Biomedical Ethics Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in a biomedical ethics program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of master's and doctoral degrees, as well as potential careers.
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Studying Biomedical Ethics: Programs at a Glance

Biomedical ethics graduate programs train mid-career professionals and top post-baccalaureate students to study the ethical issues that have come about with scientific advancements. Changes in medicine, the life sciences and biotechnologies raise questions about policy, law and philosophy. This discipline has developed over the last three decades and is designed for individuals already involved in the medical field, such as as doctors, lawyers or administrators. Some schools offer programs in biomedical ethics to interested students who are also pursuing degrees in related fields, such as medicine, law or public health.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Mid-career professionals working in medical-related fields Mid-career professionals working in medical-related fields; individuals seeking careers in academia
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Medical administrator ($86,000)*
- Bioethics legal specialist (with J.D.) ($93,000 - based on salary for all lawyers)*
- Non-profit director ($59,000)*
- Same as master's degree options, plus:
- University bioethics professor ($64,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 4+ years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 10 graduate level courses
- Master's exams
- Final project, possibly a master's thesis
Most (or all) of the master's degree requirements, plus:
- Roughly 10 graduate-level courses
- PhD qualifier exams
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Minimum of a bachelor's degree, often a professional degree, such as Medical Doctor (M.D.) or Lawyer (J.D.) Same as master's
Online Availability Yes Rare

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's in Biomedical Ethics

A master's degree program in bioethics is a cross-disciplinary program that can provide you with the skills necessary to analyze and address ethical considerations that arise in healthcare, the life sciences, medical research, medical social work, pastoral care, patient advocacy and public health. These programs train you to identify ethical considerations and create practices and policies to address them.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Programs address professional situations and are directly applicable to career settings.
  • May expand career options within related fields
  • Online programs are available for convenience.

Cons

  • Topics may be challenging to the ethical positions of some students, depending on their personal, professional and religious backgrounds.
  • Not all programs have the same ethical positions on all topics, leading to inconsistencies in program curriculum.
  • Some programs are religiously affiliated, which could affect both personal and career development.

Courses and Requirements

Coursework varies in each program, but often covers topics in bioethics and law, clinical biomedical ethics, ethical considerations in research, ethics in medicine, philosophical approaches to bioethics and regulation of research on human subjects. Other courses discuss physicians, ethics and the law as well as the religious approaches to biomedical ethics. Some programs may require you to complete a project or thesis prior to graduation.

Online Degree Options

Online master's degree programs in biomedical ethics are available. These programs often target mid-career professionals seeking to understand and address difficult biomedical ethics issues in modern healthcare settings. They are usually available on both full- and part-time formats.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Whether delivered online or on-campus, master's degree programs in biomedical ethics provide you with opportunities for career-related networking and a chance to work with faculty who conducts research in the field. In addition to coursework, capstone projects and internships allow you to apply learned skills in a hands-on manner. For that reason, you might want to keep an eye open for ways that the program can benefit your career development, whether through networking or working alongside mentors in a lab.

Additionally, because new ethical issues could arise from research, being aware of the common types of research methods could help you stand out to employers. Completing a course in experimentation, new technologies in research or reproduction technologies can help you become knowledgeable about the ways new technologies are made, which, in turn, may make it easier for you to develop resolutions or ethical bases about the issue.

Doctorate in Biomedical Ethics

Biomedical ethics is a cross-disciplinary field drawing on knowledge from several disciplines, including medicine, science, religion and philosophy. The first PhD program in bioethics was established in 2004. This type of program can prepare you to address bioethical issues arising out of research and medical care and work to guide decision-makers in issues relevant to human and public health. A doctoral degree in biomedical ethics trains you not only to address these issues, but also to act as a leader or even teacher in research and medical positions.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Fast-growing field with new programs being offered at several major medical centers
  • Developing programs are likely to be responsive to students' professional needs
  • Multiple concentrations offer appeal for various fields and career goals.

Cons

  • Teaching positions in biomedical ethics may be difficult to find.
  • Some research positions may require other professional degrees, such as an M.D. or J.D.
  • Entry into biomedical ethics doctoral programs is competitive.

Courses and Requirements

Coursework in biomedical ethics doctoral programs can prepare you for leadership roles or research positions. Courses might cover topics in biomedical ethics and normative methods, biomedical ethics foundations, biomedical ethics research methods, clinical ethics application, qualitative research methods, statistics and data management. Most programs also require extensive amounts of research and a dissertation.

Online Degree Options

Distance-learning PhD programs in biomedical ethics are not offered alone at this time, but you can find doctoral programs in bioethics available in fully or partially online formats. Though these options are fairly rare, you can choose to earn only a PhD in bioethics or apply to a dual-degree MD/PhD program.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

To get ahead with a doctoral degree in biomedical ethics, you could consider attending a school that offers faculty-led research projects directly related to your field of interest.You could also look for a program that offers or allows you to complete a practicum during your studies. Many schools offer practicums at local labs, thereby providing you with hands-on experience conducting experiments. Possessing hands-on experience conducting technical experiments may make student stand out to employers.This type of direct experience could develop your expertise and make your work and opinions valued.

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