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What Does a Bioethicist Do? - Salary, Job Description & Required Education

Interested in a career as a bioethicist? The following article explores what a bioethicist does, educational requirements, salary, and job outlook; additionally, we'll list a few related occupations.

Bioethicists, also known as medical ethicists and nurse ethicists, concern themselves with applications of moral and ethical issues in medical science. They are involved in consulting in decision making in a wide variety of areas, including but not limited to: abortion, euthanasia, organ transplant, end of life issues, and other ethically challenging areas in healthcare. Bioethicists are responsible for acting as educators, advisors, and liaisons among healthcare professionals, clinics/hospitals/hospices, and patients and their families. Bioethicists focus on the moral and ethical implications of medical procedures and practices that carry significant moral implications and seek to mitigate these concerns with an eye toward applying sound moral and ethical principles.

The bioethicist is also responsible for creating materials for staff training in medical ethics issues as well as clear presentations particular to cases for patients and their families. Bioethicists also serve as conflict resolution facilitators for patients, their families, and healthcare providers. Bioethicists research emergent technologies and procedures in healthcare focusing on the ethical and moral implications of these technologies and procedures. They make recommendations to healthcare providers as well as to patients and their families regarding moral and ethical dilemmas that such technologies and procedures may give rise to. Additionally, bioethicists also serve as instructors in formal educational environments and some chair bioethics committees in healthcare facilities, medical schools, and universities.

Educational Requirements Bioethicists commonly have either a master's or doctoral degree in addition to a bachelor's degree in bioethics; the graduate degree may be in medical science, medicine, registered nursing, philosophy, or a related advanced humanities field with an emphasis in bioethics
Job Skills Strong research skills, expert knowledge of existing and emergent ethical issues in healthcare, strong communication and teaching skills, ability to create and implement programs, strong critical thinking skills
Median Salary (2018)* $84,810 (medical scientists), $200,890 (physicians and surgeons), $78,470 (postsecondary educators), $71,730 (registered nurses)
Job Outlook (2016-2026)* 13% (medical scientists), 15% (registered nurses), 13% (physicians and surgeons), 15% (postsecondary educators)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Required Education

Bioethicists usually require multiple degrees because their job is academically cross-disciplinary. In addition to undergraduate work in bioethics, bioethicists are required to possess a master's degree and significant work experience in a healthcare-related field, or a Ph.D. or M.D. in bioethics, medicine, philosophy, or another related humanities discipline. Additionally, some employers prefer practical work experience in such fields as clinical ethics or a life/biosciences industry in addition to a master's or doctoral degree.

Required Skills

Bioethicists must possess strong research skills because they must keep abreast with existing and emergent medical procedures and technologies that may present ethical and moral dilemmas. Procedures and technologies such as euthanasia, abortion, stem cell research, end of life care, organ transplantation, blood transfusions, and other procedures may conflict with a patient's religious beliefs or personal moral compass and it is the responsibility of the bioethicist to inform patients and answers questions about these possible moral and ethical gray areas. Possessing the ability to effectively communicate and educate is crucial to the role of the bioethicist as they are called upon to create educational programs and plans in consultation with healthcare professionals, patients, and patients' families. Additionally, some bioethicist positions are university-level professorships and as such, strong teaching abilities are imperative. Finally, strong critical thinking skills are necessary for all aspects of the bioethicist's role, from research and teaching to creating and implementing plans and programs focused on moral and ethical issues.

Career Outlook and Salary

Because bioethicists may also be physicians, medical scientists, professors, or registered nurses, we'll cover salary and job outlook information for each occupation.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the following annual median salary for each of these professions.

Physicians' and surgeons' median annual salary in 2018 was reported to be $200,890. For medical scientists, the 2018 median annual salary was $84,810. The median yearly salary for registered nurses in 2018 was $71,730. Postsecondary educators earned a median annual salary of $78,470 in 2018.

The career outlook for these professions according to BLS is relatively similar: 13% for physicians and surgeons, 13% for medical scientists, 15% for registered nurses, and 15% for postsecondary educators. All of these jobs are expected to grow at a faster-than-average rate compared to all other occupations.

Related Careers

The following articles contain salary information, job descriptions and duties, occupational outlook, and educational requirements for jobs related to that of a bioethicist.


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