Biohealth student snags prestigious bioethics internship at Mayo Clinic

Honors biohealth sciences junior Sidney Phu aspires to be an optometrist and will take one step closer to realizing her ambition this summer. She was accepted to Mayo Clinic’s prestigious Summer Undergraduate Program in Biomedical Ethics Research (SURP) in Rochester, Minnesota, for a 10-week internship.

The program offers students the opportunity to work alongside scientists and mentors on a bioethics research project. During her time at the Mayo Clinic, Sydney will be paired with a mentor and assist in their research project. In addition, she will also work on her own project in regenerative medical research and biobanking of embryonic stem cells, which refers to the collection and distribution of human embryonic stem cells for research. The current issues with biobanking have to do with informed consent and patient education.

In addition, SURP students participate in educational sessions on bioethics research methods and lunch meetings with faculty. Students have the opportunity to shadow physicians, clinical ethics consultations, and other professionals depending on their areas of interest.

Sydney was inspired to apply for the internship after taking philosophy and religion professor Courtney Campbell’s course on biomedical ethics and participating in the Bioethics Club where he advises students. In both settings, Sydney learned about pressing ethical issues in the healthcare system. When Courtney mentioned the internship to Sydney, she was intrigued and wanted to learn more. Sydney was surprised and excited to receive the internship because she is the first Oregon State University student to be accepted to the competitive program. Typically, only four or five students are selected for SURP each year.

“I thought that liberal arts student were most qualified,” said Sydney. When she heard about her acceptance the day after her interview, she was in the Honor’s College lounge.

“I  screamed, then I found an empty classroom, screamed some more and danced around. The next thing I did was tell my friend and then my dad who could not understand why I was talking about studying mayonnaise and asked if I switched my major. My mother got it right away.”

Already a published scholar (her article appeared in the Journal of Bioethics), Sydney’s love affair with science began by way of her high school biology teacher who was very passionate about everything related to science.

“He broke down complex concepts to simpler processes which were easy to understand and apply to any system,” said Sydney.

She chose Oregon State because of its excellent reputation for science education. Sydney was also offered a scholarship and veered toward a science major.

As a first-year student, Sydney knew that she wanted a health career but like many students, she wasn’t sure of which field. A major in biohealth sciences (BHS) looked flexible, and Sydney realized she could apply her education to many career options after graduation. An optics class in physics and her studies in anatomy and physiology on eyeball anatomy advanced her interest in optometry.

Sydney is interested in applying ethics to the field of optometry in order to increase patients’ quality of life in a way “that allows people to interact, and be engaged in their world.” She would like to be on the frontier of medical and therapeutic methods where eyesight improvement through regenerative medicine is a possibility.

“BHS has provided the flexibility and support I needed to explore my interests and pursue opportunities like this internship. I am constantly amazed by the dedication and abilities of both BHS faculty and students,” said Sydney.

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