The Utility of a Bioethics Doctorate: Graduates’ Perspectives
Each year, many young professionals forego advanced education in the traditional doctoral programs of medicine, law, and philosophy in favor of pursuing a PhD or professional doctorate in bioethics or healthcare ethics that is offered by several major institutes of higher education across the United States. These graduates often leverage their degrees into careers within the broader field of bioethics. As such, they represent a growing percentage of professional bioethicists in both academia and healthcare nationwide. Given the significant role that doctoral bioethics programs play in the training of future professional bioethicists, it is imperative that programs conferring bioethics degrees are attuned to the knowledge and skills students will need as they transition to professional positions, especially where this training substantially differs from more traditional doctoral degree tracks. Yet, even given this need, there is nothing in the professional literature regarding doctoral bioethics graduates’ perspectives or the overall efficacy of a bioethics doctorate as compared to more traditional doctoral degree tracks for future professional bioethicists. This paper then gives the perspective of five recent doctoral bioethics graduates on the utility of a bioethics doctorate and areas where the doctorate prepared or underprepared them in their roles as early-career professional bioethicists.
KeywordsBioethics Graduate Doctorate Education Ethics Healthcare ethics
The basic thesis of this article was presented in a panel discussion at the 20th Annual Conference of the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities.
1 We are focusing on doctoral programs whose primary subject area is bioethics/healthcare ethics and who have curriculum components aimed at attaining clinical experience and/or skills rather than doctoral programs that are situated in a more traditional discipline – such as philosophy, theology, health policy, etc. – and have designated tracks or concentrations in ethics/bioethics. Specifically, there are four main doctoral programs at four different American institutes of higher education that will be the focuses of this paper: the doctoral bioethics programs at Albany Medical College, Duquesne University, Loyola University Chicago, and Saint Louis University.
2 It is important to note that while we are all graduates of the same doctoral bioethics program, we are not advocating for one program over another, per se. Rather, we are relying on our experiences as early-career professional bioethicists who have completed a doctoral bioethics program to guide us as we consider the strengths and weaknesses that we see in the overall field of doctoral bioethics education.
3 While the first motivation is likely to be a motivation of virtually all doctoral bioethics students, we acknowledge that not every doctoral bioethics student will desire to have a clinically-oriented career, as many students might desire to be academics who specialize in bioethics. However, we do not believe that this should affect the utility of our recommendations to programs, as academics can still greatly benefit from increased clinical experience and knowledge of how bioethics functions in the “real world” of American healthcare. Further, students who desire to be academics specializing in bioethics would be following an academics track, which would not necessarily be affected in any substantial way by our recommendations for more student opportunities for clinical experience in these programs. We also acknowledge that these two listed motivations are not exhaustive of all possible motivations for pursuing a bioethics doctorate, and there are likely other supporting motivations that also play a role in this decision.
4 And even for medical students and other clinical doctoral degree tracks, clinical experience from a clinical ethics perspective is usually not available as a rotation option.
5 That said, we still do see value in having at least some clinical experience ingrained into the academic track, as this type of clinical experience can greatly inform an academic bioethicist’s perspective.
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