Jon Olson, MA

August 2019

Jon received his Master of Arts in Bioethics from Wake Forest University in 2017.  Prior to joining the program, Jon was a medic in the United States Air Force and received his bachelor’s degree in philosophy. The two combined into bioethics, as he leaned toward the philosophical side more than the clinical practice side.

Why did you seek a Graduate Degree in Bioethics?
I always enjoyed working with people, and being able to help aid in their health was a very important aspect to what I wanted out of a career. I thought I was leaving the USAF to become a Physician Assistant, but that was quickly derailed after I took an Introduction to Philosophy course at my community college. One week into that class and I knew I was going to study philosophy and ethics. During my last semester of my undergraduate degree (in philosophy) I was contacted by the Bioethics Program at WFU. It was the perfect combination of ethics and medicine that I was looking for!

What stands out in your memory as you revisit your time in the Bioethics Program? 
I will never forget the professors. They were true mentors. Their love and passion for the program shines through everything that they do. They handle themselves professionally, while being very approachable. They always entertained unique ideas, topics, and discussions both in and out of the classroom.

Also, the flexibility and encouragement of studying specific topics in bioethics, or creating a unique thesis. For example, I created a cooperative board game where the players must make a group decision about how to respond to many types of bioethical situations. Many graduate programs would not allow something like that. Instead of discouraging or prohibiting this type of thesis, the faculty embraced it. In fact, it was one of the professors who came up with the idea!

How has your degree enhanced your career? 
I would not have been a strong candidate for my current position without my bioethics degree. Being familiar with ethical issues in clinical research gave me a leg up in the field of regulatory. Learning about equality and equity of subjects, potentials for coercion and exploitation, studying the Code of Federal Regulations, and many other topics made understanding the informed consent process much easier. The specific discussions from classes that focused on clinical research or classes that involved understanding informed consent are directly related to my current job in the regulatory field of clinical research.

What makes your work unique because of your Bioethics Degree?
I work in clinical research where I interact with Institutional Review Boards and clinical research personnel on a regular basis. I also review protocols and informed consent forms regularly. I get to use my Bioethics degree every day in helping to design and ensure that studies are being performed properly and ethically.

What else would you like to share?
This program was such a great experience. I will never forget my time at Wake Forest, the professors, or the students. For a long time I didn’t know what I was truly interested in academically. After I realized that I loved philosophy (specifically ethics), but still wanted to be a part of medicine, this program helped my passion turn into a reality, when I thought it was just a hobby.

Jon currently lives in the Charlottesville, Virginia area and works at the University of Virginia Center for Diabetes Technology.

Bryn Saunders, MA

October 2018

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.

Nathaniel May, JD

March 2018

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.

Laura Scott, MSW, MA

October/November 2017

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.


James Black, MD, MA

July 2017

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.

Elisabeth Motsinger, PA, MA

April 2017

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.”

Emily Ansusinha, MA

January 2017

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!

Mark Corbett, MD, MA

October 2016

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.

Sharon West, RN, MHS

July 2016

Sharon 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.

Rolland Barrett, MD

January/February 2016

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.