A student at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health has been chosen for a unique European medical ethics program.

Amelia Haj, a fifth-year medical student in the MD-PhD program, is one of 14 medical students chosen for the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics (FASPE), a two-week program in Germany and Poland examining the conduct of physicians in Nazi-occupied Europe to reflect on medical ethics today.

Headshot of Amelia Haj
Amelia Haj

“As a future physician-scientist I believe that having a strong foundation in ethics is especially crucial,” Haj said. “FASPE is a unique opportunity to discuss medical ethics with a diverse group of students against the backdrop of one of history’s largest ethical failures.”

Haj, who grew up in Edina, Minnesota, and Naperville, Illinois, earned a bachelor’s degree in microbiology from the University of Minnesota.

Currently in her second year of her PhD program at UW-Madison, Haj is studying genetics in a monkey model of HIV infection. She plans to pursue a residency in general surgery.

In its ninth year, FASPE, a two-week course offered in the summer, provides a unique historical lens to engage graduate students in professional schools as well as early-stage practitioners in business, journalism, law, medicine and seminary in an intensive course of study focused on contemporary ethical issues in their professions.

“By educating students about the causes of the Holocaust and the power of their chosen professions, FASPE seeks to instill a sense of professional responsibility for the ethical and moral choices that the fellows will make in their careers and in their professional relationships,” said David Goldman, FASPE’s founder and chairman.

The program studies the perpetrators to emphasize the essential role of professionals and to ask how and why professionals abandon their ethical guideposts.

The FASPE medical program examines the role of physicians and the medical profession in the Nazi state, underscoring the reality that moral codes governing doctors can break down or be distorted with devastating consequences. With this historical background, the medical fellows are better positioned to confront contemporary issues.

In 2018, the FASPE medical program will be led by Dr. Jeffrey Botkin, professor of pediatrics and chief of the Division of Medical Ethics and Humanities in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Utah School of Medicine; and Dr. Sara Goldkind, formerly the senior bioethicist at the Food and Drug Administration.

Haj joins a diverse group of 64 FASPE fellows who were chosen through a competitive process that drew applicants from across the United States and the world. FASPE covers all program costs, including travel, food and lodging.

The experience of the medical fellows is enhanced by traveling alongside the seminary fellows, who together – in formal and informal settings – consider how ethical constructs and norms in their respective professions align.

In 2018, the two groups will travel from Berlin to Krakow and Oświęcim, Poland, which is the town in which the Auschwitz death camp was located. In Berlin, the program includes museum visits, meeting with a Holocaust survivor and educational workshops; in Krakow, fellows will continue their seminars at Jagiellonian University, one of Europe’s oldest and most prestigious universities; and at Auschwitz, they will be guided by the distinguished educational staff of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.

After the program, each fellow will submit an essay focused on a contemporary ethical issue of his or her choice. Select essays are published in the annual FASPE Journal, which showcases work in all five disciplines.

FASPE maintains long-term relationships with its fellows to sustain commitment to ethical behavior and to provide a forum for continued dialogue. To date, FASPE has nearly 450 alumni across its five programs.