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An ethicist provides input on medical policies and procedures that may be affected by prevailing, new or emerging moral and ethical interpretations. She may be required to provide her opinions and share her insights with doctors, clinicians, patients, or families. Her job may be as an independent consultant or she may work for a clinic, research facility or hospital.
Understanding logic and how it interacts with emotions, beliefs and moral standards is imperative for an ethicist. She must be able to listen to and comprehend a variety of opinions based on a myriad of logical and philosophical approaches and fairly assess them. Exemplary analytical skills are required to objectively assess and apply a wide range of ethical issues and concerns.
When a medical or clinical procedure or scenario involves emerging and frequently contentious methods and applications like cloning, stem cell research, assisted suicide or euthanasia, an ethicist is frequently asked to provide input. She is expected to impart unbiased interpretations of these technologies and choices to help medical professionals and families make informed decisions on patient treatment options. Her analysis and input are aimed at preventing malpractice claims and making people feel confident and informed in their decisions.
Most ethicists work in secure and private offices or conference rooms designed to provide the utmost confidentiality for highly sensitive discussions with physicians, patients and families. If she is an independent contractor, she may be required to travel to different facilities or she may conduct discussions in her office. Medical facilities that have ethicists on staff normally provide a private office for them. Work hours are normally erratic and may include evening and weekend appointments. Professional business attire is generally expected for this position.
A degree in bioethics, medical law or medical ethics is required for this position. Depending on the employer and the scope of responsibilities, the requisite degree may be a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree. Lawyers with specialization in health law can become ethicists through expanding their education to include a degree in bioethics or medical ethics.
Salary and Advancement Opportunities
Ethicists may begin their careers with smaller organizations and aspire to positions with higher salaries and increased responsibilities after they have gained experience and built a good reputation within the medical community. Since the topics with which ethicists deal are relatively new to the medical genre, career growth potential may increase with time. According to salary.com, the median annual salary for an ethicist working in the United States in 2009 was $65,740.
Cassie Damewood has been a writer and editor since 1985. She writes about food and cooking for various websites, including My Great Recipes, and serves as the copy editor for "Food Loves Beer" magazine. Damewood completed a Bachelor of Arts in English with an emphasis in creative writing at Miami University.