Doctor’s international collaboration garners rare Fulbright scholarship

July 11, 2016  //  FOUND IN: UMHS News,

A U-M doctor is headed to China and U-M’s partner medical school later this year after being named a 2016 Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Social Sciences.

Dr. Michael Fetters, a professor of Family Medicine, is the first U-M Medical School faculty member in recent memory to receive a Distinguished Chair honor, Fulbright’s rarest and most coveted award. He will spend five months in Beijing teaching and leading a joint research project with colleagues at Peking University Health Science Center (PUHSC), U-M’s partner school in the Joint Institute for Translational and Clinical Research.

“We are so proud of Dr. Fetters. This honor not only represents an amazing personal accomplishment for him, but will also be of great benefit to our partnership,” said Dr. Amy Huang, U-M Global REACH Director of China Programs. “Dr. Fetters’ Fulbright award demonstrates the value of fostering relationships between our U-M faculty and collaborators overseas, as both institutions stand to gain a great deal from this work.”

Sponsored by the U.S. government, the Fulbright Scholarship Program is intended to connect U.S. scholars with counterparts overseas in order to collaborate on global issues. While more than 1,200 scholars will lend their expertise abroad this year on Fulbright scholarships, only about 40 of those received Distinguished Chair awards, Fulbright’s top honor. Dr. Fetters joins just a handful of other U-M faculty members to be named Distinguished Chairs, according to Fulbright, and he is the first medical school faculty member in nearly two decades to garner the award.

His winning proposal will find him partnering with Dr. Yali Cong, PUHSC’s Dean of Medical Ethics, whom Dr. Fetters first met in 2014 at the annual Joint Institute Symposium for U-M and PUHSC faculty. The two discovered a mutual interest in cancer diagnoses disclosure. While candid diagnoses to patients are the norm in the U.S., the same does not always hold true in China, where family members often play a larger role in making care and communication decisions.

“While this may be changing, I believe that telling people they have cancer probably remains the exception rather than the rule in many parts of China,” said Dr. Fetters. “We shouldn’t make assumptions about what the right approach is, but our goal through this research would be to create more open public dialogue about approaches to involving patients and family members in treatment and care decisions.”

Dr. Fetters’ research will focus on Chinese physicians’ attitudes regarding cancer communication in both the diagnosis and treatment stages. The study has practical implications for Western researchers collaborating with colleagues in China as they navigate conflicting cultural standards between the two countries; patients must consent to be involved in clinical research trials – and consent is difficult to obtain if the patient doesn’t understand their diagnosis.

“As we’re becoming more of a global economy, this kind of Fulbright Scholarship allows us to understand each other better and also puts the University of Michigan and the Family Medicine department at the forefront of research that has a long-term impact in different parts of the world,” said Dr. Philip Zazove, M.D., the George A. Dean, M.D. Chair of Family Medicine. “This is a well-deserved honor for Dr. Fetters and a testament to the department, the university and the research being done across U-M.”

Co-Director of the U-M Mixed Methods Research and Scholarship Program, Dr. Fetters also will lend his expertise by teaching a graduate level mixed-methods research course at PUHSC, one of China’s most prestigious and comprehensive medical schools. Sometimes characterized as integrating numbers and stories, the field of mixed methods research rapidly emerged in the last three decades as a highly innovative approach to answer complex and compelling problems in the health, education, social sciences, and many other fields.

State-of-the-art mixed methods procedures bring together and integrate quantitative and qualitative approaches across all stages of the research process, from the philosophical and design, to data collection, analysis and presentation. Dr. Fetters will be promoting mixed methods research in China by leading faculty seminars and workshops on mixed methods research at PUHSC and other Chinese institutions.

The Distinguished Chair award is Dr. Fetters’ second Fulbright scholarship. He spent time in Japan in 1992 on a different “Japan Today” Fulbright grant, when he explored cancer disclosure in that country. That early project set the stage for the rest of his scholarly career, Dr. Fetters said.

“In exploring the Fulbright Distinguished Chair grant, I felt that the previous work I’d done in Japan would have relevance in China today. Optimizing patient and family involvement in decision making continues to be a globally compelling socio-cultural issue,” he said. “Our research could help inform healthcare policy in China, and teaching of medical education and medical ethics.”

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