Clinical Ethicist - How to Become a Clinical Ethicist

Clinical Ethicist

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Clinical Ethicist Job Description


A clinical ethicist is someone who helps health care professional address ethical issues and answer morally unclear questions on a daily basis. These may include questions that are as simple as deciding which patient among a group of two should be prioritized when there is only one doctor in the emergency room or as controversial as ones dealing with assisted suicide or stem cell research.

There are usually no right or wrong answers in the world of health care. The answers that are given or the choices that are made are based on policies that are in accordance to the current standards in biomedical ethics that are set by clinical ethicists. Standards vary depending on the patient’s quality of life, rights, privacy, death and availability of health care resources.

Clinical ethicists must have the ability to clearly communicate their views and remain calm during emotional and heated debates.




Clinical ethicists are required to make the hard decisions in health care regarding everything from experimental treatments to insurance claims to assisted suicide. Some sit on a institutional ethics committee (IEC) or an institutional review board (IRB), most of which consist of health care professionals like doctors and nurses.

IECs create ethics policies for their facilities and sometimes consult directly on patient cases, while IRBs work with medical research projects by directly regulating and consulting. It's their job to ensure that the proper ethical protocols are in place and well maintained.




Sharp reasoning skills are a must for this position. Clinical ethicists are required to look at issues from all angles, and try to understand the position of each. They should be capable of recognizing and discussing moral conflicts, understanding the perspectives of all involves parties, and formulating and justifying morally acceptable solutions to conflicts.

Other skills that lead to success for clinical ethicists include the ability to reduce uncertainty and build a consensus, to facilitate meetings and keep records, and work with a team. Active listening and highly developed communication skills are desirable as crafting a strong argument is fundamental to the job.


Working Conditions


Clinical ethicists are required to serve in hospitals, academic institutions, medical research centers, insurance companies, federal agencies and physician group practices.

These ethicists can work as teachers in educational institutions or advisors in the pharmaceutical industry to ensure that medical research and product development are being carried out within the framework of current standards of biomedical ethics.

Working nurses or physicians can serve the role of clinical ethicists as well.



How to Become a Clinical Ethicist:


1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree (4 Years)


Most clinical ethicists come from a interdisciplinary background including clinical experience and education in religious studies, philosophy, law, or theology. Although some universities have begun offering undergraduate bioethics degrees, many still do not, so it's important to consult with an academic adviser. They can assist with creating a curriculum that will best meet the needs of an aspiring clinical ethicist.


The preparation timeline below outlines the suggested courses:


Grade Level Example Courses

Freshman Year


  • General Chemistry I & Lab
  • General Chemistry II & Lab
  • College Algebra & Statistics
  • Introduction to Kinesiology
  • English 101
  • English 102
  • Humanities Requirement
  • Social Science Requirement

Sophomore Year

  • Statistics 
  • Human Anatomy & Physiology I
  • Human Anatomy & Physiology II
  • Emergency Medical Response
  • Applied Kinesiology
  • Athletic Care & Prevention
  • Social Science Requirement

Junior Year


  • Nutrition for Athletes
  • Exercise Physiology
  • Lower Body Injury Evaluation
  • Athletic Training Clinical I & II
  • Exercise Testing
  • Upper Body Injury Evaluation
  • Therapeutic Exercise Foundations

Senior Year

  • Therapeutic Exercise Techniques
  • Pharmacology
  • Biomechanics
  • Foundations of Physical Conditioning
  • Athletic Training Clinical III & IV
  • Remaining Electives


However, if you wish to become a registered nurse, physician, or health administrator, positions in clinical ethics will also be available to you without further qualifications. Attorneys specializing in health law may also pursue a position as a clinical ethicist.


 2. Take the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) or GRE (Graduate Requisite Exam) or LSAT (Law School Admission Test)


Different universities or programs will require different exams for entry. To be admitted into medical school, candidates must first take the MCAT, or Medical College Admission Test, a 7.5 hour, standardized, multiple choice exam used to assess the applicant's knowledge of science, reasoning, communication, and writing skills.


The MCAT is divided into four sections:


Biological & Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests biology, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and biochemistry
Chemical & Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests biochemistry, biology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics

Psychological, Social, & Biological Foundations of Behavior

  • 59 multiple-choice questions
  • 95 minutes
  • Tests introductory psychology, sociology, and biology
Critical Analysis & Reasoning Skills
  • 53 multiple-choice questions
  • 90 minutes
  • Tests reading comprehension, humanities, and social sciences


You can find study materials, MCAT registration, and your test scores on the AAMC website here.


The GRE is a 6-section, 4-hour comprehensive exam that is broken down as following:


1 Analytical Writing Section
  • 2 writing assignments
  • 60 minutes
  • Tests student's abilities to assess arguments and communicate ideas
2 Quantitative Reasoning Sections
  • ~20 multiple-choice questions
  • 35 minutes per section
  • Tests student's abilities to solve mathematical problems and interpret data

2 Verbal Reasoning Sections

  • ~20 questions per section
  • 30 minutes per section
  • Tests the ability to understand and analyze written material
1 Unscored Section
  • A duplicate of one of the above sections


You can find study materials, GRE registration, and your test scores on the GRE website.


The LSAT is a 5-section, 5-hour comprehensive exam that is broken down as following:


2 Logical Reasoning Sections
  • 25 multiple choice questions each
  • 35 minutes per section
  • Tests ability to determine main points of arguments, apply logic, find relevant information, and analyze arguments
1 Analytical Reasoning Section
  • 25 multiple choice questions
  • 35 minutes
  • Tests ability to draw inferences, understand effects of rules on outcomes, determine relationships, and apply logic

1 Reading Comprehension Section

  • 27 questions
  • 35 minutes
  • 4 long passages
  • Tests ability to determine main ideas, find information, and to understand dense texts
1 Essay Section
  • Tests ability to build an argument based on given facts and use English to express ideas


You can find study materials, LSAT registration, and your test scores on the LSAT website.


If you are unsatisfied with your score on any of the aforementioned exams, you are free to retake them. Depending on the school, some will average your scores and others will simply take your most recent.


3. Complete Graduate School (2 - 7 Years)


Clinical ethics has become a more widely sought after program in recent years, as universities are following suit by offering graduate programs in bioethics and other related field.

Students may choose to pursue a master's or Ph.D. in bioethics, or a J.D. specializing in health law. Those wanting to go further into the medical field, but leave clinical ethicist on the table as a possible option, may want to pursue medical school in another profession. There are many avenues to becoming a bioethicist, so choosing the path for you may be the most difficult aspect.


Salary Outlook