Saint Louis University began offering a PhD in Health Care Ethics in 1996. Since then, the program has awarded 18 doctoral degrees and there are 31 students currently enrolled in the program. The PhD program continues to enable students to specialize in many different areas of health care ethics, and our students and graduates have been employed in academia and in both the corporate and clinical health care settings.
The Albert Gnaegi Center for Health Care Ethics offers not only the PhD degree but three dual degree programs in collaboration with the School of Law (JD/PhD), the School of Medicine (MD/PhD) and the Aquinas Institute of Theology (MA Theology/PhD); one Certificate program for PhD students (Certificate of Empirical Research Methods in Bioethics); and two Concentrations (Health Care Ethics in the Catholic Tradition and Research Ethics). These special programs foster disciplinary diversity among our doctoral students, which enriches the educational experiences of all students and enables students to develop areas of expertise that will allow them to pursue different career paths.
The MD/PhD program prepares physician-ethicists for careers in academic medicine. Nathaniel Brown, who will return to medical school next year after defending his dissertation in Health Care Ethics, observes that the dual degree program has allowed him to pursue two connected but different interest.
"Medicine is an intense but practical discipline, which leaves me thirsty for more theoretical reflections," says Brown. "My interest in ethics is fervently theoretical, though this sometimes leaves me wishing for more hands-on work. Studying ethics as part of the MD/PhD program lets me pursue both these loves of practice and theory. It is a natural integration of the sciences and humanities, and this combination will make for a fruitful career."
The JD/PhD is a collaboration between the Albert Gnaegi Center for Health Care Ethics and the Law School's top-ranked health law program. JD/PhD students ordinarily begin integrating PhD courses into their law curriculum during the second year of law school and complete the PhD after earning the JD degree. Shane Levesque, who earned the JD in May and now is working full-time on the PhD, plans to pursue a career in academic bioethics and health law.
Of his decision to pursue the dual degree, Levesque says, "While in law school, it became apparent that the full pursuit of my interests would require an academic experience that concentrated on the socio-political, ethical, and theoretical underpinnings of modern bioethics. The joint JD/PhD program offered me not only that, but also an opportunity for mentorship, professional development and rigorous academic inquiry that will someday put me on the forefront of my academic career."
In the fall of 2008, the Department worked with the Aquinas Institute of Theology (AIT) to develop a dual degree program that would enable students to pursue the MA in Theology at AIT, an institution known for its strong moral theology training, with the PhD in Health Care Ethics.
Elliott Bedford, the first student to enroll in the MA/PhD program, observes that "For someone interested in Catholic health care ethics there is no better opportunity than the dual degree program. It is imperative for those working in Catholic health care to know and clearly articulate the theology and tradition that underlie Catholic health care practices today. The MA in theology from Aquinas endows students with a knowledge of the Catholic faith tradition that is both necessary in the working world and formational in one's personal life. The combination of a PhD in Health Care Ethics and a MA in Theology that is being offered is uniquely advantageous opportunity for anyone interested in ethics in Catholic Health Care."
Students enrolled in the MA/PhD program and those who already hold a Masters in Theology or Religious Studies may also pursue the Concentration in Health Care Ethics in the Catholic Tradition. The MA/PhD and the Concentration are designed especially for students who wish to pursue careers in Catholic health care.
Holly Phernetton, a student who holds a Masters in Public Health and is enrolled in the Certificate in Empirical Research Methods in Bioethics program, says that "The Certificate program provides students the opportunity to develop skills for how to design, conduct, and evaluate research. Empirical research is instrumental for investigating questions in biomedical ethics. Empirical research skills coupled with normative ethics aptly prepares the student pursuing a career in bioethical research."
Students who graduate with the Certificate are particularly well-prepared to compete for research funding.
The Concentration in Research Ethics was established in 2007 in response to the growing interest in and attention to human subjects research within bioethics. Students enrolled in the Concentration pursue specialized training in the area of human subjects research ethics. Christine Gorka, a student enrolled in the Concentration, notes the importance of a strong background in and understanding of research ethics for ethicists in the clinical and corporate health care settings.
"Considerations of research ethics in health care are important," Gorka says. "Sometimes researchers are so close to their work that they lack the distance needed to spot the ethical minefields. Institutional Review Boards sometimes can get bogged down in specific regulatory concerns such as informed consent or risk assessment. While these things are undoubtedly important, there are many ethical considerations that often times are ignored because researchers or IRB members lack the knowledge to identify the issues. Ethicists trained in research ethics can help identify ethics hotspots that others overlook. Ethicists can serve a valuable role by ensuring that the right things get considered."