You Want to Discover What Clinical Ethics Is All About? Become an Intern!

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By: François Pouliot, Ph.D., M.D., assistant professor and clinical ethicist, Department of Critical Care

Five interns had the chance to discover clinical, research and/or organizational ethics during the summer and to contribute to activities and projects of the Section of Integrated Ethics at MD Anderson Cancer CenterOne of them, Thomas Hoang, tells us more about his experience in Clinical Ethics.


Tell us more about yourself

I attend The University of Texas at Austin. I am pursuing a degree in biology and a minor in Spanish. After receiving my undergraduate degree, I plan to embark on a career in medicine, and plan on applying to medical schools shortly after I graduate. Health care has always been an interest of mine since I was young, and it continues to be because I admire the profession of a physician. Helping others and living a life of selflessness are two virtues that I've come to believe will satisfy me in this lifetime, and both are intertwined within the career of a doctor.


Why did you apply to a clinical internship?

Before I was appointed to this intern position, I had a background in the hard sciences more than I did the philosophical and ethical. We all know that health care is heavily science-based, but there is that other dimension of ethics that is also very important to patient care. My previous experiences in a clinical setting were administrative and more focused on hospitality toward the families of the patient. I applied to this internship to gain more exposure  to patients, to see other aspects of the clinical setting and to understand that health care is not just science, but that there are many other spectrums of patient care that are just as important as the surgeries, lab techniques, DNA assessments and epi tubes.


What is an average day like in this internship?

I have done a wide array of things in the duration of this summer internship. My daily schedule for this past summer consisted of researching and reading in an effort to gain a better understanding of ethics, I attended rounds in the ICU, attended various lectures that address many different aspects of health care, took a survey course in clinical ethics, and researched for the design of a protocol to create an efficient screening tool. The experience I've gained from doing these things has been extremely beneficial to me.

One event I remember very clearly was the bus rounds hosted by Dr. Eduardo Bruera and his colleagues. This was quite intriguing to me because it gave me exposure to terminal patients, which was quite difficult to deal with at first. Overall, the kind of exposures to patients I had this summer further developed my interests in seeking a profession in health care.


What are the most important things you learned during this experience?

Aside from the clinical experiences and research experiences, this internship let me dive into the daily work life of the health profession. It allowed me to work with a diverse group of professionals and colleagues that I have learned so much from. Learning about the organizational structure of a large medical institution like the well-renowned MD Anderson Cancer Center was a great experience.  It defined for me all of the types of people involved in health care. I also had great exposure to research creation and protocol review. The most interesting was being able to attend an Institutional Review Board (IRB) session and to see how they review protocols, as well as being involved in creating one to potentially be submitted through the IRB.


What comes next?

I will continue to pursue acceptance into a medical school. This experience has been a privilege and will be very beneficial to me as I continue with my education. I have a year left of undergraduate study and, hopefully, this experience will make me a more competent medical school candidate. I have learned during my tenure here at MD Anderson that many health professionals are not aware of clinical ethics and its importance especially to the patient. If my goals are achieved, I will practice medicine with the utmost respect for patient autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence and justice.

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