Medical Ethicists


Employment Prospects


Approximately 23,100 philosophy and religious teachers, and 199,480 health specialties teachers are employed in the United States. Most medical ethicists are employed by academic institutions and university-related medical centers. Typically, they teach at medical and nursing schools, colleges, universities, seminaries, and divinity schools. They often do consulting at university-related and/or local health care facilities as part of a hospital ethics committee or institutional review board. For most, ethical consulting is part of their academic jobs, but some maintain private consulting practices along with their teaching positions. A new and growing trend in the field of medical ethics is to become a full-time private entrepreneur with a client pool made up of various local hospitals and health care agencies. New policies requiring all hospitals to have ethics committees has created a demand for these independent ethics professionals.

Other medical ethicists, generally those who are more interested in research and policy development than in direct involvement with the clinical aspects, work for federal agencies. For example, medical ethicists are employed by the U.S. Department of Energy for its radiation-exposure study. Other federal government employers include the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration.

Medical ethicists also work for the National Institutes of Health's National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). The Ethical, Legal, and Social Implications Research Program of the NHGRI considers ethical dilemmas presented by new genetic knowledge.

State agencies usually do not hire medical ethicists for full-time positions, but this may change in the near future. There are also employment opportunities for medical ethicists at private agencies, institutes, and foundations, such as the Rockefeller Foundation or the Lilly Foundation.

Starting Out

Medical ethicists learn about job openings through personal contacts, professional journals, and listings published by professional organizations. Students looking for their first professional position in medical ethics should turn to their graduate school professors, especially their dissertation committee members, for advice on current job openings.

Advancement Prospects

Medical ethicists in academic institutions advance by being promoted from assistant professor to associate professor to full professor. Advancement is measured by professional achievement, such as success in teaching, research, writing, and/or consulting work. Some medical ethicists become directors of major research projects or of centers for ethical study in university settings, government agencies, or private foundations. Advancement for consultants in private practice is gauged by increased reputation and a larger client base.

Tips for Entry

Read publications such as the Journal of Medical Ethics (https://jme.bmj.com) and The American Journal of Bioethics (http://www.bioethics.net) to learn more about trends in the industry and potential employers.

Visit the following Web sites for job listings:

  • https://careers.primr.org
  • http://www.bioethics.net/jobs
  • https://asbh.org/professional-development/career-opportunities
  • https://www.thehastingscenter.org/publications-resources/bioethics-careers-education/jobs-fellowships

Conduct information interviews with medical ethicists and ask them for advice on preparing for and entering the field.