Career Info for a Degree in Ethics for Medicine or Biology

Programs in medical ethics typically take an interdisciplinary approach to medicine, incorporating social and ethical issues into a health care or medical research curriculum. Find out about the curricula of these programs, and learn about career options, job growth and salary info for medical ethics graduates.

A degree in medical ethics or bioethics can contribute to the educational foundation of a career as a clergy member, a university professor, a lawyer, or a registered nurse. Registered nurses need an associate's or bachelor's degree, while chaplains, lawyers and professors must complete graduate studies in their field. Lawyers must also pass the bar exam and nurses must be licensed by their state.

Essential Information

Medical ethics, also called bioethics, is a relatively new field of study, but studying ethical and social concerns can be a great supplement to a traditional medical education. Medical ethics is typically offered as a master's degree and can include specializations such as environmental ethics, clinical ethics and neuroethics. Online degrees are available from several schools, and typical programs require around 14 courses, or roughly a year and a half of education.

Careers Healthcare Chaplain University Professor Lawyer Registered Nurse
Required Education Master's degree, though it may differ by religion Doctoral degree Juris Doctor Associate's or bachelor's degree
Other Requirements Religious endorsement N/A Bar exam Licensure
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% for all clergy 19% for nursing professors 6% 16%
Mean Salary (2015)* $48,150 for all clergy $73,150 for nursing professors $136,260 $71,000

Source: *U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options

A degree in medical ethics or bioethics often complements careers in the clergy, legal education, nursing or law, among others. Read on to learn about a few career paths.

Healthcare Chaplain

A healthcare chaplain works in hospitals, nursing homes or other healthcare settings. He or she provides spiritual support to patients and their families and conducts regular worship services. Chaplains may be called upon to help patients and their families make important decisions about healthcare, such as when to discontinue medical treatment or whether to make use of controversial or dangerous medical treatments. Many hospital ethics committees include chaplains or invite their participation in the committee's work.

Chaplains are often, but not always, ordained and endorsed by religious organizations and some non-ordained people may serve as lay chaplains. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that the mean salary of clergypersons working in general surgical and medical hospitals as of May 2015 was $50,430. Those working for home health care services earned a mean salary of $49,820, while those who worked in nursing facilities averaged $46,380.

University Professor

A university professor teaches at the undergraduate or graduate level, conducts research and often provides consulting services to individuals, businesses and organizations. University professors who specialize in bioethics may teach in any number of academic departments, depending on their own academic training. Typical academic disciplines that address bioethical issues include medicine, nursing, law, religion or philosophy.

According to the BLS, the mean salary for university professors varies by academic discipline. The mean annual wage for a nursing instructor was $73,150 as of May 2015, while law professors earned a mean wage of $126,230. Jobs for postsecondary nursing educators were expected to grow 19% from 2014 to 2024, per the BLS, while law professors can expect a 22% increase in jobs during the same time period.


Many bioethical issues have legal implications for both healthcare providers and consumers. Lawyers who have training in bioethical issues can provide guidance to hospitals and healthcare professionals as well as individuals and families, particularly end-of-life issues, medical malpractice and wrongful birth or death cases.

The BLS predicts average job growth for the lawyers, at a rate of six percent between 2014 and 2024. Strong competition for jobs is also expected. The mean salary for lawyers as of May 2015 was $136,260.

Registered Nurse

Since nurses provide care to those who are coping with both short- and long-term medical concerns, they often encounter ethical issues. A nurse who holds a degree or certification in medical ethics can provide families and patients with information on ethical issues, serve on an ethics committee or act as a bioethics consultant.

The mean salary for registered nurses as of May 2015 was $71,000, according to the BLS. Employment growth was expected to increase by 16% between 2014 and 2024.

Ethical considerations are a factor in how nurses administer care to patients, which is why a degree in ethics for medicine or biology is relevant for those preparing to enter that field. Clergy may address similar issues for those with illnesses or the families of those who are ill, and lawyers may address cases involving ethical issues related to medical care, such as wrongful death suits or malpractice. Postsecondary professors may teach medical ethics or bioethics classes to those studying to be lawyers or nurses.

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