Medical College of Wisconsin
Traditional Master of Arts in Bioethics Program

The traditional Master of Arts in Bioethics program provides advanced training for professionals, academics, and other interested individuals in health care, law, the humanities, and public policy who wish to become prepared for teaching, research, policy development, and clinical consultation work related to bioethics. The program provides students an opportunity for on-campus study and research of current and emerging issues through a combination of didactic, clinical, and research activities. The core curriculum of the program provides a solid foundation in the language and literature of bioethics and develops related critical thinking skills. Students may create an area of emphasis through the selection of appropriate elective courses and the thesis topic. The program allows for full-time or part-time study in order to accommodate the needs of working professionals.

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  Program Description

The bioethics Master's program has three main components, all of which are required in order to earn the MA degree:

Core Curriculum
The core curriculum consists of three required courses (nine credits) in philosophical bioethics, clinical topics in bioethics, and issues in law and bioethics.

Clinical Bioethics Experience
The clinical bioethics experience requirement can be satisfied either through proven professional experience in clinical ethics committees and consultation or through taking a one-credit course on clinical ethics committees and consultation.

Thesis or Final Paper
Students can choose either to write the Master's Thesis (six credits) or can opt to complete an additional six credits of course work and write a final paper of publishable quality.

The first year of the program is devoted to the completion of the required and elective courses. Once the core curriculum has been completed, each student will complete a written Comprehensive Examination. When all of the course credit requirements have been met, and the final paper or thesis project submitted, the program will be completed by means of an oral defense of the paper or thesis.

  Requirements for the Traditional MA Degree

All students in the program are required to complete a total of at least 30 credits. Of these 30 credits, at least 24 credits must consist of course credits and the remaining 6 credits are either Master's Thesis credits or additional course credits for those students who choose the final paper option. Of the course credits, students must take 9 required credits (3 courses). Students who cannot satisfy the clinical bioethics experience requirement through proven professional experience must take one additional required credit (1 course). The remaining course credit hours are made up of elective courses of the student's choosing, selected with the guidance of the program and with consideration of the individual's area of emphasis, if any.

Students in the program are also required to pass a written comprehensive examination after completing the core curriculum and before completing the final six credits of the program. This examination is designed to challenge the student's ability to critically analyze selected bioethical issues in depth. The core curriculum of the program forms the basis for the examination. The exam is prepared and evaluated by the program's examination committee, consisting of the program director and no fewer than two other program faculty.

Students choose to write either a traditional Master's Thesis or a Final Paper. Students choosing the Thesis will earn six credits for their Thesis work. Students choosing the Final Paper must complete six additional course credits in lieu of the Master's Thesis credits in addition to writing a paper of publishable quality. When all of the course credit requirements have been met, and the Master's Thesis or Final Paper submitted, the program will be completed by means of a successful defense of the Master's Thesis or of the Final Paper.

  Sample Curriculum

The traditional MA program requires at least one year of study on the campus of the Medical College of Wisconsin. Arrangements can be made to pursue the thesis at a variety of locales.


Philosophical Bioethics (3 credits)
Clinical Topics in Bioethics (3 credits)
Electives (3-6 credits)

Law and Bioethics (3 credits)
Electives (6-9 credits)
Bioethics Consultation and Committees (1 credit; if necessary)

Electives (0-6 credits)
Comprehensive Examination


Master's Thesis or Elective Course (3 credits)

Master's Thesis or Elective Course and Final Paper (3 credits)

Classes usually meet during the day on Tuesday, Wednesday, and/or Thursday. Every attempt will be made to accommodate the professional and personal demands of students. Not all scheduling needs can be met, however, and certain courses have limited scheduling flexibility. Students may wish to consider part-time status or the Executive-Style MA program in order to balance academic, professional, and personal demands. Sample three- and four-year curricula are available under the Executive-Style MA program section.

  Course Descriptions

Core Curriculum (Required) Courses

Clinical Topics in Bioethics, Bioethics 10209 (3 credits)
This is a survey course covering various contemporary topics in bioethics, focusing on issues encountered in clinical practice. Areas to be studied include end-of-life decision making, the family in medical decision making, issues in clinical research, euthanasia, and pediatric issues.

Philosophical Bioethics, Bioethics 10210 (3 credits)
This course provides the critical basis for the ethical analysis of biomedical issues. It consists of lectures, seminar presentations, and class discussion of the foundations of moral philosophy, including the concept of morality, moral relativism, classical ethical theories, contemporary methods in bioethics, rights, justice, and the justification of moral beliefs.

Law and Bioethics, Bioethics 10223 (3 credits)
This course provides an introduction to legal principles and legal precedent relevant to issues in bioethics, aimed at providing the foundation for understanding relevant law concerning these issues.

If necessary:
Bioethics Consultation and Committees, Bioethics 10231 (1 credit)
Through attendance at ethics committee meetings and ethics consultations, this course will familiarize students with both the theoretical and practical aspects of institutional and consultative ethics.

Elective Courses

Clinical Bioethics I, Bioethics 10200 (3 credits)
This course provides an introduction to medical ethics in the clinical setting. It consists of regular rounds with a medical or surgical team in selected hospital treatment areas, plus discuss and analysis of issues encountered. Enrollment limited.

Medical Ethics, Bioethics 10201 (3 credits)
This course provides an important foundation for the study of bioethics, focusing on the principles of bioethics and some salient legal and clinical cases. The format includes lectures, followed by small group case-based discussions. In the second year, graduate students are able to act as small group discussion leaders for this course, gaining valuable experience in the teaching of bioethics.

Clinical Bioethics II, Bioethics 10202 (3 credits)
This course provides in-depth exposure to medical ethics in the clinical setting by focusing on only one or two clinical treatment areas. It builds upon the foundation established in the Clinical Bioethics I course.

Justice and Healthcare, Bioethics 10203 (3 credits)
This course addresses some of the critical issues of bioethics as the principle and concept of justice relates to them. Topics include the concept of justice as it relates to health and health care, rationing, the form and substance of a national health policy, and managed care. The format of the course will consist of seminar presentations and class discussion.

Physician Conduct: Ethics and the Law, Bioethics 10206 (3 credits)
This course explores the legal and ethical issues impacting physician conduct, regulation, and professionalism. This course provides students with a general overview of the various factors that influence physician conduct and regulation, such as codes of ethics, licensing requirements, the court system, and ethics mechanisms such as ethics committees and institutional review boards.

Introduction to Research Ethics 10207 (3 credits)
This course will provide students with a comprehensive introduction to the ethical issues involved in scientific, animal, and human subjects research. After a brief look back at the history of research ethics, students will spend time considering issues that impact research in both the laboratory setting and in the clinical setting. This course provides the necessary research ethics instruction required to satisfy the United States Public Health Service Policy on Instruction in the Responsible Conduct of Research for institutions receiving research funds from the Department of Health and Human Services (issued December 1, 2000).

Ethics Beyond the Acute Care Setting, Bioethics 10211 (3 credits)
The course examines ethical issues in rehabilitation care, psychiatric care, hospice, long-term care, dental care and other settings. The focus is on developing a framework and language in which to discuss and analyze moral problems in these settings. The relevance of the four-principles approach and the adequacy of the doctrine of informed for these venues is explored. Care settings to be covered can vary with student interests.

Critical Approaches to Bioethics, Bioethics 10220 (3 credits)
This course builds upon the first semester course, Philosophical Bioethics. Various alternative approaches in ethics and biomedical ethics will be explored in order to provide a broad understanding of the range of critical social and philosophical thought on biomedical issues.

Ethics and Integrity in Science, Bioethics 10222A (2 credits) or 10222B (1 credit)
This course provides the basis for understanding the ethical issues related to basic scientific and medical research, including animal and human subject research, fraud and misconduct, and governmental, institutional, and researcher responsibilities.

Religion and Bioethics, Bioethics 10225 (3 credits)
This course will examine the diverse range of religious resources that are pertinent to the field of bioethics. Students will explore topics in bioethics, such as euthanasia, abortion and informed consent, from the perspective of religious traditions.

Regulatory Issues in Human Subject Research Protections – Bioethics 10226 (3 credits)
There is no question that the fruits of research have fueled medical progress. Yet, the history of research involving human subjects is not unblemished. Federal regulations, based on ethical principles set forth in the Belmont Report, now govern much of the research undertaken in the United States. In this course, we will explore the history and substance of research regulations in the United States, the application of the regulations to specific research issues, and situations where the regulations do not provide clear guidance. Prerequisites: Bioethics 10207 or sufficient practical experience in research ethics as determined by the course instructor.

Current Topics in Research Ethics – Bioethics 10228 (3 credits)
Rapidly evolving scientific and technologic capabilities in medicine combined with an ever-increasing demand to translate these scientific developments to the bedside presents new challenges to regulating human subjects research. This course seeks to keep pace with many of these new and emerging challenges, providing students an opportunity to critically examine the ethical and legal implications of these topics. Specific topics for analysis will be drawn from the current medical literature, popular press, and evolving policy guidance. Prerequisites: Bioethics 10207 or sufficient practical experience in research ethics as determined by the course instructor.

Issues in Pediatric Ethics, Bioethics 10233 (3 credits)
This course is an advanced elective in pediatric ethics. The course will discuss the question of children's rights, the social value of children and cross-cultural issues of childhood. The objective of the course is to examine our individual assumptions about childhood and parenting that form the basis of approaches to pediatric ethics.

Ethics and Human Reproduction, Bioethics 10234 (3 credits)
This course will provide an opportunity for students to explore some of the ethical issues related to human reproduction, including assisted reproductive technologies, cryopreservation, genetics, and cloning. Students will also examine the various religious and philosophical arguments, as well as international perspectives, surrounding issues of human reproduction.

History and Meaning of Ethics and Professionalism in Medicine, Bioethics 10240 (3 credits)
Medical ethics and professionalism have meant many things to many people for literally thousands of years. This course explores in depth the history and meanings of medical ethics and medical professionalism from ancient times through contemporary challenges.

Special Topics in Bioethics, Bioethics 10275 (3 credits)
This course focuses on topics of special interest in bioethics. Examples of topics include organ donation and transplantation, autonomy and coercion, mental health care, and political issues in bioethics.

Teaching Medical Ethics, Bioethics 10291 (3 credits)
This course will develop the theoretical foundation and practical application of educating students in medical ethics, including systematic design of instruction, utilizing needs assessments, and the various methods of instruction. Includes a practicum in application of methods of small group instruction.

Reading and Research, Bioethics 10295 (1-4 credits)
This independent study course is available for all Master's degree-seeking students, and awards credit for pursuing background reading and new research in areas of particular student interest.

Masters Consultation, Bioethics 10297 (1 credit Summer, 2 credits Fall, Spring)
This course will familiarize and train students in the theoretical and practical aspects of ethics consultation through a seminar, supervised practical experience in doing ethics consultations, and writing summaries and reporting these consultations at monthly ethics committee meetings. The goal of this course is to prepare the student to meet the evolving national certification qualifications for clinical ethics consultation.

Bioethics Journal Club, Bioethics 10298 (1 credit)
The journal club is a student and faculty forum for the discussion of a variety of current and emerging issues in bioethics. The informal setting allows for open discussion and debate.

Master's Thesis , Bioethics 10299 (6 credits total)
All degree-seeking students are required to undertake and complete a project culminating in a Master's Thesis. This project is directed by a member of the program faculty. Scholarly, qualitative, quantitative, and pedagogical projects are acceptable, with the approval of each student's faculty advisor and thesis committee.

  Areas of Emphasis

The core curriculum of the MA program is designed to establish a general level of knowledge in all areas of bioethics, with the student then deepening exposure to a wide variety of other areas through the selection of appropriate electives and the thesis topic. The purpose of the areas of emphasis is to allow students to specialize in an area of bioethics that is of particular personal interest or professional importance. The areas of emphasis described below serve as illustrations. Students are welcome to suggest other areas of emphasis such as institutional ethics or research ethics, with the approval and guidance of the Director of Graduate Studies.

The clinical bioethics emphasis focuses on the academic background and clinical training necessary to develop skills in clinical ethics, both at the bedside and within institutional ethics committees. This area is likely to be of interest to health care professionals, although other interested individuals with sufficient medical background may also select it.

The legal bioethics emphasis focuses on the issues of intersection between the law and bioethics. In addition to grounding in the fundamental concepts of bioethics, students in this area examine what U.S. law has done and can do in the area of bioethics. This area is viewed as appealing primarily to attorneys and others involved in the study or practice of law, but also may be of interest to legislators, legislative staff, policy analysts, and other policy-oriented professionals.

The humanities emphasis focuses on the relationship between theory and practice. Students interested in this area study the major innovations that contemporary bioethicists have made in ethical theory. Students who focus in this area often pursue further study in philosophy, literature, medical humanities, or cultural studies and take an academic career path.

  Applying to the Traditional MA Program

Individuals interested in the MA degree program must apply through the Medical College of Wisconsin’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. The application process consists of: (1) complete and submit the online application form with a $50 application fee; (2) provide official transcripts from all previously attended undergraduate, graduate, and professional schools directly to the Graduate School; (3) provide an official test score report for the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) directly to the Graduate School; and (4) provide letters of recommendation with recommendation forms from at least three references who can comment on the applicant’s ability to succeed in the program. Applicants with an earned PhD, MD or JD may seek a waiver from the Dean of the Graduate School for the GRE score requirement. MCAT or LSAT scores may be submitted in lieu of GRE scores.

Criteria for admission include academic training, professional experience, undergraduate and, if applicable, graduate or professional school grades, commitment to the field of bioethics, and promise in the program’s academic areas. In addition, applicants to the degree program are expected to meet the technical standards for admission as defined by the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. The technical standards are described on the Graduate School’s website. The academic guidelines for admission include an overall undergraduate grade point average of “B” (3.0 on a 4.0 scale) and an average score on the GRE of 60% or greater.

All applications are reviewed by the Bioethics Program’s Graduate Admissions Committee. The outcome of the committee review is forwarded to the Dean as a recommendation for admission or rejection. The Admissions Committee is comprised of the Director of Graduate Studies and at least two other members of the program’s graduate faculty. Final action on each application is carried out by the Dean, who signs all letters of acceptance or rejection on behalf of the academic program and MCW.

Application deadlines are July 1 for Fall admission, November 1 for Spring admission, and April 1 for Summer admission.

A link to the online application form and more information on applying to the program can be found on the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences' website. More information can also be obtained by contacting the Graduate School by phone at (414) 955-8218.

FAQs about the Traditional MA in Bioethics Program

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  Who can enroll in the program?

The program is open to anyone interested in bioethics who holds at least a bachelor's degree.

  What are my career options with a Master's degree in bioethics?

The answer is, it depends. While some have had great success with only a Master's degree in bioethics, we do not recommend that a student view a Master's degree in bioethics as a "stand-alone" degree. The recent trend in most employment arenas for bioethics has been decidedly favorable for those with another degree or degrees in addition to the MA. Thus, we see the MA in bioethics as a "value-added" degree, which means it is a wonderful opportunity for those who already possess an advanced degree (or who plan to obtain one) to broaden their career options. So, what you can do with an MA in bioethics depends largely on you.

Some of our graduates serve on ethics committees at their home institutions, provide ethics consultation or education services, either as independent contractors or in their respective institutions, have pursued academic careers...the list goes on. Please feel free to contact us regarding your personal interests.

  Is the program accredited?

The bioethics Master of Arts program is a program in the Medical College of Wisconsin's Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences. The Medical College of Wisconsin's Graduate School is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Institutions of Higher Education, 30 N. LaSalle St., Suite 2400, Chicago, IL 60602-2504, (800) 621-7440.

  Do I have to take the GRE?

Applicants with a PhD, MD, or JD degree from an accredited institution do not have to submit GRE, or any other graduate admissions test, scores. A waiver of the test score requirement may be requested at the time of application.

Applicants without an advanced degree need to submit official test scores. While GRE scores are preferred, LSAT or MCAT scores may be submitted in lieu of GRE scores.

  How long will it take for me to complete the program?

The traditional MA program can be completed in as little as 1 ½ calendar years, or one academic year plus one semester. The Graduate School requires that the program be completed in a maximum of 4 calendar years.

  Can I transfer graduate credits that I took at another institution into the MA program at MCW?

The program may allow for the transfer of up to 10 credits into the MA program. Transfer of credits is dependent upon the course content, the number of credits received, and the grade earned by the student. Transfer of credit will be determined only after admission to the program has been awarded.

  What is the cost of tuition?

Tuition for the 2014-2015 academic year is $765 per credit. More information on tuition and fees can be found on the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences' website.

  When is the application deadline?

Application deadlines are July 1 for Fall admission, November 1 for Spring admission, and April 1 for Summer admission.

Contact Us

For additional questions, please contact Kristen Tym, Program Manager, by email or phone at (414) 955-4299.



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