Stritch Magazine 2020 Cover Story
Confronting questions at the bedside and beyond
Patients and their families can encounter a mountain of questions when faced with health care challenges. What is the best course of treatment? What are the patient’s wishes if they are unable to advocate for themselves? In situations where those questions are unclear or concerns arise, a bioethicist can provide a unique perspective and help ensure the patient receives the best care.
This patient-centered approach to bioethics distinguishes Stritch’s Neiswanger Institute for Bioethics and Healthcare Leadership. Rather than focus on issues commonly associated with bioethics, such as stem cell research or artificial intelligence, the Neiswanger Institute has built its reputation on educating students to address the concerns facing health care professionals every day at the patient’s bedside. “I wanted to utilize Loyola's strengths, its history, and its values to build something that would advance Loyola’s mission,” says Mark Kuczewski, director of the Neiswanger Institute. Today, the institute’s impact can be seen in its hundreds of alumni, as well as its national advocacy for students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status.
When the Neiswanger Institute launched in 2000, it was one of only a dozen bioethics centers in the United States. Realizing his opportunity to build the institute from the ground up, Kuczewski went to work recruiting professionals from a variety of backgrounds to join the faculty. “Each person has brought something new to the vision: global health, public health, medical professionalism, awareness for ethnic disparities,” he says. Now, their contributions are embedded into the fabric of Loyola and our community.
A leader in online education
One of the first faculty members Kuczewski brought on board in 2002 was Kayhan Parsi, who helped launch Neiswanger’s online graduate program. “Even then, in the early years, it became clear that there was a demand for advanced, high-quality bioethics education for people in the U.S.,” says Parsi. At the time, there were almost no online options for graduate learners. Kuczewski and Parsi thought it important to create a master’s in bioethics program accessible to anyone, regardless of geography. “In a way, we fulfilled the Jesuit mission of meeting the needs of people where they are,” says Parsi. “And that has remained our ethos: to create a community of learners and alumni."
Eight years later, in 2010, the same idea helped launch Neiswanger’s hybrid professional doctoral program in bioethics. Patrick Herron (DBe ’14), director of bioethics education at New York’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine, was one of the first students to enroll in the doctoral program, despite his initial skepticism of online learning. “When I began the program, I had some strong biases against online education,” he says. But honestly, I was incredibly impressed because the rigor of the program was no joke. It was the best choice I made in my career.
Part of that rigor is due to blended courses, where online students visit Loyola’s Health Sciences Campus for three or four days to participate in a mixture of didactic and clinical workshops and simulations. “There were clinicians, nurses, social workers, people from all health care fields; it was interdisciplinary education before it was a buzzword,” says Herron. "Now, when I talk to people considering an online graduate program, I tell them to look for that intensive, interdisciplinary component.
With hundreds of graduates across the country, Neiswanger has helped educate an estimated 15 percent of all certified, clinical ethicists in the U.S.