Holt Bioethics Essay Award for Medical Students

Call for Submissions:
Essays due to humanities@uthscsa.edu by 8:00 a.m., Monday, Jan. 10, 2022.


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 medical student will choose the essay topic, 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 to stimulate ideas. No special preference will be given to essays that follow these prompts instead of a completely original topic.

First, 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 practicing medicine, physicians often encounter tension between their duties to individual patients and 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 society.


  • Houston doctor Hasan Gokal was charged with theft after taking ten doses of COVID vaccine out from a vaccination site into the community and administering them (NY Times Article Link/PDF). The site was closing, and he could find no other patients there to take the doses before they expired. Dr. Gokal gave the final dose to his wife, who was eligible for vaccination but did not have an appointment. What ethical principles may have guided his decision, and what considerations should come into play for a physician faced with leftover vaccine doses at the end of a vaccination clinic?
  • Some people and families fleeing violence in Central America are allowed into the United States as asylum-seekers. These people are uninsured and do not qualify for any state or federal programs to receive health care. How should the health needs of this community be met, and what ethical principles guide the distribution of health resources to non-citizens with medical needs?
  • Children and teenagers under age 18 rely on their parents or guardians as medical decision-makers in most cases. When teens with advanced illness approach the end of life, they sometimes disagree with their parents over the use of invasive life-sustaining measures such as intubation. How should a physician respond to a teenager with end-stage cancer who does not want to be intubated when her parents insist on intubation and ongoing life support?
  • There is an overwhelming scientific and medical consensus that the full schedule of childhood vaccinations is safe and effective for preventing acute illness, death, the spread of vaccine-preventable diseases, and long-term complications of vaccine-preventable diseases such as sub-acute sclerosing panencephalitis after measles infection. You are caring for a family with three children whose father opposes vaccination. Both parents typically accompany the children to their well-child checks. But one day, the mother brings them alone and asks for them to be vaccinated. “Please don’t mention this to their father,” she says. How should you respond to this request?

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


Please contact humanities@uthscsa.edu for more information.