Saint Louis University

PhD Program: Curriculum


Health Care Ethics PhDPhD Curriculum

The PhD program presents an integrated, interdisciplinary curriculum in bioethics that prepares students to work as scholars, clinicians, and corporate ethicists. Students may tailor aspects of their coursework and their dissertation research to focus on biotechnological, clinical, organizational, or research ethics. Students pursuing the JD/PhD, the MD/PhD or the MA/PhD follow a modified curriculum. Students entering the PhD program from baccalaureate studies pursue additional coursework as described below.


Students who have completed a Masters degree or another advanced degree (e.g., a JD or MD) complete 48 hours of coursework as described in this section. Students entering the PhD program directly from baccalaureate studies complete an additional 12 credit hours of coursework, as described at the bottom of this page. Students pursuing the JD/PhD, MD/PhD or the MA/PhD complete a modified version of the Masters-level PhD program curriculum described here.

Students register for courses in five areas: Foundations, Context of Health Care, Topics and Scholars, Practica, and Dissertation Research.

  • Foundations of Health Care Ethics (12 hours)
    The Foundations courses establish the research competencies required for the scholarly analysis of health care ethics. These courses examine philosophical (HCE-6010), religious (HCE-6020), and interdisciplinary (HCE-6040) methods in health care ethics. Additionally, students are required to complete 1 of the following 3 foundations courses: (HCE-6050) Philosophical Foundations in Ethics, (HCE-6060) Psychosocial Foundations in Ethics, (HCE-6070) Foundations of Catholic Morality.
  • Context of Health Care (12 hours)
    Five Context courses are required: Medicine for Ethicists (HCE-6110; 1 credit), Bioethics and the Law (HCE-6120; 2 credits), Clinical Ethics (HCE-6130), Research Ethics (HCE-6140), and Practicum (HCE-6150). These courses provide practical knowledge and skills relevant to the various real world contexts of health care ethics.
  • Topics and Scholars in Health Care Ethics (12 hours)
    Students will complete 12 credit hours of Topics and Scholars courses. Preferably some electives will be in areas related to a student's anticipated dissertation research.
  • Dissertation Research (12 hours)
    After passing the comprehensive examinations, students prepare a dissertation proposal and write a dissertation while registered for 12 credit hours of dissertation research (HCE-6990).
Additional requirements in the curriculum include the following:
  • Research Tools
    These competencies are essential for success in bioethics. Students may develop these competencies through different mechanisms:
    • Competency in medical terminology
    • Competency in library database skills
    • Competency in reading statistics and study design
  • Comprehensive Examinations
    The comprehensive examinations occur after completing all course work and practica.
  • Dissertation Proposal
    After passing the oral and written comprehensive examinations, students prepare a formal dissertation proposal. The dissertation proposal is a distinct requirement of the program and it must be approved in writing by all members of the dissertation committee and accepted by Graduate Education. In their dissertation proposals, PhD candidates must present substantial evidence of their ability to extend the knowledge base in the major field and demonstrate how the research competencies in the program are to be integrated with the proposed research of the dissertation.
  • Oral Defense of the Dissertation
    Upon completion of the dissertation, students publicly present and defend their dissertation before their dissertation committee, Center faculty and doctoral students.
Additional Coursework Requirement for Students Entering Directly from Baccalaureate Studies

Students entering the PhD Program directly from baccalaureate studies additionally complete 12 hours of coursework:

  • HCE-6050: Philosophical Foundations of Ethics; or an equivalent 3-credit hour graduate-level foundations of ethics course.
  • HCE-6060: Psychosocial Foundations in Ethics; or a suitable 3-credit hour graduate-level applied ethics course available in another department.
  • HCE-6070: Catholic Foundations of Morality; or a suitable 3-credit hour graduate-level applied ethics course available in another department.
  • PUBH-5020: Ethical Issues in Public Health; or a suitable 3-credit hour graduate-level applied ethics course available in another department.
  • And 1 upper-level ethics elective either within HCE or another department.

Note: This lists 5 courses; however, one of the first 3 courses listed is required as a selective for all PhD students and does not count toward the additional 12 hrs. required.

Health Care Ethics JD PhD Dual DegreeJD/PhD Curriculum

Students begin their dual degree studies at the School of Law as traditional first-year students. In their second and third years of study, students are primarily law students but take six hours of courses in Health Care Ethics. In addition to the six hours in Health Care Ethics, students enroll in a three-hour directed research course that is cross-listed by both programs. The directed research project is supervised by faculty from both programs and is treated as a traditional law school directed research project.

Dual degree students ordinarily graduate with the JD in three years of full-time study. It is recommended that they sit the bar exam in the summer following their graduation.

Beginning in the fall following their graduation from the School of Law, all academic work is dedicated to the PhD program. The PhD program recognizes 9 hours of law school courses towards the PhD. (See details below.) Additionally, students will have completed 9 hours of Health Care Ethics classes during the JD program. Thus it is expected that students will complete their PhD coursework in two semesters following their JD program. Comprehensive exams and the dissertation ordinarily require an additional three semesters.

During the entire time that students are enrolled in the dual degree program, it is expected that they will be engaged in both programs. Starting with their second year of law school, students will take part in PhD seminars and other extracurricular programs offered by the doctoral program. Once they have completed their JD and are enrolled in the doctoral program, it is expected that they will remain engaged in relevant health law activities at the School of Law.

Curricular Detail

Students complete the usual curriculum in both the Juris Doctor (JD) and PhD programs. However, as indicated below, 18 credit hours of coursework satisfies requirements in both of the dual degree programs.

Law Courses Counted Toward PhD Degree (7 credits)

  • LAW-8000: Health Care Law [3 credits; replaces Topics and Scholars elective]
  • LAW-8005: Bioethics and the Law [2 credits; Context requirement.]
  • LAW-86H22: Research Ethics [2 credits; replaces HCE-6140 Research Ethics]

PhD Courses Counted Toward JD Degree (9 credits)

  • HCE-6530: Directed Research in Health Law and Ethics [Cross listed with LAW-8620: Directed Research (3)] [Required]

Plus two of the following five additional PhD courses:

  • HCE-6040: Interdisciplinary Research in Health Care Ethics (3)
  • HCE-6050: Philosophical Foundations of Ethics (3)
  • HCE-6060: Psychosocial Foundations in Ethics (3)
  • HCE-6070: Catholic Foundations in Morality (3)
  • HCE-6340: Health Care Reform (3)

Note: Dual degree students complete the Masters-level PhD program track, not the more extensive BA-level track.

Health Care Ethics MD PhD Dual DegreeMD/PhD Curriculum

Students begin their dual degree studies as traditional first year students in the School of Medicine. After the second year of medical school, students begin full-time study in Health Care Ethics. Students are expected to complete the PhD in three years, after which they return to the School of Medicine to complete the third and fourth years of medical studies.

A minimum of 48 hours of coursework is required for the PhD. This ordinarily includes 33 hours of course work, three hours of practicum, and 12 hours of dissertation research. The Department accepts 7 credit hours from Phase 1 and Phase 2 of the MD curriculum. The required courses HCE-6110 Introduction to Medicine for Ethicists, one 3-credit Topics and Scholars elective and the HCE-6150 Practica are waived based on medical school coursework in Patient, Physician, and Society I and II, and in Fundamentals of Biomedical Science. MD/PhD students will be recognized as having satisfied all three Research Tools requirements based on trainee knowledge of medical terminology, biostatistics, and library database searches. The remaining 29 credit hours of PhD coursework, comprehensive exams, the dissertation, and the public defense of the dissertation must be completed during the three years of PhD study.

Note: Dual degree students complete the Masters-level PhD program track, not the more extensive BA-level track.

Health Care Ethics MA PhD Dual DegreeMA/PhD Curriculum

Ordinarily, students begin their MA studies at Aquinas Institute of Theology (AIT) during their first year of the program. In year 1, students will complete 30* hours of 36 hours required for the MA from AIT:

  • 6 credits Biblical Studies
  • 3 credits Historical Studies
  • 12 credits Systematic Theology
  • 9 credits Moral Theology

During the second year, students enter the PhD program at SLU and follow the PhD curriculum for students who already hold Masters degrees. In Year 2, dual degree students become eligible for assistantship funding. AIT will count 6 credits from the PhD coursework completed in Year 2 toward completion of the MA. The following PhD courses may be used to fulfill the final 6 credits toward the MA:

  • HCE 6020: Religious Methods in Health Care Ethics or HCE 6310: Health Care Ethics in the Catholic Tradition [Dual degree students must enroll in both of these courses during their time in the Ph.D. program. Completion of 1 of the courses is required for completion of the M.A. These courses are offered in alternating spring semesters. Therefore, students will complete only one of them in Year 2 of the dual degree program.]
  • A 3 credit elective in HCE

A total of 6 credits taken toward the MA at AIT will count towards fulfillment of the Topics and Scholars elective requirements in the Ph.D. program. Two of the following MA courses may be treated as Topics and Scholars electives for the PhD:

  • Justice and Catholic Social Teaching
  • Ethics of Human Sexuality
  • Christian Anthropology

Note: Any substitutions to these courses must be approved by the MA advisor and the Center Director in Health Care Ethics.

After the end of Year 2 and completion of the major paper and comprehensive exams required for the MA degree, students are awarded the MA in Theology from AIT. The timing for completion of the major paper and the comprehensive exams is to be determined in consultation with the MA advisor at AIT.

In Year 3, students complete the coursework required for the PhD.

Joint PhD in Theology & Health Care Ethics Curriculum

Students interested in both bioethics and theological ethics that wish to write a dissertation on bioethics from a theological perspective should consider the Joint PhD in Theology and Health Care Ethics, offered by the CHCE and the Department of Theological Studies. Unlike a dual degree, this program offers one degree: a PhD in Theology and Health Care Ethics. The degree consists of 60 credit hours: 27 hours in HCE, 21 hours in DTS and 12 dissertation hours. Pre-comprehensive exam coursework can usually be completed in three years (nine credit hours each Fall and Spring).

Course Requirements

Coursework in Health Care Ethics

  • HCE 6010: Philosophical Methods in HCE (3 credit hours)
  • HCE 6020: Religious Methods in HCE (3 credit hours)
  • HCE 6040: Interdisciplinary Methods in HCE (3 credit hours)
  • HCE 6070: Foundations of Catholic Morality (3 credit hours) OR THEO 5620: Fundamental Moral Theology
  • HCE 6110: Medicine for Ethicists (1 credit hour)
  • HCE 6120: Bioethics and the Law (2 credit hours)
  • HCE 6130: Clinical Ethics (3 credit hours)
  • HCE 6140: Research Ethics (3 credit hours)
  • HCE 6150: Practicum (3 credit hours)
  • HCE 6310: Catholic Health Care Ethics (3 credit hours)

Coursework in Theological Studies

  • 9 Credit Hours in Historical Theology (Specific courses chosen in consultation with faculty)
  • 9 Credit Hours in Constructive Theology (Specific courses chosen in consultation with faculty)
  • Theology Elective (3 credit hours)

Dissertation Research

  • THEO 6990 (6 credit hours)
  • HCE 6990 (6 credit hours)
Non-Course Requirements
  • Research Tools Requirements (Statistics and Study Design, Library Research Skills, Medical Terminology)
  • Reading comprehension of French or German (or another language with consent of the Joint program)
  • Written and Oral Comprehensive Exams

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