Chris Mackenzie wins inaugural Rebecca Lunstroth Faculty Service Award

By Roman Petrowski, Office of Communications
December 20, 2022

The McGovern Center for Humanities and Ethics has named Chris Mackenzie, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics, as the inaugural winner of the Rebecca Lunstroth Faculty Service Award.

The Rebecca Lunstroth Faculty Service Award recognizes a faculty member outside of the McGovern Center who volunteers for multiple teaching activities conducted by the McGovern Center and has done so consistently over a period of years. This newly-established award celebrates Rebecca Lunstroth, JD, MA, who has served as associate professor and director of Administration and Ethics Education, and her upcoming retirement from the Medical School after nearly 20 years of service.

“Through lectures, bluebooks, and programs, Professor Lunstroth has poured her heart and soul into teaching at McGovern Medical School, touching the lives of countless students over nearly two decades,” said Nathan Carlin, PhD, director of the McGovern Center. “The McGovern Center has been so fortunate to have her. This award is meant to recognize her spirit of service and love for education and to encourage others to follow her example.”

In addition to Ethics, Mackenzie is also a facilitator for Problem Based Learning (PBL) for first- and second-year students and on the team that runs TBL for first year students. In the lab, Mackenzie’s research focuses on the possible connection between Streptococcus gallolyticus and colon cancer and how bioinformatic method may be used to guide experimental approaches in the lab.

“I think it’s always a great feeling to be recognized for the work that you put into anything, but all the more so in this case, because it is named after my good friend Rebecca Lunstroth, who has given so much time and effort into raising the awareness of both students and faculty at McGovern to the importance of ethics in everyday life,” Mackenzie said.

Both Mackenzie and Lunstroth reflected on the years they have worked together, and the qualities that make each other great educators.

“I can’t say enough wonderful things about Chris,” Lunstroth said. “We have worked together for years, both at McGovern and the GSBS. He is a deep thinker and a generous educator. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this award. He continually, and with a full heart and mind, facilitates in all of our classes.”

Mackenzie added, “I can’t remember how Rebecca and I ended up working together, but I remember we just seemed to hit it off right from the start. There are some people in life you just instantly click with. She has a robust and strong personality and can disagree with you openly and honestly while opening your eyes to a different perspective on the world. I have always respected her for that.”

Mackenzie said Lunstroth is well-known around campus for her advocacy for the teaching of ethics and that her vision is establishing a future formed on caring and thoughtful interactions between student doctors and graduate students and their prospective patients and colleagues. It was that vision and advocacy that convinced Mackenzie to begin working in ethics.

“I was a bit hesitant at the time because I had no formal training in ethics,” Mackenzie said. “I had never taken an ethics course, and I certainly had never taught one. But I did enjoy reading ‘The Ethicist’ column in the New York Times and ‘The Moneyist,’ which is an ethical dilemma column involving financial issues, inheritance, divorce, etc. So, Rebecca gave me a copy of the course syllabus, I then read a couple of books on ethics, and then agreed to become involved in the courses she directs.”

For Lunstroth, she feels that there is no greater homage than having an award presented in her name and that it means her legacy will live on.

“It has been a sincere honor working at McGovern,” Lunstroth said. “As many know, this is my third career and the one I never planned. It has kept me intellectually stimulated and challenged beyond my wildest expectations and has provided me the opportunity to collaborate with some of the smartest and most dedicated clinicians and scientists. I’d like to thank my colleagues at the McGovern Center and the students who have afforded me the opportunity to open their minds.”

Perhaps one of Lunstroth’s greatest contributions to the Medical School, and the initiative that Mackenzie enjoys working in most, is bringing the Poverty Simulator to McGovern. The simulations place first-year students in make-believe families with limited resources. Family members are assigned underlying medical conditions such as hypertension or type 2 diabetes, and the families have to figure out how to balance work with low-paying jobs, poor transport, and daycare, while making up the monetary difference with situations like food stamps and high-interest rate bank loans, assuming they could get them, while still trying to access health care.

“Hands down, the one thing I am proudest of is bringing the Poverty Simulator to our students,” Lunstroth said. “It’s quite a production but well worth it. And our research showed that it actually changed attitudes. It’s now being offered at all three clinical schools.”

Mackenzie notes the Poverty Simulator as one of the reasons he has enjoyed working with Lunstroth.

“I thought [the Poverty Simulator] was a great idea and was honored to become involved,” Mackenzie said. “Many of our medical students are from middle-class or above backgrounds and have little real-world experience with poverty and how it impacts patient health.

“She is great at making you see the world through another person’s eyes.”

Both Lunstroth and Mackenzie dedicate countless hours to helping the McGovern Center complete its mission of “examining the moral, spiritual, and cultural aspects of biomedical sciences and health professions.”

“In this time, in our society, there has never been a greater need for such examination,” Mackenzie said. “The work of the McGovern Center allows students and faculty to rediscover and reinforce their common humanity. It also encourages the pursuit of ethical interactions with others and provides a time to remember why we got into this profession in the first place, for the betterment of humanity and equity to others and their families that we would demand for ourselves. If, as tasked by the McGovern Center, we do this, we will leave the world in a better condition that when we found it.”