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Jennifer Behrens, '11

Medical Student at Indiana University

1) What are you doing now?

I am currently a third year medical student at Indiana University School of Medicine on the Indianapolis campus. At the moment, I'm in my final days of my obstetrics and gynecology rotation.

2) How do issues of ethics and values enter into your professional role?

Every day in medicine is a test of my integrity on both a personal and professional level. The temptation to take shortcuts, exclude information, cover up failures rather than correct them, and overtly cheat is ever-present. The work can be mentally, emotionally, and psychologically taxing. It is a challenge at times to care for patients in the way they deserve, especially when they seem to be sabotaging everything I do for them.

As a student who is learning procedures and techniques on living, breathing beings, it is sometimes difficult to balance my need to learn with the comfort and wellbeing of the patient. It is easy to miss out on learning opportunities because I know it will hurt a patient or potentially cause long-term damage. It goes the other way, too. It is possible to harm a patient by setting her best interest aside in preference of my desire (or, as sometimes happens, my presumed "right") to learn on/from her.

Then, of course, come all of medical and biomedical ethics. Which of these four people get the one liver we have to transplant? Does a patient who cannot pay for a procedure receive it anyway? What can a patient request, and what can he refuse? How do I explain options to a patient without including my own personal biases and influencing her? There are decisions that medical professionals must make for their patients, and then the ones they help guide their patients through.

It's a crazy and beautiful profession I've chosen. I can't think of anywhere else  that showcases the best and worst of humanity, often in adjacent rooms. And does so while instilling unthinkable wonder in those that study it, only to impress them with the incredible science and technology that has developed in response.

3) What societal ethics issues are most important for us to address and why? 

The word that keeps coming to my mind is "potential". This is incredibly generic, but I believe we as a society and humanity need to move toward a world where everyone, especially children, are able to reach their full potentials - in education, health, creativity, productivity, and whatever other realm. On top of that, we need to create a world where fear, timidity, or lack of guidance prevents people from moving in their lives.

I'm not sure what this world will look like. I have an image of my mind of students with unprecedented access to mentors in the fields that interest them. There are extracurriculars and electives on a variety of topics, available to everyone. Preventative medicine is emphasized more than curative. Every kid is getting an HPV vaccine and girls get Paps when they should. Barriers are removed to mental health services, addiction treatment, and contraception. People are pursuing their passions, not choosing careers and short-term work out of necessity. Overall, people would care more about each other, from the guy you pass on the street to hordes of people half a world away.

 I know I'm in the right place and doing the right thing. I don't feel that way every moment of every day, but every once in awhile it hits me.

I learned a ton about life at DePauw that is serving me well now. Ask for help when you need it. Being "successful" isn't everything. To value relationships. To appreciate and welcome the different, the new, the unfamiliar. To be well-rounded and explore your interests, no matter where they lie. Don't forget your roots and your history, as it has made you who you are and is a part of you, for better or worse. Be spontaneous and flexible. And, perhaps something I learned best at Prindle and in my long discussions with the Steeles, to learn from those who have gone before you, heed their wisdom, and treasure their friendship.