Clinical Ethicist - Job Description, Duties, Education, Skills, Salary, & Growth

Clinical Ethicist

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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.



Salary Outlook