Online Degrees in Medical Ethics: Program Options

Dec 04, 2019

Learn about online degrees with medical ethics courses. Get an overview of the program types, requirements and course descriptions available for this field.

Essential Information

Online medical ethics programs, typically designed for healthcare practitioners, are available as graduate certificate and master's degree programs. Medical ethics graduate certificate programs are available in a fully online and hybrid format and include coursework in bioethics, ethical policy and case analysis. Majors with medical ethics courses include a Master of Science in Bioethics. Master's degree programs require a bachelor's degree and most include on-site requirements. In addition to online courses, students complete a thesis.

Certificate in Medical Ethics

A certificate program in medical ethics can either lead to enrollment in a master's degree program or serve as specialty study for healthcare professionals. Many choose to enroll in a certificate program to enhance their employability in healthcare or to gain knowledge about ethical policies and practice. Some master's degree programs allow credits gained from a certificate program to apply toward requirements for a Master of Science in Bioethics.

Certificate Program Info and Requirements

A distance-learning certificate program in medical or bioethics typically requires successful completion of twelve credits, and can take 2-4 semesters to complete. The program usually consists of a combination of core and elective courses that span the philosophy, practice and legal issues that are foundational to medical ethics.

Students can choose to pursue either courses that are delivered fully online, or via hybrid delivery--a mixture of online and onsite learning. Distance-learning courses are accessed through online forums that may be hosted through a school's website or a third-party interface; its necessary for enrollees to have a personal computer, e-mail address and access to reliable Internet.

Common Certificate Coursework

Online certificate programs in medical ethics usually offer courses introducing the topic of bioethics and then expanding upon subset themes. Class examples include:

Ethical Policy

This class introduces the policies surrounding healthcare and is common to certificate programs. It equips students with a basic understanding of the rules and regulations that preside over hospitals and other medical facilities.

Case Analysis

Students must learn the skills necessary to analyze medical case studies. Studies might include euthanasia requests, religious freedom arguments and organ donation conflicts.

History of Ethics

This course surveys the history of medical ethics in healthcare and introduces students to the philosophical arguments behind bioethics. At the certificate level, this course would typically be taught through online readings and case studies.

Master of Science Degree in Medical Ethics

Medical ethics programs that are available online typically result in a Master of Science (M.S.). Undergraduate pre-medical students may learn about this field as part of their prior studies, but is only available as a full program to postgraduates who wish to specialize in healthcare ethics and ethical research. This is because it is a subfield of medical practice; a medical ethics degree can only be completed by someone who has already had basic medical training.

Info and Requirements

An online master's degree program in medical or bioethics can take 1-3 years to complete and is an option for anyone who already holds a bachelor's degree in a related field. Most programs have a hybrid format, meaning that both online courses and on-site practical assessments need to be completed to earn the degree. Web-based components require a modern browser and high-speed connection; additional hardware is not typically necessary. Students commonly pursue elective courses, write a thesis and submit an extended study of ethical case histories.

Common Medical Ethics Coursework Online

Courses available to a student enrolled in this online master's degree program are likely to deal with a combination of practice, policy and philosophy related to ethical healthcare. A few common courses are outlined below:

Law and Medical Ethics

This course focuses on the interplay between ethics and the legal system in the U.S. Students survey legal cases, discuss how the law impacts medical practice and examine the history of ethical policy in medicine while considering policies for the future.

Bioethics and Theology

Degree programs that are concerned with ethics often analyze the effect that religion has had on ethical principles. Common topics of study are end-of-life care, disability rights and disagreements between religious leaders and healthcare providers.

Research Ethics

Some medical ethics master's degree programs offer the option of concentrating in ethical research. Coursework in this field covers vulnerable populations as medical test subjects, designing ethically sound medical studies and using humans and animals in research.

Continuing Education Information

Graduates of an online master's degree in medical ethics who are interested in a career in academia or advanced-level research have the option of going on to earn a Ph.D. or Doctorate of Bioethics. Doctoral work is not required for most careers in the field of medical ethics, but may be preferred by employers for certain tasks.

Career Information for Graduates

Graduates are qualified for a number of career options in the medical field. Many students who choose to complete a degree in medical ethics may already be pursuing a career as a healthcare practitioner and might use their experience from the program to become a medical educator, hospital board member or manager. Others might choose to become a medical researcher or adviser to medical researchers on the legalities of ethics.

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for a medical and health service manager was $99,730 as of May 2018. The BLS projects that job prospects for the field should increase by 18%, much faster than the average for all occupations, from 2018-2028.

Projections for medical scientists or researchers are also very good. As of May 2018, medical scientists (except epidemiologists) earned a median annual wage of $84,810 and job prospects were predicted to increase by 8% between 2018 and 2028. Many graduates of online programs in medical ethics also continue in their jobs as healthcare professionals and utilize their specialist knowledge about bioethics in their everyday work (

Online programs in medical ethics are available at the graduate certificate and master's degree level, and help students gain knowledge about legal policy, research ethics, and medical philosophy. Graduates can work throughout the medical field in positions including medical educators, medical researchers, and medical and health service managers.

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