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East Meets West, Thanks to Lehman Fulbright Scholar

July 1, 2010


Mikaela Chase

When Mikaela Chase went to Nepal for six months during her junior year at Lehman College, she did not realize it would change her life. While volunteering in a Nepalese hospital, she saw a little girl, no more than six years old, dying. By the child's side were her mother and grandmother.

"In Nepal, there is no one to care for the dying," says Chase, who now lives in the Bedford Park area of the Bronx. "Family are expected to do the work that professional nurses would do here—changing bedpans, wiping brows. There are no trained nurses."

That's when Chase, an anthropology major, found her calling. A 2009 graduate of the Macaulay Honors College at Lehman, she has won a prestigious Fulbright Scholarship to travel to Nepal to study Tibetan Buddhism and end-of-life care.

"The Dalai Lama has said that Buddhism is not only a religion but also a science and a philosophy," says Chase, who will spend a year documenting the responses of Tibetan doctors trained in both Western and traditional medicines.

Her hope is that by studying non-Western medical practices, end-of-life care policy in the U.S.—where the topic is still somewhat taboo—can be improved.

"Sixty percent of Americans die in hospitals," she says. "In order to improve policy and care-giving practices related to death within the healthcare system, we need to understand the various ethical-moral frameworks that reflect the common human experience of approaching death."

Adds Chase: "Death shouldn't be a topic we're afraid to discuss."

When she returns to the U.S., she plans on pursuing her Ph.D. in medical anthropology. Chase is the second 2009 graduate of the Macaulay Honors College at Lehman to win a Fulbright award in the last few months. Nicole JeanBaptiste, an African Studies major, is headed for Jamaica to study the history of the African Diaspora.