Bioethics refers to the study of ethics and ethical issues in medicine and research. This field is frequently pursued by doctors, researchers, and lawyers. Here we will provide an overview of bioethics master's degree programs, including coursework and admission requirements.
General Bioethics Graduate Program Information
As the field of bioethics exists at the intersection of medicine, law, and philosophy, your coursework will have some aspects of all those fields. Below are descriptions for some common courses you can expect to find in bioethics programs.
Foundations of Bioethics
Foundations courses are usually one of the first courses you will take in a graduate program in bioethics. They serve essentially to introduce and define the field of bioethics, and expose students to its fundamental philosophies, controversies, and questions. You should expect to undertake extensive reading of bioethical texts and commentaries, with the goal of gaining the critical knowledge base, as well as analytical skills, necessary to progress further in your study and research.
Bioethics and the Law
These types of courses, sometimes taught in conjunction with law schools, examine the legal framework of bioethical issues in the United States. You will read important legal cases and learn the current laws surrounding various issues related to medicine, research and ethics. You may also analyze emerging legal issues in bioethics, such as the use of technology and genetics, and discuss proposed policy adjustments to address them.
Ethical Theory/Philosophy of Bioethics
Here you will examine the philosophical underpinnings of medicine, health, and research. Students in these courses tackle 'big picture' problems that are meant to engage students to think about fundamental moral questions, such as when life begins and when it should end. Core work may include extensive readings (of both contemporary bioethicists as well as influential philosophers of the past), class discussions, and research papers.
Bioethics in Clinical Practice/Clinical Ethics
Clinical ethics is a field that focuses on bioethics in the daily clinical practice of medicine. Here you will survey a number of things: how one might encounter and address questions of bioethics in their daily practice; important topics and controversies in contemporary clinical ethics; and analyze specific important cases in clinical ethics, with an eye towards applying bioethical principles to current issues.
Neuroethics is an emerging, cutting edge field in bioethics. Specifically, it is the study of bioethics as it relates to issues of the brain: disease, aging, mental illness, injury, etc. Here you will learn about bioethical issues and controversies specifically in the field of neuroscience, and read and discuss important case studies relating to neuroethics.
These courses examine how to structure medical and biological research in an ethical manner. They are intended to prepare student to manage some of the complex ethical issues that arise in real-life research, such as how to properly treat research participants, privacy and confidentiality, and ethical study design. You will read a lot of case studies in these courses, analyzing seminal issues and incidents in the development of ethical research.
Program Admission Requirements
As bioethics is not often considered a professional degree on its own, programs may expect applicants to have an advanced degree and/or relevant work experience (e.g. medicine, law, or research); candidates with only a bachelor's degree may be held to higher standards of GPA and coursework. Regardless, you should expect to supply transcripts of all previous coursework, undergraduate and graduate. You may have to supply a number of writing samples, such as a statement of purpose, an essay discussing a specific issue in bioethics, and a resume/CV of your previous academic and professional work.
Master's programs in bioethics may require one of several different standardized tests, depending on your professional background: GRE (for academics and undergrads), LSAT (for those in law), or MCAT (for those in medicine). If you are not a native speaker of English, you should expect to submit recent TOEFL scores. Finally, most programs require 3 letters of recommendation from instructors, supervisors, or colleagues who can attest to the quality of your work and potential for future study in this field.
Bioethics is a vital and important area of study in today's world. You will look at the issues from a variety of perspectives: legal, philosophical, practical. While you may be able to enter a bioethics program directly from your undergraduate studies, many bioethics graduate programs encourage applicants who have professional or research experience in relevant fields.