Previous Alumni Spotlights

October 2018

Bryn Saunders, MA

Bryn Saunders received her Masters of Arts in Bioethics from Wake Forest University in 2016. As she was a double major in Chemistry and PPE (Philosophy, Politics, and Economics), bioethics graduate education presented Bryn an opportunity to continue exploring related topics while developing a career path.

Bryn currently works as a research ethics specialist, which is similar to an Institutional Review Board (IRB) coordinator. She assists doctoral students throughout the IRB review process. Many of the students have not conducted research, so IRB review is a learning process. Her knowledge of bioethics helps her identify potential ethical issues and answer students’ ethical questions. Two courses Bryn took in the Bioethics Graduate Program, biomedical research ethics and biotechnology law & policy, were particularly relevant to her job.

During her time at Wake Forest, Bryn enjoyed meeting and talking with the weekly guest speakers who visited the classes. Students would read the speakers’ published articles prior to class, resulting in lively discussions during the presentations. Hearing firsthand from these experts made her feel connected to the professional bioethics world.

Other memories that stand out for Bryn while in the Bioethics Graduate Program revolve around spending time with classmates. They would get together for weekly dinners where everyone took turns at cooking. Although some were not the best chefs, these times cemented future friendships. Additionally, as a graduate student, Bryn attended the annual American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH) conference on two occasions. Since she works in research ethics, the knowledge she gained from these conferences was indispensable. She plans to continue to take advantage of the ASBH conferences and looks forward to reuniting with the attending faculty, students and alumni from the Bioethics Graduate Program.

Bryn enjoys living in Minneapolis where she is pursuing her Doctorate in Healthcare Administration, and coaching cross country and track and field at De LaSalle High School.

March 2018

Nathaniel May, JD, MA

Nathan May received his Masters of Arts in Bioethics from Wake Forest University in 2014.

Nathan believes that bioethics sits in a fascinating spot between science and policy.  He knew that a Masters in Bioethics would not only aid his professional endeavors, but also fuel his personal curiosity as well.    He states that the study of bioethics can range from abstract theory to deeply personal, real-life situations.   He was drawn to the intellectual challenges offered by this dynamic field.  He learned that many questions presented in bioethics are universal and the lessons learned can be applied in many fields of study.

Nathan graduated with an undergraduate degree in Molecular and Cellular Biology from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona.   He worked on various laboratory research projects until he realized that laboratory work was not his calling.  He became interested in the ethical dilemmas presented by advancements in science.  Nathan also discovered he had a deep appreciation for legal studies, particularly where ethics and the law meet.  He pursued a Masters in Bioethics before going to law school in order to build a strong foundation in bioethics to complement his legal career. He knew his time in the bioethics program at Wake Forest University would guide his career path from that point onward.

His best memories of the Bioethics Graduate Program are those regarding the people. Nathan states that the faculty and staff were truly invested in the growth and success of their students. The sincerity of their teaching and charity with their time was evident. Additionally, his fellow students were open to sharing their diverse and unique perspectives–a necessity for an engaging study of bioethics.   Everyone involved in his bioethics education at Wake Forest University contributed to his success in the program.

He believes that completing his bioethics degree gave him an advantage in the classroom at law school.   He found he had a deeper appreciation than his peers for the complexities of policy issues, as well as a more diverse approach when it came to exploring the many angles of an ethical or legal problem.

In his current role as practicing attorney in commercial litigation, he finds himself steering towards scientific and technological issues that present complex challenges.  His bioethics degree from Wake Forest University gives him the perspective to challenge his own view of an issue and see it from a different light. Although much of his work is not directly bioethics-related, the analytical tools, as well as sensitivity to different analytical disciplines, are tremendously useful. He retains a passion for bioethics, regardless of his job.   He continues to progress in his career with a lasting desire to grow in the appreciation of bioethics and the challenges it presents.

The Bioethics degree pushes Nathan to shape his career towards goals of incorporating bioethics, law, and policy into his professional and personal paths.

Nathan lives in Phoenix, AZ, where he was born and raised. He works at a Phoenix law firm doing commercial litigation.  He enjoys spending time with his fiancée, his family, and his golden retriever in beautiful Arizona.

October/November 2017

Laura Scott, MSW, MA 

Laura Scott received her Master of Arts in Bioethics from Wake Forest University in May 2017.

Laura’s interest in Bioethics was preceded by her mother’s protracted decline at the Mayo Clinic. Her mother was a physician, and thus the family had a relatively high sense of medical literacy. However, even with this knowledge, they quickly became lost as the number of medical practitioners and decisions increased in her care. Laura was surprised at how bewildering it was and wondered how people with less literacy functioned in this environment. The first inklings of a medical career sprung from her desire to aid patients and family members in medical communication efforts.

Laura earned a Masters in Social Work from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill while concurrently pursuing her bioethics education.   Initially, Laura sought a Bioethics Certificate, to learn crucial ways to approach situations as a neutral observer, while at the same time absorbing and understanding the many competing perspectives involved in patient care.  Her social work program offered education in social structures.  The intention was to eventually work in palliative care, helping people make difficult decisions about their health during times of critical illness and end-of-life.  But as Laura learned more about Bioethics, she found it intriguing and engaging so chose to pursue the Bioethics Masters of Art program rather than the certificate.

Laura’s practicum-based thesis contributed significantly to the formation of the position she now has at Novant Health, working primarily in the ICU and Neuro-ICU. She offers counseling, support, and assistance with difficult family situations and conversations.   The area is ripe with ethical issues and she is frequently referring back to concepts leaned in the Bioethics program. That knowledge has helped her assist both families navigating the medical system and medical providers understanding different families’ values and perceptions of medical care.

Her favorite memories of the Bioethics Graduate Program are the community and discussion fostered by the faculty and staff. Although they are acclaimed experts in their field, she found them warm and welcoming of all discussions, which created an environment rich for openness in the classroom. She found camaraderie with many of her classmates and maintains friendships and professional interactions with many of them.

Laura enjoys spending time with her family playing games, watching movies, hiking, camping, and traveling.

July 2017

James Black, MD, MA

Dr. James Black (Jim) received his Master of Arts in Bioethics from Wake Forest University in 2014.

Jim received a BS in Premedicine from Davidson College in 1970 and his medical degree from the UNC School of Medicine. He was elected to the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society in 1975 and completed a 4 year OB-GYN Residency at North Carolina Memorial Hospital in 1979. He fulfilled his 2 year ROTC active duty commitment as a staff OB-GYN physician at Darnall Army Community Hospital in Fort Hood, Texas.

Jim has been in the practice of OB-GYN for 38 years, dealing with women’s primary health care and health care maintenance issues and maintaining a practice in gynecologic surgery and menopausal transition issues. He practiced solo obstetrics through 1988.

In 2010, Jim received an information packet about the Bioethics Graduate Program in the mail. While he was still seven years away from retirement, he realized he needed to keep himself active by building up his “brain trust.” The Master of Arts in Bioethics degree offered an opportunity to expand his knowledge in the long term.

Jim uses his bioethics knowledge in his current practice, as well as when advising on end-of-life questions and hospice and palliative care situations. Jim serves on the Ethics Committee at Lexington Clinic and as a clinical bioethics consultant for inpatient settings and Hospice of Davidson County. Many times he is the point person who helps family members reach an end- of-life decision that honors the patient.

What most impressed Jim about Wake Forest University’s Graduate Program in Bioethics is the consolidation of so many talents in medicine, philosophy, divinity and law. He believes there are no weak links in the program and stresses that the class discussions give students an opportunity to experience perspectives from various professional paths. He is grateful to the staff who worked with him to integrate the program into his busy work schedule, attending evening classes for 4 semesters over 2 years. His thesis focused on the Faith Health Initiative in North Carolina, a state-wide initiative by Wake Forest Baptist and other medical providers to partner with faith communities to provide health care access and resources to their congregations and others in the region.

Jim has a wide range of interests, including tinkering on his 1967 Corvette and collecting antique books. He is a Presbyterian Elder and an Adult Sunday School Teacher. Although he is looking forward to retirement at the end of 2017, he plans to stay engaged in bioethics work and teaching, and will continue to serve on the Lexington Clinical Ethics Committee.

April 2017

Elisabeth Motsinger, PA, MA

Elisabeth Motsinger received her Master of Arts in Bioethics in December 2013.

Elisabeth was very excited when the announcement was made about the founding of the Wake Forest Bioethics Graduate Program.   As a practicing Physician Assistant for over 20 years, a committed environmentalist and an elected official of the Winston Salem Forsyth County Board of Education, she knew this program would combine her various interests and enable her to become more effective and observant.   She also ran for the U.S. Congress while enrolled in the program.

The Bioethics graduate program kept Elisabeth’s interest in learning and staying curious about different points of view.  What was moving to Elisabeth, on both a personal and intellectual level, was connecting to faculty and other professionals who cared passionately about health care policy, learning about the best ways to engage people as moral agents, and exploring the culture of practicing medicine.

She was impressed with the faculty, who have strong academic backgrounds.   The rigor of the graduate program strengthened her ability to think deeply about issues.  Learning how to approach problems from different angles has also served her well as a member of the School Board.

Elisabeth works in the health center at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts as a Physician Assistant.  She enjoys talking with students about how they see their individual lives and their place as active participants in the world. She shares: “The work I do is influenced by my understanding of all people as moral agents and the responsibility to call that forth in patients regardless of their age or current medical needs. I will always be grateful for my time in the bioethics program for the commitment to continual learning that I’ve undertaken, but perhaps even more importantly for the relationships I formed that I continue to treasure.”

January 2017

Emily Ansusinha, MA

Emily Ansusinha received her Master of Arts in Bioethics in May 2014.

Emily received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois.  She majored in Religious Studies with a minor in Chemistry.   Her senior thesis was on Islam and end of life decision making.  One of her professors recommended that she look into bioethics graduate programs to bind her diverse interests together.   The multidisciplinary nature of bioethics was a good fit for her interests in humanities and medicine.

What stands out for Emily about the Bioethics program at Wake Forest University was the amazing people she met, both fellow students and faculty.  Her classmates came from all walks of life and their varied perspectives made class discussions very spirited and thought-provoking.  She states that “the faculty did everything in their power to help students succeed both inside and outside the classroom.”

Emily attended bioethics conferences and lectures featuring guest speakers, and two had a significant impact; “Her Stories:  Breast Cancer Narratives and Counter-Narratives” and “After the Genome:  a Language for our Biotechnological Future.”  Emily shares that both challenged her in different ways:  the former to revise her opinion on pink ribbon culture and the latter to consider what it means to be human.

A favorite memory of Emily’s is when Nancy King, one of the Bioethics Program co-directors, joined her and a classmate at a trivia night at a local restaurant!

She is currently working at Wake Forest Baptist Health as an Associate Project Manager in the Office of Clinical Research.   She also volunteers in the Pediatric Behavioral Health Unit of Brenner Children’s Hospital.

Her bioethics classes helped her navigate the many complex aspects of clinical research.  Whether it is incidental findings, cultural competency and understanding, patents on new drugs, or equal access to health care, the personal engagement in the classes at Wake Forest’s Bioethics Graduate Program has given Emily a solid footing to deal with ethical issues that arise every day.

In her spare time, Emily loves to bake cupcakes, crochet, hang out with her dog, watch British crime shows, do yoga and, of course, attend trivia nights!

October 2016

Mark Corbett, MD, MA

Mark Corbett received a Master of Arts in Bioethics from Wake Forest University in May 2016.

As Mark was completing his Fellowship Training in Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine, he began to realize how intertwined the ethical and clinical components of patient care are in his daily work.  At the time, he felt ill equipped to successfully handle bioethical issues.   Therefore, pursuing the master’s degree in the Bioethics Graduate program was a perfect complement to his clinical medical training.

Mark was impressed with the knowledgeable and supportive faculty and the ability to tailor the program to his bioethical interests. Flexibility and the ability to customize the program to both his personal and work schedule were crucial to his success.

Mark notes that the program gave him the tools to navigate the bioethical issues that arise in the everyday clinical work of taking care of patients with life-threatening illness and at the end of life.  Specific issues that often arise are withholding or withdrawing life sustaining treatment, voluntarily stopping eating and drinking, palliative sedation, and surrogate decision making.

The program has not only given Mark the tools to successfully navigate these issues; it has also equipped him with the skills necessary to write critically on these matters.  A recent commentary he authored, entitled “Death with Dignity or without?” appeared this summer in the journal Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics.   Mark believes he has a unique skill set that allows him to provide the best comprehensive care for patients and their loved ones.

Mark currently is the Associate Medical Director for the Hospice & Palliative Care Center in Winston Salem, North Carolina.

July  2016

Sharon West, RN, MHS

Sharon West photoSharon West was awarded a Graduate Certificate in Clinical Ethics from Wake Forest University in December 2013. Sharon lives in Asheville, NC and is the Nurse Manager for Women Veterans Services at the Asheville VA Medical Center.  She has 3 adult children: Paul, Kellye, and Jennifer.

Sharon’s interest in Bioethics was piqued after a conversation with Dr. Edmund Pellegrino in the early 2000s at an ethics seminar.  Dr. Pellegrino and Sharon had a mutual and well-respected friend, Dr. Marian Gray Secundy, professor emeritus of bioethics at Howard University Medical School.  Dr. Pellegrino sent Sharon a letter saying how much he enjoyed their conversation and that he hoped she would pursue bioethics.  He also shared that there is a severe lack of bioethicists who are African American.   Many years later, after completing her graduate studies, Sharon, who never forgot his words of encouragement, followed his advice.  Her search for the right program that would help her to gain extensive knowledge in the area of bioethics led her to Wake Forest University.  Sharon believes that the Bioethics Program at Wake Forest really stood out.

Her fondest memory of the program is the passion of the professors. Each helped Sharon figure out the piece of the bioethics puzzle and every class stretched her academically.  Even though she endured a four-hour roundtrip commute from Asheville, the experience and opportunity to engage with the professors far outweighed the time and effort.

Sharon is using her Bioethics Certificate as a member of two ethics committees.  She also teaches clinical ethics as an adjunct faculty member in a local nursing program at Mars Hill University.  The Graduate Certificate in Clinical Ethics has given Sharon more confidence in moral reasoning, which has helped in discussions with colleagues, students, and committee members.  She is one of the few ethics committee members who has academically prepared in this area. Consequently, she is sought out frequently for clarity on various bioethics topics.

Sharon will retire in three years but will continue teaching ethics in an adjunct capacity and maintain her role on one of the ethics committee.  She also plans to pursue teaching nursing ethics in other local nursing schools, and she is currently pursuing further study in clinical ethics.  Sharon’s valuable role in the bioethics community exemplifies one of the ways that thoughtful, pragmatic health care professionals can both enhance their own knowledge and teach many others by studying and practicing bioethics.


January/February 2016

Rolland Barrett, MD


Rolland Barrett, MD was awarded a Graduate Certificate in Bioethics from Wake Forest University in December 2014.

Trained as a gynecologic oncologist, Rolland began his practice in Winston-Salem in 1985. Early on he became aware of the limitations of standard cancer treatments. Rolland shares “it was apparent that we spent the majority of our time working to palliate both the symptoms caused by cancer as well as by our treatments.” Rolland noted that breakthroughs in cancer treatment, whether they be new drugs or new surgical innovations, created problems in terms of cost as well as appropriate allocation stating “as new treatments for cancer emerged, the science as well as the business of oncology were forging ahead without clear consideration of the ethical problems that followed.” Rolland remembers reading a quote by Willard Gaylin of the Hastings Center back in the late 1980’s – “We are now on the threshold of a giant success in medicine. And while most people may not realize it, it is always our successes that get us into trouble. What causes expensive medicine is our successes. Good medicine increases morbidity. Our successes keep sick people alive. There is no such thing as preventive medicine ultimately, in that we’re all going to die. It means that you prevent a child from dying of a childhood diseases, which has a humanitarian purpose, but not an economic purpose because he will then live to be very expensive old man.”

An increasing interest in palliative care as an important part of good (as well as cost-effective) oncologic care led Rolland to consider issues such as patient autonomy in clinical decision making, futile care, surrogate decision makers, advance directives and other end-of-life care issues, which of course are also core issues in clinical ethics. In addition to palliative care, another fundamental issue in medicine that led Rolland to enroll in the bioethics program was the evolving nature of physician professionalism and the physician–patient interaction. Many studies show that burnout among physicians is increasing. This in turn impacts how we relate to our patients, our colleagues and our families. Many of the leading writers addressing this issue, such as Edmund Pellegrino, were doing so in the bioethics literature.

Rolland became aware of Wake Forest University’s graduate programs in Bioethics while attending a conference on palliative care at Forsyth Medical Center. Dr. Diane Meier, a world-renowned expert in palliative care, was the keynote speaker on the program, and Dr. John Moskop from Wake Forest University spoke as well.

The most memorable experience about the Bioethics Graduate Program was the collegiality among faculty and students. Since finishing his graduate certificate, Rolland has had the good fortune of working with Deb Love, corporate director for bioethics at Novant Health and fellow alum of Wake Forest University’s Bioethics Graduate Program. Rolland serves as co-chair of the of the ethics committee at Forsyth Hospital. Additionally, he is participating with a multidisciplinary group assisting Deb in developing a new program for the medical staff, “Mastering Conversations That Matter,” designed to improve communication, support patients, and reduce physician and provider stress. Rolland states “the education I received in the core curriculum in the Bioethics program from Professors King, Iltis and Moskop has prepared me well to participate in these roles”.

In addition to these activities, Rolland continues to see patients in the outpatient department of Novant Health Oncology Specialists, Gynecologic Oncology. Away from the hospital, he enjoys reading, listening to jazz, and chasing after his English setter and German shorthair where they lead him.

October 2015

Catherine Hammack, JD, MA

Catherine originally sought a Master’s degree in Bioethics to supplement her legal education (JD/MA ’14). As a joint degree student, she hoped to help make positive changes in the healthcare and medical research fields. As Catherine delved into law and bioethics at the same time, the latter actually became her focus. She “learned that knowing what we may do from a legal standpoint is secondary to determining what we should do from an ethics standpoint.”

What stood out to Catherine the most from the program were the people. She explains, “I learned countless lessons from every one of my classmates and professors. The people at the Bioethics program are an invaluable resource of tried-and-true knowledge, unique experiences, new ideas, different perspectives, and encouragement and support. Throughout my time in the program, my classmates and professors became my mentors and role models, and also my friends.”

Catherine now lives in Durham, NC and works as an analyst in the Program for Empirical Bioethics at Duke Clinical Research Institute, the world’s largest academic research institution. The program’s aim is to advance effective policies and practices through empirical research on bioethical issues in medical care and research. Due to her degrees in law and bioethics, she now collects and analyzes empirical evidence regarding a variety of legal and ethical issues in medicine and research in order to develop policies, model language, and best practices. Catherine is currently working on a collaborative effort to develop a novel electronic informed consent process for one of the largest pragmatic clinical trials. Additionally, she is gathering quantitative and qualitative data from thought leaders throughout the country (and world!) about confidentiality in genome research as well as data from lay persons at multiple sites throughout the Southeast about researchers’ use of electronic health records. Catherine helped coordinate the Ethics and Regulatory Core for the NIH Health Care Systems Research Collaboratory and worked alongside leaders at Johns Hopkins University on the Collaboratory Supplement for Empirical Ethics.

Catherine’s education in Bioethics helped her to develop her critical thinking skills, introduced her to established leaders in the field, exposed her to new ideas, and helped her hone in on skills in a way that prepared her to contribute to the field. With an original goal to make positive changes in the healthcare and medical research fields, she is certainly doing exactly that!

July 2015

Roger D. Cole, MD, MA, FACS

Roger’s journey to Bioethics and the graduate program at Wake Forest University (MA ‘13) are best expressed through his own words.

A personal medical crisis rekindled a longstanding interest in ethics in the spring of 2009. I had been a very active Otolaryngologist-Head and Neck surgeon for the previous 18 years. I had practiced medicine in multiple venues including: General Medical Officer and Otolaryngologist in the United States Navy; as a resident Head and Neck Surgeon; and for the previous 13 years in a busy private surgical practice. When I found myself on the other side of the knife due to degenerative spine disease, my career and my outlook on life changed. After my 3rd cervical spine surgery in 10 years I found myself disabled from private surgical practice and searching for a new professional and personal identity.

While searching, I discovered the Center for Bioethics, Health and Society of Wake Forest University. The first time I was allowed to drive after my cervical spine surgery was a trip to the Reynolda Campus for the Center’s Spring Bioethics conference. My most recent formal experience with medical ethics was as an undergraduate student in Michigan 30 years prior. It was at this conference that I met the faculty and staff of the Center and learned of the inaugural class for the Masters of Arts in Bioethics program. Being a Bowman Gray School of Medicine alumnus and having completed my Otolaryngology residency at North Carolina Baptist Hospital, I was well aware of the quality of education available for me at WFU. I decided to enroll for one class during the fall semester to see what returning to the classroom would be like after 25 years.

What stands out about my time as a student in the Master’s program can be summarized in one word: quality. I found quality education and instruction by learned faculty. I found quality students with a wealth of knowledge and experience. This opened up a new quality in my personal life and professional practice. I decided to enroll in the master’s program after the first semester as a part time student and completed my Master of Arts in Bioethics in May of 2013. During my time as a student I was fortunate to start a new chapter of my profession at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Salisbury, North Carolina. This position allowed me the opportunity to meld my interest in clinical bioethics with a return to part time clinical Otolaryngology. In 2010 I was selected by the VHA and The University of Chicago to complete a Fellowship in Clinical Medical Ethics at the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics in 2011.

My bioethics education is something I use daily in my surgical practice. I have learned through my bioethics education that every time I encounter a patient there is a value based component to my interaction with my patient. My ethics education has allowed me to more clearly identify this component and address these values in a constructive way. I have used my bioethics education to help resolve ethical dilemmas within the Veteran Health Administration system in both clinical and policy forums. My thesis developed a curriculum for ethics education during surgical residency and I am fortunate to be able to use my bioethics education while continuing to teach medical students and surgical residents at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and the Edward Via School of Osteopathic Medicine. In this way I am passing on the knowledge imparted to me by my mentors at Wake Forest Center for Bioethics, Health and Society to the next generation of medical professionals.

I currently reside in Advance, North Carolina with my wife Susan and am currently employed as the Chief of Otolaryngology at the W.G. (Bill) Hefner Veterans Administration Medical Center in Salisbury, North Carolina. I actively serve on the hospital’s Clinical Ethics Committee, Preventive Ethics Committee, and provide ethical analysis and instruction for VISN 6 of the Veterans Health Administration. I hold an appointment as volunteer faculty at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine and the Edward Via School of Osteopathic Medicine. When not taking care of patients or thinking deep ethical thoughts I enjoy spending time with our 7 children, their spouses and 3 grandchildren. When I carve out free time I chase trout with a fly rod in the cold mountain streams of North Carolina.

April 2015

Gretchen Spars McKee, MDiv, MA

gretchen picture 1

Gretchen’s education in bioethics (MA ’12) has led to an exciting vocational journey. After graduating from the Divinity School at Wake Forest University (MDiv ’07), Gretchen found herself interested in the intersection between religion, medicine, and ethics. This was not an area she had necessarily pursued during her time in Divinity School, but she often found herself face-to-face with many of those questions – both professionally and personally.

Gretchen’s family has been confronted with her father’s diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia for the past 12 years. It was not until Gretchen was into her bioethics education that she recognized the many ethical and moral dilemmas her family had faced. She explains, “the bioethics graduate program widened my perspective on medical ethics and, in a roundabout way, helped my family weed through some difficult conversations.”

Gretchen recounts that she always felt incredibly welcomed and encouraged throughout her time in the bioethics program. She enjoyed being a part of a program that was so strongly rooted in rigorous academic integrity but also encouraged faculty/student social interactions. She is honored to consider the faculty and staff not only as mentors but also as colleagues, and looks forward to reconnecting with faculty, staff, alumni, and current students in the program at events such as the ASBH (American Society for Bioethics & Humanities) Annual Meeting.

For her thesis, Gretchen integrated several of her passions into one academic project – dance, narrative ethics, religion, and end-of-life care. The structure of the thesis requirement provided an avenue for her to link together her religious education, bioethics courses, dance training, and clinical pastoral education residency into a culminating event: a dance that she choreographed, scored, performed, discussed with three different audiences, and wrote about. The faculty guided, supported, pushed, and encouraged her throughout this process and in turn gave her a newfound confidence in the ever-growing field of bioethics.

After her graduation, Gretchen served as the first Outreach Coordinator for the graduate program in bioethics. In 2013, Gretchen and her husband moved their family back “home” to Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Two little girls later, they are busy working, happily settling into their new home, helping care for her father, and adjusting to the cold winters! Currently, her work comes jointly from several jobs. In one role, she is an adjunct teacher in the Religion Department at Augustana College, where she instructs undergraduates in a course on religion, medicine, and ethics. She also serves as a faculty member in the Section for Ethics at the University of South Dakota Sanford School of Medicine, partnering with other faculty to integrate ethics into the medical school curriculum for current medical students. Finally, she spends most of her time as an Ethics Consultant with the DeGroot Center at Sanford Hospital. Her education has proven to be exceptionally relevant and resourceful so far in her career; in fact, she often reaches back to her bioethics education by reviewing papers and class notes. The combination of her MA in Bioethics and MDiv has provided her professional opportunities she never would have imagined!

gretchen family

January 2015


After graduating from University of Florida’s nursing program, Lisa Hammon (MA ’12) set off on a journey that took her to many different areas of nursing including intensive care and transplantation. All of the specialties she was involved in over the years included many ethical challenges at the bedside. These experiences informed her understanding of the complexity of health care on many levels and inspired Lisa to become a leader as a patient advocate throughout her career.

Lisa was able to pursue an advanced degree when Wake Forest University launched its new Master’s program in Bioethics in 2009. She was a member of the inaugural class, attending part time while working full time, and was awarded her Master of Arts degree in Bioethics in May of 2012.  When asked to reflect on her experience, Lisa noted there could hardly have been a better group of students or a faculty of more expertise and devotion to help create the Master’s program that exists today. The students were quite diverse in age, life experiences, work experience and perspectives, with a great mixture of liberal and conservative views. It made for a vigorous discussion environment memorable for its intensity, intelligent discussion and creative approaches to ethical topics. Lisa observed that everyone learned in the program, faculty and students alike.

Lisa’s work in clinical risk management and patient safety for a large tertiary academic institution was a perfect proving ground for her beliefs that ethical care of patients is consistent with successful risk management and patient safety. She was able to interject ethics into departmental & institutional discussions about management of clinical issues, and provide another dimension to the navigation of circumstances related to risk and safety.

Upon retiring from being a clinical health care provider, Lisa had the opportunity to devote more time to a long-term dream of putting practical ethics on the road in North Carolina. In September 2014, Lisa became the executive director of the Clinical Ethics Network of North Carolina (, a collaboration of academic medical centers, local and regional hospitals, health care organizations and interested individuals that aims to provide information, resources, consultation and education to all health care providers in the state. CENNC sponsors conferences, hosts regional workshops, provides assistance with the development of policies and procedures, and assists in confronting challenging ethical dilemmas providers may encounter. CENNC’s speakers’ bureau has a wide variety of experts who are available to provide programs on topics of the member’s request. It is a young organization that seeks a broad-based membership of health care professionals to continue to support and ensure the ethical care of patients across the state.

As part of her bioethics experiences, Lisa studied the ethics of animal use in clinical research programs and how these animals are cared for while ‘in service’ to research. This dovetailed with her lifelong commitment to the ethical care of animals, to rescue programs that help save animals in abusive situations, and to reducing the number of dogs and cats euthanized in shelters. Lisa lives in a rural setting in Lewisville, NC with her patient husband John, who seems always to find a little more room in his heart when he thinks there is no more space, and an ever changing number of cats, dogs, and rescued wild creatures.


Michael Tennison, MA

Tennison_photoWith a desire to apply his interests and experience in philosophy to real-world problems, Michael Tennison (MA ’11) decided to pursue his Master of Arts in Bioethics at Wake Forest University. As he hoped to get involved in the policy world, the MA in Bioethics education granted Michael opportunities to explore new pathways and consider the integration of cutting-edge biotechnology with the human experience.

Reflecting on his time at Wake Forest University, Michael recognizes that his bioethics education familiarized him with the various fields and disciplines that intersect within bioethics. Some of these intersections include philosophy, science, law, policy, medicine and public health. Michael learned to take an interdisciplinary approach to understanding public health issues. He learned the value in an interdisciplinary approach to incorporating the analytical models of multiple fields and to seeing the big picture of such issues. Overall, the education that Michael received through the Bioethics program helped clarify a vocational path but his greatest enjoyment was in the completion of his thesis project. Michael found the faculty supervisors provided excellent support and encouragement as he explored the bioethical implications of a number of his own personal interests. For Michael, these interests ranged from philosophical “theories of everything” to biotechnological human enhancement to the resurgence of human subjects research on psychedelic substances. His thesis project and faculty mentors enabled him to make original connections and contribute to the academic discourse in a novel, meaningful way.

The Master of Arts in Bioethics from Wake Forest University continues to influence Michael’s education as a student at the University of Maryland School of Law. Because of his bioethics education, Michael is familiar with many standard topics in health care law and public health law, as well as issues that are just now entering the academic legal discourse, such as biomedical human enhancement. His MA gives him unique insight into what legal topics are currently of interest to various stakeholders, such as the public, industry, Congress, and regulatory bodies. Michael is in his final year of law school and has held a number of bioethics-related internships, fellowships, and research positions. Prior to law school he worked at the bioethics centers at both Wake Forest University and the University of Pennsylvania. Michael also worked at the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues. As a law student, Michael has worked at University of Maryland’s Center for Health and Homeland Security, USDA’s Animal Care Office, U.S. Congress, and FDA’s Office of the Chief Counsel.

Michael currently resides on the Maryland side of DC and hopes to settle down in a public health law career in the DC area after graduation. He recently got engaged to his fiancée, Jenn, during summer 2014. When not spending time with her or at school, Michael trains in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and just got his blue belt in September!

Human Enhancement Blog Post by Alumnus Michael Tennison, MA

Michael blogs on the Massachusetts General Hospital Center for Law, Brain & Behavior website on the topic of “Tune in, Turn on ….and Train your Brain?”.

In the early 1990s, visionary futurist Terence McKenna hypothesized that two seemingly disparate modalities of consciousness alteration and extension—drugs and computers—might ultimately converge.  If he were still alive today, even Terence might be surprised at the accuracy of his assessment.”

To read more click here.

JULY 2014

Gerardo Maradiaga, MA

Gerardo & Heather_july 2014 alumni spotlight_2

As an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Gerardo Maradiaga found himself invested in philosophy and captivated by ethics. Exposure to popular public cases like those of Dax Cowart and Terri Schiavo led Gerardo to delve deeper into the field of bioethics and see what else it had to offer. After much reading and conversation he soon realized just how pervasive the field truly was and knew he wanted to “do bioethics.” (Gerardo adds, “whatever ‘doing bioethics’ meant!”) It was by a stroke of luck, according to Gerardo, that he found out about the graduate program in bioethics at Wake Forest University. The program was new and Gerardo decided to take a chance and enroll, hoping that along the way the program would open up new opportunities and directions in his life.

Gerardo believes the program did just as he had hoped. Many personal and professional opportunities surfaced both inside and out of the structured classroom. Reflecting on his time in the MA program he is most struck by the learning opportunities outside the classroom, through interactions with fellow students and faculty; program-sponsored Tea Times; Center for Bioethics, Health & Society-sponsored talks with prominent bioethics scholars; student thesis presentations; and ASBH Annual Meeting trips with the program. These reflections are particularly powerful, as he had assumed his learning would take place within a traditional classroom setting and that most of what the field of bioethics had to offer centered on clinical and research ethics. The program shattered this notion by exposing Gerardo to all the field has to offer, both in scope and in perspective. Within research and clinical ethics, he was exposed to new topics: the ethical dimensions of innovative biobanking research; the advent of social media and the electronic medical record and their effects on the practice of medicine; and the arguments for and against the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Outside of the traditional concepts of research and clinical ethics, he found himself exposed to the value of narrative ethics, the power of reader’s theatre, and the need to expand our thinking to global bioethics issues. But, ultimately, perhaps the most vivid memories Gerardo has of the program revolve around the respectful and friendly collegiality among faculty and students, from collaborative projects to insightful conversations during our annual program picnic and holiday dinner!

Gerardo currently lives in Winston-Salem, NC and works as the Bioethics Project Coordinator at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center (WFBMC). In this role he helps with the three main activities of WFBMC’s Clinical Ethics Committee, namely, clinical ethics consultation, education, and policy development. In addition to his role at the medical center he is also involved in various other initiatives and projects around Winston Salem, including an initiative to raise awareness of advance care planning among the local Hispanic population, an interprofessional education program at the SECU family house, and a course development project that allows him to teach clinical ethics seminars to first-year PA students in the WFU Physician Assistant Studies Program. In all these endeavors Gerardo’s bioethics degree has enhanced his work and infused him with the confidence needed to efficiently and effectively perform the necessary tasks. His degree in bioethics has enhanced his work by exposing him to both a foundation of bioethics knowledge and also different ways of thinking about difficult ethical dilemmas.

In his free time Gerardo enjoys spending time with his family and girlfriend, Heather. Together they enjoy traveling and documenting life through the camera lens, something to which most alumni can attest! Gerardo may have acquired the title of program resident photographer, yet the life lessons he captured during the program couldn’t all be documented digitally. The valuable lessons Gerardo learned from program courses, such as Current Topics, shape his career and allow him to feel much more equipped as he helps develop policy, educate staff, and guide the policy into practice. Gerardo plans to take all the program has offered him and venture into a career as a Physician Assistant with the aim of practicing and continuing bioethics development through bioethics projects, initiatives, and education.

Alumnus, Blake Winston has A Review Of Updated NAEMT Code of Ethics, article published in the Journal of Emergency Medical Services.

Alumni talk about how Bioethical Training is Essential for Patient Care :

How Bioethical Training is Essential to Patient Care

APRIL 2014

Deb Love (MA ’11) describes bioethics as a “calling” she didn’t fully understand at the time she embarked on the Graduate Program in Bioethics at Wake Forest University. Educated to think like an attorney, Deb arrived in the program with a background in organizational change and interpersonal dynamics, including family systems theory.  At the time of enrollment, Deb was simply looking for a new and inspired career direction that would allow her to apply her training, experience and education to the context of healthcare.  She quickly discovered that the vast field of bioethics greatly captured her attention and that she had indeed found her “calling” in a new vocational path.

During her time in the Graduate Program, Deb interned at the University of North Carolina Center for Bioethics in Chapel Hill, NC.  Her combined experiences in course work and internship revealed that she was particularly drawn to improving communication in the physician/patient relationship, particularly in end of life issues.  Upon graduation she continued to work at UNC as the Clinical Ethics Outreach Partner, where she was able to make connections with bioethics colleagues across the state.  There, Deb played a leadership role in founding the Clinical Ethics Network of North Carolina (CENNC) and became active in statewide efforts.  Together with colleagues, Deb helped establish the North Carolina Partnership for Compassionate Care (NCPCC), a program of the North Carolina Medical Society Foundation to promote conversations about advance care planning.  Her work with NCPCC prompted an invitation to join a task force for transforming end of life care at Novant Health in Winston-Salem, NC.  Today, Deb is the Corporate Director of Bioethics for Novant Health, where she is charged with enhancing the professionalism and processes of the ethics committees at Novant Health’s fifteen medical centers.   Deb also works to establish new models for embedding ethics into the acute care setting, with the aim of promoting conversations earlier in the disease continuum.  Deb has retained an adjunct assistant professor appointment at the University of North Carolina and is hopeful for opportunities for research collaboration in the future.

The new career direction Deb sought on entering the Graduate Program in Bioethics at Wake Forest University has come to fruition. In retrospect Deb realizes that personal life experiences drew her into this aspiring field, and her Masters in Bioethics helped shape her focus.  Her degree is her work, and without her MA in Bioethics she would not be in her current role.  As a member of the inaugural class, Deb is grateful for her time spent at Wake Forest University.  Deb will always recall the spirited cross-generational dialogue that occurred around the table, especially over cases in Clinical Ethics or in Current Topics.  The opportunity to explore a topic in depth with others was a gift the program offered Deb.  Most of all, Deb remembers the enduring friendships formed with classmates and faculty, claiming she will “never be able to fully express” her gratitude for the support from faculty mentors at both Wake Forest University and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

Deb currently resides in Chapel Hill, NC and Winston-Salem, NC with her husband John Grubenhoff.  Together Deb and John enjoy traveling to see their children and grandchildren, attending baseball games, and listening to classic jazz.   Deb has recently discovered a new passion in the game of golf, which creates balance between work and play and teaches her to be both humble and confident at the same time.


Kristen Boswell Coggin MD, MA

Kristen Boswell Coggin MD (MA’12) is the youngest partner at Cape Fear Neonatology Associates, a 44-bed NICU at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in Fayetteville, NC.  Within the field of neonatology, she is one of a few in North Carolina with any formal training in bioethics.  Her MA in Bioethics makes her the “go to” person when ethical dilemmas arise, an “expert” status that urges her to continually advance her knowledge in bioethics.  Such “expert” status is fun and exciting, yet the intersection of neonatology and bioethics offers many challenges.  While some may turn the other way, Kristen walks directly into the ambiguous intersection, the precise place in which she had hoped to land.

Kristen has long had an interest in ethics and a desire to unite ethics with her profession.  Growing up in eastern North Carolina she received her undergraduate and medical degrees from East Carolina University, a school that embraces ethics education and makes bioethics an integral part of its curriculum.  At East Carolina University, Kristen was first introduced to Dr. John Moskop.  Dr. Moskop played a fundamental role in furthering Kristen’s interest in ethics and challenging her to stand in the intersection of neonatology and bioethics.  After completing her pediatric residency at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Kristen wanted to delve further into the depths of bioethics and continue her studies with Dr. Moskop, who was now teaching in the Bioethics Master’s program at Wake Forest.  

Kristen completed her neonatology fellowship at Wake Forest University.  Most neonatology fellows traditionally fulfill the “scholarly activity “requirement through research; however, Kristen believed that a solid foundation in bioethics would best serve her professionally and personally.  Now in practice, and standing in the intersection of neonatology and bioethics, Kristen knows she made the right decision.  Kristen “believes wholeheartedly that [she] is a better physician for having completed [her] degree in bioethics because it allows [her] to practice both the art and science of medicine in a more comprehensive and thoughtful way.” 

Because of her degree from Wake Forest University, Kristen feels better equipped when she finds herself in the exciting, yet challenging, role as “expert.”  Kristen anticipates that advances in technology will increase the frequency of bioethical dilemmas in neonatology and that undoubtedly more questions of justice will arise.  As doctors are forced to consider whether something should be done simply because it can be done, Kristen hopes to stand alongside her peers and “be a leader – both in the asking and answering of such questions.”  Kristen believes that her background in bioethics will continue to provide a solid foundation as she stands in the intersection of bioethics and neonatology and makes the bioethical aspects of her work a priority in the provision of patient care.

Kristen resides in Fayetteville, NC with her husband Myers and daughter.       


Emily Hoppes, MA

Emily Hoppes graduated with her MA in Bioethics from Wake Forest University in 2011.  As a member of the Peace Corps, Emily lives in a tiny village in Tanzania with no electricity or running water, has learned to speak the local language, and attempts to fully integrate herself into the community.  Upon graduation, Emily was excited to take her new knowledge to Africa and apply it to the Peace Corps.  Once she arrived in Africa, however, she found the problems she had hoped to address were much more complicated.   As an avid blogger, Emily struggled to find the words to describe her experiences.  Yet, Emily notes, her bioethics education prepared her for such a complex task: analyzing and interpreting problems.  Emily quickly found that her bioethics education affected and influenced her everyday life in Africa because it taught her “to look at every angle, look through every lens, and leave nothing out, because that one small thing could make all the difference.”  Her MA in Bioethics helped her to document experiences and reflect on even the most extended problems.  Emily’s reflections stem from her identity as a MA in Bioethics graduate, a passionate Catholic, and a current Peace Corps volunteer.  Her reflections can be found at   

Emily continues to use her MA in Bioethics daily. Emily has lived the challenges facing many third-world countries and better understands the time and energy it takes to partner with a community.  Emily relies on her bioethics degree as she partners with the community to “identify problems, think of possible solutions” and seek resolution.  Currently, Emily utilizes this thought as she and the community work with engineers to bring water to village.  Her education on community-based aid has been put to practice while her faith prompts her to look closely at other communal issues.  Emily now seeks to further explore the ethical dimensions of HIV/AIDS and sex education and today, more than ever, believes that gender equality issues must become a part of the mainstream bioethics discussion.  As Emily continues to live and learn alongside the people of Tanzania she is grateful for her bioethics education and proud to be a Wake Forest University alumna.