Holt Bioethics Essay Award for Medical Students

Call for Submissions: Essays due to humanities@uthscsa.edu by 8:00 a.m., Date TBA.

Monetary Awards

  • 1st Place – $1,000
  • 2nd Place – $300
  • 3rd Place – $200

This prestigious annual award includes a cash prize recognizing the best essay by a UT Health San Antonio medical student on a bioethics topic. The essay topic will be chosen by the medical student, and all submitted essays will be assessed by a panel of health care ethicists and knowledgeable physicians. All medical students are eligible, and the prompts are provided merely to stimulate ideas. No special preference will be given to essays that follow these prompts as opposed to a completely original topic.

First, a definition is in order:  What is Bioethics? Bioethics is a branch of applied ethics that studies the philosophical, social and legal issues arising in medicine and the life sciences. It is chiefly concerned with human life and well-being.

In the course of practicing medicine, physicians often encounter tension between their duties to individual patients and to society (e.g., concern for public health or public/professional norms).

Select one of the following topics and write an essay that identifies and illuminates – through examples, data, case studies, and informed moral reasoning – how physicians should discharge their ethical responsibilities to both the individual patient and to society.

Prompts you may consider:

  • The Electronic Medical Record (EMR) emerged in the 1960s to improve physician documentation, communication and billing. In 1991, the Institute of Medicine recommended universal implementation of the EMR as a way to improve health care. Yet, many physicians are concerned that EMR-related responsibilities undermine the care of individual patients. Has the EMR achieved its goals and at what price to patient-doctor relationships?
  • The care of patients with serious illness has evolved in recent decades. Palliative care and hospice are increasingly available and integrated into the practice of medicine. These services are recognized as promoting patient well-being and respecting patient rights. One controversial trend at the state level has been the legalization of Physician Assisted Death (PAD), a practice that does not have the united support of palliative care specialists. Proponents argue that PAD is an essential tool for ensuring that comfort and autonomy are available to the most vulnerable members of society. Opponents raise concerns about professionalism and unintended consequences. Should the medical profession embrace PAD as an option for patients with serious illness?
  • Maternal mortality is rising in Texas, while the rest of the world is reducing maternal deaths significantly. Recent studies indicate that the poor and minorities are disproportionately affected, and that many of the underlying risk factors are preventable. What is role of the physician in advocating for reduced maternal mortality? And, how can physicians ensure that relevant ethical considerations inform health-related policymaking at the state level?
  • Two of the largest immigrant detention centers in the United States are located 75 miles south of San Antonio, in Dilley and Karnes City. Asylum seekers released from these facilities en route to sponsors elsewhere in the country routinely traverse San Antonio, where they may stay in shelters for 3-5 days. Bexar County physicians who are obligated to act as stewards of local resources, including taxpayer dollars, may encounter sick asylum seekers with neither the residency status nor the funding to lay claim to these local resources. What is the nature and what are the limits of moral responsibility for physicians to provide health care to this transient population? Are there ethical or biological hazards associated with disregarding the health needs of these patients? Discuss this question from the perspective of health, human rights and social justice.

The essays will be judged on the following rubric:

Criterion Possible Points
Applicability of topic/Educational value to health care professionals Identification of ethical issues in topic 15
Shows how topic relates to health care 15
Quality of writing Uses proper grammar & spelling 7
Writes clearly 7
Cites resources 6
Comprehension of issues Demonstrates knowledge of chosen topic 8
Provides evidence to support thesis & arguments 8
Draws appropriately on external resources 7
Demonstrates original thought (rather than just restating what others have said) 7
Clarity of discussion & conclusions Shows a clear logical flow of argumentation (e.g. thesis; arguments; supporting evidence) 7
Stays on topic 6
Makes a logical conclusion for action, thought, or research 7