Alumni spotlight: Dan O'Brien
NOTE: Dan O'Brien's current bio may be downloaded here.
Dan O’Brien received his PhD in Health Care Ethics from Saint Louis University in 2000. Prior to coming to the Department of Health Care Ethics in 1996, he worked in the field of Catholic health care for seven years after studying systematic theology at the Aquinas Institute and moral theology at the University of St. Thomas and the Alphonsiana Institute of Moral Theology in Rome, Italy. He is currently Vice President, Ethics, for Ascension Health in St. Louis, where he assists in the development of policy and ethics programs for 67 hospitals, 100 clinics and a few dozen nursing homes in 20 states and the District of Columbia. His work in health care ethics is very broad and proves that there isn’t always a typical day for a bioethicist.
"I give ethics presentations and facilitate discussions all over my system on a wide variety of foci in health care," says O’Brien. "I'm also involved in reviewing major affiliation and merger documents and participate in all our major business transaction teams. While I do consult with ethics committee leaders and clinicians on ethical questions, the work my colleagues and I do on a day-to-day basis is much more varied than that," he says.
“I have a great job,” continues O’Brien. “I have a wonderful relationship with both the senior leadership team to whom I report and the people that report to me – it is a pleasure working here. John Paul Slosar, Christine Gorka, Mark Repenshek, Sarah Hill and Becket Gremmels—all ‘products’ of the Department of Health Care Ethics—have positions here at the System Office or in one of our local Health Ministries. John Paul, Christine, Sarah and Becket all started out as graduate assistants working at the System Office while they completed their studies, so our collaboration with Saint Louis University has been good for us. Mark, who is originally from Milwaukee, landed his Healthcare Ethicist position at Columbia Saint Mary’s in Milwaukee prior to completing his dissertation. John Paul, our first graduate assistant, is now the Director for Ethics at Ascension Health. Christine is now the Ethicist for St. John Health in Detroit, one of our largest local health ministries, and Becket is an Ethics Fellow at St. Thomas Health Services in Nashville, Tennessee. Sarah, who has worked closely with our system-wide palliative care initiative, is now its Program Coordinator.”
Dan sees Ascension Health’s relationship with the Department of Health Care Ethics continuing to thrive. “I’m very happy with the direction the Department is headed,” he says. “Providing further opportunities in Catholic moral theology for those students that want to go into Catholic health care ethics is important. Every year we see positions opening up across the country in Catholic health care for qualified ethicists.”
Prior to entering the PhD program, O’Brien had worked in Catholic health care ethics at the Pope John Center in Boston, The Catholic Health Association here in St. Louis and for several years with the Sisters of St. Joseph Health System in Michigan. He has authored and co-authored over 40 items, including an ethics manual, book chapters, reviews, editorials, and letters and research in journals, newsletters and newspapers, including Health Progress, The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, The American Journal of Bioethics, Medical Ethics and Bioethics (Bratislava, Slovakia), The New England Journal of Medicine, Health Care Ethics USA and Ethics & Medics.