Medical Ethics Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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Take a look at pursuing a career in medical ethics. Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if working in medical ethics is right for you.
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Careers in Medical Ethics

Medical ethics, also known as bioethics, concerns a broad spectrum of often-controversial issues associated with healthcare and research, such as genetic screening of fetuses, euthanasia and cloning. Medical ethics is a field of study with diverse career options. Compare common careers below:

Medical Ethics Professor Research Ethics Specialist Genetic Counselor
Career Overview Medical ethics professors often teach in medical schools and other academic settings, as well as engage in research and scholarship. Research ethics specialists typically participate in institutional review boards (IRBs), which oversee ethical considerations in research. Genetic counselors educate patients and family members about genetic tests, disorders and treatment options as well as provide counseling related to medical decisions.
Education/Training Requirements Typically a Ph.D. in a field related to medical ethics or an M.D. with a background in medical ethics. IRB members have diverse educational backgrounds and levels, and many positions are open to bachelor's degree holders in business or education. Master's degree in genetic counseling.
Program Length A Ph.D. typically requires six years of full-time study after the bachelor's degree. A minimum of four years. Genetic counseling master's degree programs require two years of full-time study.
Certification and Licensing N/A Optional certification through Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research (PRIM&R). Optional certification through the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC), and some states require licensure.
Experience Requirement Employers may seek candidates with specific experience in an area of scholarship or in practice, such as in clinical ethics consulting. Typically a minimum of one year's experience in medical research ethics is required. Experience in an area of specialization, such as cancer genetics, may be required.
Job Outlook (2014-2024) Faster than average growth (19% increase)* Fast as average growth (8%) (for all medical scientists)* Much faster than average job growth (29%)*
Mean Salary (2014) About $112,950* About $45,756 (for all IRB coordinators)*** Roughly $69,540*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com


Medical Ethics Professor

As a medical ethics academic, you may work for bioethics centers, which are generally at medical schools. In this environment, you often perform research in addition to teaching medical students. Several government sources fund bioethics research, which is becoming increasingly empirical. You may also find work in departments of philosophy, which may be affiliated with medical schools.

Faculty at research centers come from several disciplines, including the social sciences, law, theology and clinical medical practice. Research centers and academic departments tend to seek candidates for professorships who match their primary areas of research interest, like global health research ethics or transplantation.

Requirements

You may take one of many routes to an academic career in bioethics, depending on your particular orientation and research interests. For instance, you might become a physician before finding your vocation in medical ethics. Alternatively, you may begin your undergraduate career in sociology and pursue a program of graduate study in which you apply quantitative social science research methods to medical ethics issues.

The education paths to careers in this field are numerous. Field of study options include nursing, theology, law or public health, among other fields, as well as dedicated programs in bioethics. To teach and perform research at a research center or university academic department, you typically need to complete a Ph.D. program in an area of study that intersects with medical ethics. This can involve an additional six or more years of study beyond a bachelor's degree program.

Employers posting job ads in January 2013 looked for candidates with the following:

  • A Texas for-profit educational institution that offers nursing programs was seeking a medical ethics instructor. The teacher needs a master's degree in medical ethics or a related field, as well as a minimum of one year of teaching experience or demonstrated teacher training.
  • An Alabama medical school needed a physician to teach courses in palliative care. The M.D. must have palliative medicine training. This physician will also help improve palliative care programs in the medical center and pursue research topics related to end-of-life care, including clinical ethics.
  • A Pennsylvania medical school was looking for a medical ethics professor. The majority of the incumbent's time will be devoted to research concerning questions like how to allocate healthcare resources and set priorities in domestic and global healthcare. The school is also seeking candidates with interests in global research ethics and international justice. Teaching duties include teaching courses in the philosophy department. A Ph.D. and a strong research record are desired qualifications.

Standing Out

Professors seeking tenure may gain a competitive edge if they can demonstrate strengths in research, published scholarship and teaching. Becoming a member of a professional association for academics in bioethics may assist you in developing in these areas, as well as provide networking opportunities.

As a student, you can become a member of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities, for example. Some of the benefits you receive as a member include access to professional literature, discounts on scholarly journals and networking through annual conferences, committee membership or special interest groups. Similar professional associations in bioethics include the American Society for Law, Medicine and Ethics; the Association for Politics and the Life Sciences; Society of Christian Ethics and the Catholic Theological Society of America.

Research Ethics Specialist

Outside of academia, you may consider a variety of positions in research ethics. A series of scandals concerning research using human subjects has led to legislation mandating the implementation of institutional review boards (IRBs) at research sites, typically based at medical centers. The backgrounds of the members of IRBs are diverse, including medical, legal, theological, administrative and educational backgrounds. As regulations on human-subject research increase, the need for personnel on IRBs expands. In this field, you might address controversial topics, such as fetal tissue research.

Requirements

Though you would need a professional graduate degree in law or medicine to pursue some IRB positions, you may pursue IRB specialist and coordinator jobs with just a bachelor's degree. Typically, employers seek candidates with undergraduate degrees in fields like business administration or education.

Job postings from January 2013 show employers looking for candidates with the following types of education and skills:

  • A Florida medical school and research facility needs an IRB specialist to support the Human Subject Research Office and IRB in protecting the privacy and safety of research participants. The specialist performs regulatory reviews of initial and follow-up studies. Minimum requirements for the position include a bachelor's degree in education or business and one year of related experience. Preference is given to those with research experience and familiarity with research ethics.
  • A Texas medical school and research center is looking for an IRB coordinator to help with the administration of inspections, accreditations and other regulatory matters. This professional will also assist the IRB director in the implementation of quality assurance programs and provide staff instruction on guidelines and procedures for protecting human research subjects. The candidate needs knowledge of medical terminology and legislation related to medical research, a related bachelor's degree and at least four years' experience in medical research ethics. IRB professional certification is preferred.
  • A Maryland healthcare center seeks an IRB administrator to help develop procedures and policies for human-subject research based on federal regulations. The person in this position will also make recommendations to achieve regulatory compliance. A master's degree in science, healthcare or behavioral science is preferred over a bachelor's degree. Additional requirements include professional IRB certification, a minimum of five years' experience protecting human research subjects and strong analytical skills.

Standing Out

Some employers require professional certification, and many prefer to hire certified IRB professionals. You can earn the Certified IRB Professional (CIP) credential through the organization Public Responsibility in Medicine and Research (PRIM&R). The Council for Certification of IRB Professionals administers the program. Certification provides professional development and career advancement opportunities. You need 2-3 years' IRB experience, depending on your educational background, to be eligible to take the certification exam. You may renew your certification, which is required every three years, by taking the CIP exam again.

Genetic Counselor

Genetic counselors provide educational support to people with an increased risk of inheriting a genetic disorder or of transmitting it to their unborn children. As a genetic counselor, you may work anyplace in which genetic tests are performed and assist people both before and after the testing. You may also work in non-traditional settings in administration, education, policy or biotechnology.

The mapping of the human genome has led to a substantial increase in the number and range of diagnostic tests available, including those performed on fetuses; prenatal diagnoses can create challenging reproductive decisions. As a genetic counselor, your role is to provide all the facts available in an accessible manner about testing, diagnoses, potential courses of diseases, disease-management options and preventive measures. You provide non-directive counseling, which respects and protects individual autonomy in decision making.

Requirements

Being a genetic counselor requires strengths in both interpersonal skills and science. To practice as a genetic counselor, you need to graduate from a master's degree program in genetic counseling that is accredited by the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC). Admission to one of the roughly 30 accredited programs requires substantial undergraduate studies in biology. In a master's degree program, you study both the science of genetics and counseling methods.

Additionally, because many employers require it, your career options can be greatly enhanced by becoming professionally certified. The ABGC also certifies genetic counselors. To be eligible for the professional certification exam, you must complete an accredited program. Certification lasts five years; to renew your certification, you may re-test or accumulate continuing education credits. Some states require genetic counselors to become licensed.

Employers in January 2013 were seeking the candidates with the following credentials to fill these genetic counselor positions:

  • A Montana children's hospital needed a genetic counselor to give families information and counseling about a wide range of genetic inheritance issues. The genetic counselor will help identify people who need counseling services and provide follow-up assessment and counseling as required. Candidates need to have a master's degree in genetic counseling.
  • A New York medical laboratory was seeking a genetic counselor with knowledge of screening tests for hereditary cancer. The genetic counselor will communicate with other healthcare providers about test results, write reports, participate in conferences and develop educational materials. Candidates need to have graduated from an accredited genetic counseling master's degree programs and have knowledge of human mutation databases and genome browsers.
  • A Wisconsin healthcare clinic was looking for a genetic counselor to work with patients who are undergoing cancer or prenatal diagnostic testing. Experience in cancer and prenatal genetic counseling is a preferred qualification, and graduation from an ABGC-accredited program is required.

Standing Out

Having a professional mentor can help you navigate career options, such as which specializations to acquire. You can find a professional mentor through the National Society of Genetic Counselors, which offers memberships to students and active professionals. Working with a mentor can expose you to fresh insights and help you make the transition from graduate school to your first job.

Popular Schools

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Featured Schools

The George Washington University

  • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
  • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
  • MSHS in Molecular Diagnostic Sciences

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Kaplan University

  • Master: Nursing/Nurse Educator
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  • BS in Health Information Management
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Northcentral University

  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Health Care Administration

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Baker College Online

  • Healthcare Management - MBA (Master's)

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Colorado State University Global

  • Graduate Specialization - Healthcare Administration

What is your highest level of education?

University of the Southwest

  • MBA Healthcare Administration

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Regent University

  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
  • Master of Arts in Government - Healthcare Policy and Ethics
  • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management

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Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma
  • HS Diploma with Focus in Health Care

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