Career Information for a Degree in Medical Ethics and Bioethics

Medical ethics and bioethics students learn about the history of ethics as applied to medical science, current issues and laws regarding bioethics and related topics. Continue reading for an overview of the potential majors and certification details, as well as career and salary info related to some career options for graduates.

With a degree in medical ethics or bioethics, some career options include becoming a lawyer, a postsecondary teacher, or a medical scientist. All of these careers require additional studies. Lawyers need a Juris Doctor degree, postsecondary teachers are required to have a Ph.D., and a Ph.D. is also needed to become a medical scientist.

Essential Information

A medical ethics and bioethics degree or certificate program teaches people how to apply ethics to situations in the medical field. Holders of degrees or certificates in medical ethics and bioethics can be found in many different career areas, from medical care to academia or even health law. Typically, graduates have completed professional healthcare, law or education degree programs that included bioethics-related specializations. It is common for some professionals to hold Ph.D. degrees as well as medical degrees.

Career Titles Lawyers Postsecondary Teachers Medical Scientists
Education Requirements J.D. Ph.D. Ph.D. and often an M.D., D.D.S., D.O. or D.M.D. degree
Licensure Required N/A Required if the scientist is also a doctor or dentist
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 6% 13% 8%
Mean Annual Salary (May, 2015)* $136,260 $77,480 $93,730

Source: *United States Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

Most students in the medical ethics and bioethics fields hold other professional degrees and pursue bioethics education as a specialization within their chosen fields. Graduates of medical ethics or bioethics degree or certificate programs might focus on bioethics in fields such as health care, education or health law. Some individuals with an interest in bioethics choose to pursue academic careers. These professionals generally work at universities or colleges, where they balance their research and publishing duties with teaching and other faculty responsibilities. Outlined below is information about lawyers, post-secondary teachers and medical scientists.


Attorneys with graduate training in medical ethics, bioethics or a similar field may become experts in health law. Several schools offer dual degree programs in law and bioethics; these programs specifically prepare students for careers in health law. These attorneys might work in private practices that specialize in medical malpractice suits, hospital representation, elder law and related fields. These attorneys may also work for hospitals, research groups or think tanks directly, advising policymakers and administrative personnel regarding ethics and liability laws. Other lawyers might work for nonprofit groups, citizen's action counsels, professional organizations and other clients within the health care or biomedical research fields.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, lawyers in general earned mean annual salaries of $136,260 in 2015. An employment growth rate of 6% was projected for the decade spanning 2014 through 2024.

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers are employed by colleges in universities. They teach many academic subjects. Bioethics teachers may develop lesson plans, advise students and assess their progress. These professionals sometimes conduct original research and publish their findings in academic journals. According to the BLS, postsecondary teachers earned mean annual wages of $77,480 as of May, 2015. Jobs were expected to expand by 13% from 2014 through 2024.

Medical Scientists

Bioethicists in the medical field must hold qualifications beyond a degree in bioethics, such as a medical doctorate. They could also hold a nursing degree or a medical social work degree. Bioethicists and medical ethicists working in medical settings often sit on committees in hospitals or research organizations, sometimes participating in groups and committees that are solely dedicated to questions of medical ethics. If a new procedure is proposed for cancer patients, for example, a medical ethics committee or institutional ethics committee often examines the procedure and research regarding its effectiveness and risks before recommending its use. An employment growth rate of 8% was predicted by the BLS for medical scientists from 2014 to 2024. They received mean annual salaries of $93,730 in May, 2015.

Bioethics Certification

Formal professional certification in bioethics and related fields is difficult to find in the U.S. Some professionals may choose to join the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities (ASBH) or other organizations. The ASBH promotes professional development, among other objectives.

It's possible to pursue a degree or graduate certificate in medical ethics or bioethics to prepare for an academic, legal, or scientific career. These professionals focus on how ethics impacts medical treatment and studies. Lawyers may address malpractice suits, while medical scientists may review the ethical implications of new treatments, and postsecondary teachers can teach medical ethics and bioethics to those studying to be lawyers, academics, medical professionals or medical scientists.

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