News

Two Juniors Receive Annual Vann Fellowships to Study Medical Ethics at the Mayo Clinic

by Davidson College

Betsy Gammon '14 and Gloria Bui '14 have received this year's Vann Fellowships for Biomedical Ethics Research to spend the coming summer at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. Made possible through a generous gift from Jim Vann '50 and Lee Stanton Vann, the Vann Fellowships allow two Davidson students a year to spend the summer learning from physicians and researchers within the Mayo Clinic Program in Professionalism and Ethics. The fellowship also includes a stipend of $5,000. Gammon, a biology major with a medical humanities concentration, first became interested in researching ethics on a study abroad program last fall in Chile. "My experience designing and implementing a research study in an HIV/AIDS clinic completely changed the way I view biomedical ethics," she explained. "I applied for the Vann Fellowship because I wanted more challenging experiences with ethics in the medical realm before becoming an active contributor to this field."

The Vann Fellowship will allow Gammon and Bui to research a broad variety of ethics-related topics at the Mayo Clinic, including end-of-life care, surrogate decision-making, organ transplantation and stem cell research.

Gammon continued, "By interacting with Mayo Clinic staff and placing myself in new and challenging situations, I hope to construct a deeper, more comprehensive understanding of bioethics in practice, and to contribute to this important scientific community in some substantial manner."

Bui, a history major with a concentration in pre-medicine, learned about the Vann Fellowship through her ethics-related coursework at Davidson. "I've taken multiple courses in the medical humanities program, and the discussions in those courses presented the Vann Fellowship as a great opportunity to put the principles and ideas I've learned towards a more elevated level of application," she said.

"I want to leave the fellowship able to confidently defend my own views," Bui added. "The ability to persuasively support a position on a contentious subject is an invaluable skill, especially since ethical considerations are often pushed aside in favor of short-term expediencies."

Last summer's Vann Fellows Spencer Wilson '13 and Ashely Parker '14 affirmed that Bui and Gammon will enjoy an extraordinary experience.

Wilson, a pre-med economics major, said, "On a daily basis I would follow the director of the Clinical Ethics Consulate Service at Mayo Clinic on calls, which included ethical disputes, cases of unresolved issues between members of the healthcare team, and end-of-life care. I got a hands-on look at how those kinds of issues are resolved in a hospital setting by ethics professionals, which was really rewarding."

Wilson's primary fellowship research project involved compiling data on previous ethics cases dating back to 2005. "Based on my ethics education at Davidson, the cases I compiled pretty much ran the gamut of every type of ethical issue that could arise," said Wilson. "Cases included a traumatic brain injury patient who relied on a family member to make decisions on their behalf, and a Jehovah's Witness who refused blood transfusions."

"With my compilation and previous entries, the research represented the largest collection of data on ethics consulate cases ever assembled in medical literature," Wilson added.

Parker, a pre-med French major, said "My experience at Mayo was incredible. It reaffirmed my dream of becoming a doctor, opened my eyes to issues I never before considered, and allowed me the opportunity to observe some of the nation's leading doctors."

"I was also extremely grateful for the support from the Davidson alumni community in Rochester," Parker added. "The Davidson alumni I met were friendly, welcoming, and eager to help Spencer and me adjust to life in Minnesota. Some of them even let us shadow them or their colleagues in surgery or in practice!"

Looking forward to her experience this summer, Gammon concluded, "One of my mentors told me recently that MD really stands for 'making decisions,' and this opportunity at Mayo Clinic will certainly allow me to make more informed, more ethical decisions with patients and their families in the future."