Clinical Ethicist

Health specialists confront ethical situations daily, which typically are not as controversial as stem cell research, cloning, and assisted suicide. They often deal with the following scenarios:

  • Multiple patients enter an emergency room simultaneously and only a single physician is available. Who should be treated first?
  • A patient suffering with cancer requests an experimental treatment. Should an insurance company pick up the costs?
  • The parents of a minor request a risky surgical procedure that likely will not help the patient. Should a surgeon agree to administer the surgery?

Health specialists typically base decisions on established ethics and policies, but medical ethics is usually not black and white. Polices change when medical resources are limited, perceptions about patients' rights change, and patients' privacy is breeched.

As medical technology changes, new questions regarding treatment, costs, and medical treatment are evaluated by clinical ethicists. Pharmaceutical and insurance companies, government agencies, and hospitals rely on clinical ethicists.

Working Conditions

Most clinical ethics are trained in social science, public health, law, theology, philosophy, nursing, or medicine. Many clinical ethicists are licensed medical doctors.

Hospitals typically place clinical ethicists on ethics committees with nurses, administrators, and doctors. When important decisions about patient care are made, review committees are often responsible for reviewing cases and making decisions.

Clinical ethics are employed at nonprofit groups specializing in public health, government agencies, medical schools, colleges and universities, and hospitals. They also consult with pharmaceutical companies to ensure research does not violate medical ethics.

Career Training and Education

Traditionally, medical ethics has been linked with philosophy and theology. Many colleges and universities now offer degree programs in biomedical and clinical ethics. Many clinical ethicists begin their careers as healthcare administrators, nurses, and doctors.

Clinical ethicists often collaborate with doctors responsible for determining whether patients should receive medical treatment. As a result, they must be able to communicate and debate effectively and handle the fallout from their decisions.

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