caring practitioners. This may sound like hyperbole, but I ask you to consider the evidence.
For the past forty years the dominant demand in health policy has been for health care cost containment. I will remind the reader that last year in the United States we spent $3.65 trillion on health care, roughly 18% of our GDP, compared to 11% of GDP in most European nations. If we ask who is responsible for spending more than 70% of those dollars, the short answer is that physicians in the clinic are the responsible agents. Physicians decide whether a patient needs surgery, which drugs to prescribe, what diagnostic tests are necessary, how much home care is needed, and so on. Consequently, if a focal point is needed for controlling health care costs, it will be physicians.
Note that cost control can be a matter of justice or injustice. In either case, physicians will have to be mindful of the justice-relevant consequences of their diagnostic or therapeutic choices. In the 1990s a number of managed care plans used “at risk” reimbursement to elicit more cost-conscious physician clinical behavior. In some cases, as much as 30% of a physician’s income could be “at risk” if they ordered too many tests. They could also earn 30% bonuses if they were especially stingy in their use of tests. Patients knew nothing of these arrangements. Income risks and opportunities such as those could readily shape physician behavior in ways that were less than just. Whether physician judgment in these circumstances would be corrupted would depend upon whether in their medical education they had had the opportunity to reflect upon such future challenges (as opposed to thoughtlessly accepting such practices as “this is the way medicine is practiced today.”)
Putting physician income at risk to control costs related to patient care is crude and obvious. More problematic are the subtle and invisible ways in which physicians control costs justly or unjustly. For example, a patient demands an MRI to rule out brain cancer when a physician is medically certain these are tension headaches. But the physician authorizes the MRI because “insurance will pay.”
If thousands of physicians are indifferent to authorizing such unnecessary care, then the costs of health insurance to employers increase. For employers at the economic margins, that cost increase may mean dropping health insurance as a benefit, thereby adding those employees to the ranks of the uninsured. From the perspective of any individual physician, this is a very remote, invisible consequence of their decisions that creates an injustice. Medical students need to know this to practice medicine justly.
Other employers will change insurance coverage to reduce their costs. They will require their employees to accept insurance with $5000 front-end deductibles. Financially less well-off workers will deny themselves that unnecessary MRI (no injustice there), but they will also deny themselves medically necessary diagnostic procedures (sometimes with deadly consequences) by not even walking into a physician’s office. Why, physicians might ask, should they as physicians be responsible for those bad decisions by patients; there was nothing to diagnose in the examining room. But maybe there was something to diagnose in society? This is sounding a bit more like the situation in Flint. Non-physicians made cost control decisions but counted on physicians to see such decisions as “merely tangential” to the practice of medicine, nothing that should concern them.
Precision medicine has generated more than 90 FDA approved genetically-targeted cancer drugs with annual costs of more than $100,000. These drugs are used with patients with metastatic disease. The vast majority of these patients will gain no more than extra months of life from these drugs, not extra years (though clever media campaigns create a very different impression). For most workers, their health plan will require a 20-30% co-pay for these drugs, which is unaffordable for most workers. Financially well-off managers and executives will be able to afford those co-pays, which means that workers who could not afford the co-pays will have contributed through their premiums to subsidizing that other 70-80% for the well-off. Is that fair? Is that just?
Should physicians caring for these patients silently acquiesce to these insurance arrangements as “too tangential” to medical practice, too far removed from the clinic? Should we, as teachers of future physicians, also silently acquiesce so that more curricular time can be allocated to understanding the mechanisms of action of the next 90 FDA approved targeted cancer therapies? WWHAD: What Would Dr. Hanna-Attisha Do?
Leonard M. Fleck, PhD, is Acting Director and Professor in the Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences and Professor in the Department of Philosophy at Michigan State University.
Join the discussion! Your comments and responses to this commentary are welcomed. The author will respond to all comments made by Thursday, October 24, 2019. With your participation, we hope to create discussions rich with insights from diverse perspectives.
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Look at him zip around in that wheelchair. He is so independent and inspirational. But I wonder how he goes to the bathroom, if he’s really as happy as he seems, does he have sex, how does that work, is he in pain, does he work? What are the health problems he has to deal with, what are medical expenses? There are many dimensions to a happy and healthy life, and everyone would agree that life is complicated. But when multiplied by a spinal cord injury (SCI), the complexity of life can be off the charts—what we used to take for granted becomes a monumental challenge. This talk will explore life with SCI from a first-person perspective.
Join us for Mark Van Linden’s lecture on Wednesday, October 16, 2019 from noon until 1 pm in person or online.
Mark Van Linden grew up in Lansing, MI and had a very stable and nurturing childhood. Raised by his Dad, Mark attended a private high school, played basketball in college, graduated with a BS in manufacturing, and started out in his career as a manufacturing engineer in the automotive industry. His career was going very well; seemingly right on schedule he met a girl, got married, started a family, and the American Dream was well on its way to reality. Then in 2009, it was discovered that he had an aortic aneurysm, and the required surgery would replace his entire aorta from the arch to the femoral artery. During that surgery, at age 39 with two kids ages 2 and 4, he became paralyzed from the waist down. Everything he knew was now turned upside-down, and a new life was about to begin.
In person: This lecture will take place in C102 Patenge Room in East Fee Hall on MSU’s East Lansing campus. Feel free to bring your lunch! Beverages and light snacks will be provided.
An article from a multi-institution research team led by Center Assistant Professor Dr. Karen Kelly-Blake and Assistant Director Libby Bogdan-Lovis has been published in the September 2018 issue of Medical Education.
In “Rationales for expanding minority physician representation in the workforce: a scoping review,” the authors discuss “rationales for and approaches to expanding under‐represented minority (URM) physician representation in the medical workforce” found in their scoping review of fifteen years of literature.
The full text is available online via Wiley Online Library (MSU Library or other institutional access may be required to view this article).
Dr. Kelly-Blake and Libby Bogdan-Lovis further discussed their article in an interview for the Medical Education podcast series.
The authors suggest that the expanding emphasis on URM service commitment and patient–physician concordance benefits warrants ongoing scrutiny providing a cautionary tale of unintended consequences for medical educators globally https://t.co/ryvUWIzINf@msubioethics#MedEd
Center Director and Professor Dr. Tom Tomlinson is co-author of an article in the open access e-journal MedEdPublish. The article, “Reframing Professionalism: The Virtuous Professional,” was written by College of Human Medicine faculty members William Wadland, Margaret Thompson, Donna Mulder, Tom Tomlinson, Steven Roskos, John Foglio, John Molidor, and Janet Osuch.
Abstract: In response to prevalent unprofessional behaviors during the 1990s, the medical school administration at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine developed a student curriculum for professional development, called “The Virtuous Student Physician.” However, as students adopted these professional aspirations and attributes, they noted that faculty members were not being held to the same standards.
The medical school’s senior associate dean for faculty affairs and development convened a task force to reframe professionalism for all faculty, residents, and students. Our first step was to survey our faculty regarding their awareness of the student professionalism curriculum and their own perceived professional weaknesses. This survey showed the following: most faculty members were aware of “The Virtuous Student Physician” curriculum, that faculty members identified social responsibility as the most difficult attribute to achieve, and that the most difficult behavior identified was working to resolve problem behaviors with colleagues.
The task force then developed a new curriculum “The Virtuous Professional: A System of Professional Development for Students, Residents, and Faculty.” The task force identified three core virtues (Courage, Humility, and Mercy) and reframed the professional attributes encompassed by these virtues to be aspirational for the entire learning community. The faculty of the College subsequently adopted the new principles and practices, including the use of routine, anonymous student evaluation of faculty professionalism.
We are currently collecting data from student evaluations of their clinical faculty members. We plan to use this feedback to guide faculty development and recognize those who model exemplary professionalism as well as to address those who engage in unprofessional behavior.
The full text is available online from AMEE MedEdPublish.
Episode 6 of No Easy Answers in Bioethics is now available! This episode features guests Libby Bogdan-Lovis, Assistant Director of the Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences, and Dr. Karen Kelly-Blake, Assistant Professor in the Center for Ethics and the Department of Medicine at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. As leaders of a multi-institutional research team, they were interested in examining strategies and associated rationales for expanding underrepresented minority presence in U.S. undergraduate medical education. In this episode, they provide insight on what their scoping review has revealed, focusing on the notion that underrepresented minorities in medicine are often expected to pursue a service track—an expectation not placed on their white majority peers.
This episode was produced and edited by Liz McDaniel in the Center for Ethics. Music: “While We Walk (2004)” by Antony Raijekov via Free Music Archive, licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License. Full transcript available.
About: No Easy Answers in Bioethics is a podcast series from the Center for Ethics and Humanities in the Life Sciences in the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. Each month Center for Ethics faculty and their collaborators discuss their ongoing work and research across many areas of bioethics—clinical ethics, evidence-based medicine, health policy, medical education, neuroethics, shared decision-making, and more. Episodes are hosted by H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online.