Bio and Medical Ethics

If you're interested in the moral dimensions surrounding medicine, law or public health policy, a program in bio and medical ethics may be right for you. Keep reading to learn more about this unique field of study, as well what graduate programs can help you prepare for a position as a biomedical ethicist.

Is Bio and Medical Ethics for Me?

Career Overview

Bio and medical ethics, otherwise known as biomedical ethics or bioethics, is the study of what is right and wrong when making important decisions within the field of medicine and medical research. Doctors, nurses and other medical personnel routinely make decisions that affect patient's lives. Those decisions need to be guided by specific standards of moral conduct that benefit both individuals and society. It is the job of the medical ethicist to help medical professionals make complex decisions when providing medical care or conducting biomedical research.

Career Information

If you're employed as a doctor, dentist, nurse or allied health professional, or you're considering becoming a lawyer, you could benefit from a formal study of bioethics. As a medical ethicist, scholar or researcher, you might tackle questions related to stem cell research, organ donation and physician-assisted suicide. Potential employers may include healthcare facilities, universities or government regulatory agencies.

Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not report on biomedical ethicists. However, according to a 2008 salary survey from the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH), full-time biomedical ethicists earned an average yearly salary of $102,651, while part-time professionals earned $59,827. The ASBH also reported that biomedical ethicists with a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) earned more than those with a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). For example, survey respondents with an M.D. or D.O. earned $159,337, while respondents with a Ph.D. earned $96,248 a year (

How Can I Work in Bio and Medical Ethics?

Overview of Programs

Many ethics programs are offered as joint degree programs or concentrations through biomedical ethics departments at medical schools. The programs are designed to improve medical care by exposing students to the moral and ethical dilemmas they may encounter in their professional lives, while giving them the skills necessary to uphold standards of right and wrong. Course topics may include the study of ethics, law and medicine, physician-patient relationships and research ethics.

Master's Degree Programs

Master's degree programs in bioethics are typically designed to complement professional degree programs in law, religious studies, sociology and social work. For instance, a combined Master of Arts in Bioethics and Juris Doctor will generally take a little under four years to complete. The first year is devoted solely to law school, after which a concentration in bioethics can be added. This type of degree program may be useful if you're considering a career as a healthcare lawyer.

Doctor of Philosophy Programs (Ph.D.)

Ph.D. programs in medical ethics are often found in schools of medicine or public health and take approximately 4-5 years to complete. They're usually designed to provide students with instruction in policy-making and research, or prepare them for a position as a college or university professor. Course requirements may include topics in clinical and public health ethics, as well as normative and social science theories and methods. You'll also have to write and defend a doctoral dissertation based upon original research.

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