May 25, 2007

Grad lands awards from Medical, Law schools

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David Chooljian, M.D., J.D., is Vanderbilt’s first dual medicine and law degree graduate. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Grad lands awards from Medical, Law schools

Vanderbilt University's first dual medicine and law degree student received a prestigious ethics-related award from each of his schools upon graduating May 11.

David Chooljian earned an M.D./J.D. degree in the course of six years at Vanderbilt. His ultimate goal is to practice medicine and be involved in clinical ethics.

He received the law school's Bennett Douglas Bell Award, presented to the graduating student who is not only well versed in the law, but also “embodies the highest conception of the ethics of the profession.” It is the only award whose recipients are chosen by a vote of the entire Law School faculty.

During his medical school graduation he was awarded the Dixon N. Burns Award in Medical Ethics, an award given by the Center for Clinical and Research Ethics to the graduate who has, through a written essay, demonstrated unusual ability in identifying and analyzing ethical issues presented in either clinical or research contexts.

“Both of my degree programs gave me ethics-related awards, which was truly humbling,” Chooljian said. “Now that I have graduated, I hope I can live up to that recognition as I continue my medical and ethical training.”

Chooljian decided to pursue a joint degree during his first year of undergraduate education at UCLA; only six universities had established medicine/law joint-degree programs at that time and Vanderbilt wasn't one of them.

He approached the Vanderbilt administration with his request and found that the two schools had already been discussing a possible joint program.

The M.D./J.D. joint-degree program is a six-year program, instead of the normal seven years it would require to do the degrees separately. Chooljian's first two years involved School of Medicine coursework; the next two years were spent at the Law School. The fifth year was a full calendar year of clinical rotations, and the sixth year was split between the two schools. This course of study is flexible, as the schools' administrations have allowed the three students who followed Chooljian to pursue the degrees in different ways.

The program was designed to allow students to become fully engrossed in each school separately, ensuring the development of two distinct viewpoints.