Two UC Irvine seniors dedicated to compassionate healing have been awarded the 2010-11 XIV Dalai Lama Endowed Scholarship, established at UCI in 2004 to recognize students committed to ethical leadership, peace and positive global relations.

Bethel Mesgana, biological sciences and sociology major,  and Doug Cheung, neurobiology and psychology & social behavior major, will receive $7,500 each and share an additional $2,500 to create an undergraduate course and public forum promoting the holistic understanding of illness and healing. The class will feature lessons in psychiatry, geriatrics and family medicine. People with chronic diseases or terminal illnesses will also speak about the importance of sensitive and compassionate care. A panel of experts, patients and caregivers will participate in a public forum next spring.

“UCI’s Dalai Lama Scholars are continuing to lead the way in demonstrating the power of love and compassion in healing individuals and communities,” said Manuel Gomez, vice chancellor emeritus for student affairs. “As we all grow in awareness of our global interdependence, I’m hopeful that integrative medicine will no longer be considered an ‘alternative’ to normal practice.”

Volunteering with the Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team in Los Angeles and Garden Grove opened Cheung’s eyes to the needs of people with terminal diagnoses.

“Our clients would often complain about doctors and nurses who prescribed medication and discussed side effects but didn’t ask how they were feeling,” he said. “We realized the importance of treating the patient as a whole and not just the disease.”

He and Mesgana met in the summer of 2009 through Students for Integrative Medicine, a campus group co-founded by Cheung. They taught stress-reducing meditation and breathing exercises to formerly homeless residents of the Costa Mesa Motor Inn. Their success inspired them to design an undergraduate course and public forum  that would expose future healthcare professionals to holistic techniques.

“Guest speakers in our course will discuss how showing empathy toward those with debilitating conditions or terminal illnesses is a very important part of being a doctor,” said Mesgana, who’s majoring in sociology and biological sciences.

Ten years ago, her family left Ethiopia and settled in San Jose. Her mother, who had worked for the United Nations, and father, who had been an accountant at Addis Ababa University, inspired Mesgana to pursue a career in international social work and medicine.

She first experienced the holistic approach to medicine when her cardiologist recommended swimming along with medication for a congenital heart problem.

“I think it’s important to integrate the mind, body and spirit when treating any type of medical condition,” Mesgana said. “Converging alternative and conventional medicine may be the best way to strengthen the body’s ability to heal itself.”

Cheung, who’s majoring in neurobiology and psychology & social behavior, moved to the U.S. from Hong Kong to attend college. His father is a chiropractor and acupuncturist, and Cheung was exposed to both Western medicine and alternative healing as he grew up.

He works in a neurophysiology lab on campus, studying the effects of acupuncture on cardiovascular disease. He hopes the undergraduate course – also open to medical students – and public forum will have a direct and positive impact.

“This class will let students hear personal stories from patients and make connections with physicians who are practicing compassion and integrating alternative medicine with Western medicine,” Cheung said. “In addition, we’ll invite leaders of nonprofit organizations to speak to students, who can then sign up for volunteer opportunities.”

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