The conference is free and open to the public, thanks to sponsors Doctors Hospital at Renaissance, Pan American Collaboration for Ethics (PACE), Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Nurses That Care Home Health Services, the Colleges of Arts and Humanities, Science and Mathematics, Health Sciences and Human Services, UTPA Office of Continuing Education, and local hospitals and businesses in the Rio Grande Valley.
Dr. Cynthia Jones, director of UTPA PACE said the goal of the event is to engage local health care practitioners, the Rio Grande Valley community, UTPA faculty and most importantly students, in discussions of health care and research ethics.
"We are all affected by health care, so we would love to open the door to discussions about what works in health care, what doesn't and how we can make it better," Jones said. "A big part of why we do this is also to engage our students in conversations about the ethics in the professions they are choosing. They're the future so we want them to participate."
Keynote speakers at this year's conference include: Dr. Sara Sanders, a Kearns Palmetto professor of English at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, S.C.; Dr. Fausto Meza, chief medical information officer at Doctors Hospital at Renaissance in Edinburg; Dr. Gayle Woloschak, genetics lab director and professor at Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.; and Dr. Hector Diaz and Dr. Jerome Fischer, department chairs for UTPA's social work and rehabilitation departments, respectively from the College of Health Sciences and Human Services.
The conference will include research panels and paper presentations on topics such as multicultural ethical dilemmas; the debate over a single-payer system; health disparities and health literacy; economic conflicts of interest in medicine and research; chaplaincy in health care; juvenile obesity and public health trends; home health, hospice and palliative care; violence against women as a health care challenge; and robotic surgeons and emerging technology.
This year, to give students a better opportunity of attending, all sessions will be scheduled in the UTPA Ballroom and Bronc Room. Students from the College of Science and Mathematics and College of Health Sciences and Human Services will also have the opportunity to showcase their research topics in a poster contest.
"We expect to have about 70 student entries," said Roseann Garza, graduate assistant to Jones. "Any aspect of research in those fields can fall under our topics. It's such a broad gamut of subject matter and it's great that this conference educates our students on the true broad base of medicine."
The first place winner from each of the two colleges will receive an iPad or tablet computer; second and third place winners will receive an iPod. All posters will be judged by University professors and the external keynote speakers, who will also visit with students in classroom and lab settings.
Last year, more than 700 people attended UTPA's Biomedical Ethics Conference. Dr. Rodrigo Eraña, a pediatric hematologist and oncologist at the Vannie E. Cook Jr. Children's Cancer and Hematology Clinic in McAllen, attended and spoke at last year's conference.
"I think the conference was a good opportunity for the University and community to discuss ethical topics," Eraña said. "Ethics is universal…it's important to have a solid base and people sometimes lose that perspective in trying to achieve success. If we create this ethical conscience in our students and faculty now, it's going to benefit us in 10-20 years when we have better prepared and more well-rounded physicians and scientists."
Eraña has been practicing medicine for 18 years and said he knows there are a lot of delicate questions in regards to ethics when dealing with life and death situations. At the conference he discussed the issues that revolve around end of life care for children.
"It's important for students to realize that there can be issues with professional boundaries and with what you have to do as an individual when practicing medicine," Eraña said. "This is a small step for students to start thinking about certain issues they usually wouldn't otherwise think about. Therefore, I'm glad the University is holding the conference again and I hope it keeps growing as the years go by."
In conjunction with the conference, Fischer and Diaz are offering a continuing education component on campus March 25 for licensed professional social workers, rehabilitation counselors and the general public. There is a $69 fee, which includes an entire day of the class and the processing fees for three hours of ethics credit for social workers and up to five hours of credit for rehabilitation counselors. The session is free for those who are not required to process their credits.
"This class is designed for professionals out in the field who are required to earn continuing education credits," Jones said. "The hardest class for them to get is the ethics training, so few places offer it, so this is a very convenient location for them."
Jones said last year's event concentrated mainly on physicians and nurses, but this time they are focusing on the broader aspect of health care, such as home health care, behavioral health and research.
"Health care in general covers a broad spectrum of professions and responsibilities. Here at UTPA we are training the majority of the future health care professionals for the Valley," Jones said. We want to take a more active role in engaging the University community, the community at large and students, in understanding the challenges they may face and how to be better prepared in providing the best care possible."