EDINBURG — For Rabbi Claudio Kogan, a medical doctor, caring for a patients’ needs means more than reviewing a medical chart, but encompassing a holistic view of their social environment and even spiritual preferences.

Now, Kogan hopes to use his unique background and expertise to teach the next generation of physicians at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

The UTRGV School of Medicine officially launched its new Institute for Bioethics and Social Justice this month and Kogan was assigned to lead it as director.

“Dr. Kogan has a unique background,” Dean John Krouse of the School of Medicine said in a news release. “He brings a comprehensive view to how medicine and faith can work toward improving quality of life, which is at the core of bioethics and social justice.”

Kogan came to the Valley in 2012 to serve as rabbi of Temple Emanuel in McAllen, but he remained in the area later, joining the university as the plan to open the School of Medicine began to materialize.

An important part of his role now at the institute will be leading a team of clinicians, educators and researchers to find ways to fully introduce bioethics into the education, research and community engagement aspects of the school of medicine.

“The idea is that at the end of medical school, the students will have the skills to, when confronted with medical issues, be able to decide the right and best choices for the patient,” Kogan said.

And in order to know what is best for a patient and make ethical decisions on their treatment, he said it is important to understand other aspects of their life, such as religious preferences and other beliefs that could be tied to their location and culture.

There are two types of ethics that would apply to the School of Medicine: medical ethics and bioethics. Kogan described medical ethics as moral issues that a physician or researcher will face when dealing with patients to determine the right choices for them, while bioethics is much larger, he explained, as this includes different fields such as philosophy, psychology, law and medicine.

Students can find a lot of this information by being exposed early on to the communities themselves through clinical work, visits to area hospices and even public schools to find ways to collaborate and tackle area issues. But it will be part of his job to develop curriculum that brings these aspects to the attention of the students so that they grasp what makes the community unique and how to better service it.

“One of our goals in the medical field is how to improve the way we practice medicine, and in my capacity of rabbi and doctor it is how to pass that message so that future generations of medical doctors in the Valley will take advantage and serve the population better,” Kogan said. “It is understanding that the Valley has a special flavor, and you find the importance of faith and religion, the importance of other non-traditional medicine such as curanderas, promotoras… my job is to teach my students that it is a very important part of medicine that they have to consider.”

When prescribing treatment or conducting research, physicians must consider the autonomy of the patient, he said, especially in areas in which the patients face social inequities, poverty and healthcare disparities. An example of this in the Valley is the high number of residents with diabetes, so when conducting research on the matter, doctors and students have to keep in mind the patient and their environment and not only the illness, he explained.

The education aspect doesn’t only apply to the students, he clarified, but also ties to the community engagement as the public needs to be educated along the way to open up about these areas of their life to the doctors so that they can have the holistic view desired.

Students in their first and second year at the School of Medicine will receive various trainings in these areas by being exposed to the communities they will one day service through clinical work and other services.

“We are bringing our students, first-year students (during the) second and third week that they are here on campus, to the trenches, to the front to see what is going on in the Valley,” Kogan said. “So that they will not learn about, so that they lead what’s going on.”

Planning for the institute so far also includes offering a master’s degree and bioethics degree that could take these teachings further for those interested inside and the medical school and the Valley. The hope is to make the program available online and maybe even in English and Spanish, so that those who want to further their education remotely can have access.

“The masters is going to be much (deeper) in those areas and will be hopefully happening next year,” he said. “The expectation is that students study much deeper concepts about bioethics.”

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