UAB bioethics team wins national title

Taking on hot-button issues, future doctors bring home national championship in their first try

How do you spell winner? U-A-B

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Bioethics Team members Aditi Jani, Ethan Mallick Hossain, Kevin Quichen Jiang, Majaliwa Mzombwe, and Rachael Rosales. Download image

The University of Alabama at Birmingham Bioethics Team, in its first competition, became the champions of the 2011 National Undergraduate Bioethics Conference Sunday.

Gregory Pence, Ph.D., a philosophy professor in the College of Arts and Sciences who leads the ethics and bioethics teams formed this winning team in January then this past weekend headed to the bioethics conference at Duke University. Team members Ethan Mallick Hossain, Rachael Rosales, Majaliwa Mzombwe, Aditi Jani and Kevin Quichen Jiang are part of the Early Medical Professional Schools Acceptance Program (EMPSAP), which Pence directs, and some are former National Merit Scholars. These future doctors are a natural fit for this competition that focuses on the ethics of medical cases, Pence said. “It was a no-brainer.”

“We went in thinking, ‘No matter what happens, we’re going to have fun,’” said team member Jani, a freshman from Pelham. But the instinct for winning surfaced, and they left with the championship.

Pence formed a new team in January, which included two of the ethics bowl members, and then this past weekend headed to the bioethics conference at Duke University. Team members Ethan Mallick Hossain, Rachael Rosales, Majaliwa Mzombwe, Aditi Jani and Kevin Quichen Jiang are part of the Early Medical Professional Schools Acceptance Program (EMPSAP), which Pence directs, and some are former National Merit Scholars. These future doctors are a natural fit for this competition that focuses on the ethics of medical cases, Pence said. “It was a no-brainer.”

“We went in thinking, ‘No matter what happens, we’re going to have fun,’” said team member Jani, a freshman from Pelham. But the instinct for winning surfaced, and they left with the championship.

The odds weren’t in their favor, Pence said. The topics debated were some of today's most difficult medical ethics issues, and UAB’s three freshmen and two sophomores competed against seniors. The UAB students debated Georgetown University and the University of Miami, plus teams with strong connections to graduate programs in bioethics, such as SUNY-Albany and Loyola-Chicago.

On the first day of competition, 75 percent of the teams were eliminated, but UAB remained, Pence said. Then they survived day two.

On the third and final day, Georgetown University and UAB debated in the championship round before a three-judge panel.

The teams prepared 10 to 15 cases to defend, but didn’t know which would be chosen. It was pandemic bird flu.

“I had a gut feeling that my case was going to be called,” Jani said. “My heart started racing.”

When she spoke, Pence said he knew the team would win on the strength of Jani’s prepared case and her eloquence, he said.

He was right. “The first words out of my mouth were, ‘Oh my goodness,’” Jani said. “I was surprised, but I also felt we really deserved it because we had worked so hard.”

"Two national championships in two years — this is great for UAB," Pence said.

Alice Zhang attended the conference; she was one of 16 students chosen to present her research. Also attending were Nick Beum and Raam Venkatesh as at-large representatives from UAB. The trip was co-sponsored by UAB’s Center for Ethics and Values in the Sciences.

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