August 17, 2012 | Posted By Wayne Shelton, PhD

Sometimes we forget the accomplishments we have made in the Alden March Bioethics Institute since we began almost 20 years ago. We now have a fully integrated set of offerings in both medical education and graduation bioethics.  So I thought it was time to describe them all in a bit more detail.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute began as the Center for Medical Ethics, Education and Research in 1994. Our principal charge was to design and implement a new course as part of the curriculum reform effort that was underway called Health, Care and Society (HCS).  This was a broad course in professionalism, medical ethics and humanities that would become integrated throughout all four years of medical schools. As a required course for all medical students we began in year one, and added a new component each year until the curriculum in all four years were complete. Each year consists of about 40 hours of class work.  In the first two years a little over half the classes are in large groups on topics such as professionalism, special topics in bioethics, medical ethics case analysis, end of life care, effective communication, cultural diversity and alternative/complementary medicine; about a third of so of the classes are small group discussions. In the third and fourth years HCS is integrated into the clinical clerkships and rotations and consists primarily of small groups discussions of a wide range of topics relating to the type of patients students are encountering. One important part of HCS in the third year is in the Medicine rotation, each one consisting of nine meetings where students bring to the table real concerns and issues from cases they are directly experiencing. By now HCS has become normal part of the curriculum and students generally enjoy the chance to discuss these topics that will be so important to their careers as physicians. 

After HCS was fully integrated and running well the idea of scholar’s program in bioethics was proposed. Because of our emphasis within the curriculum in bioethics, it was a natural progression to allow students with a particular interest in bioethics to demonstrate advanced competency in bioethics so as to graduate with a MD with a Distinction in Medicine. The program began in the early 2000’s and each year we have a handful of Scholar’s in Bioethics graduating with distinctions in bioethics. The Scholars, as they are called, are required to attend AMBI monthly activities, such at Ethics Grand Rounds and Monthly Case Conferences, but also to complete assignments each year that develop their ability to do scholarly research in bioethics. The culmination of the program is in the 4th year when students do a one-month rotation during which they complete a manuscript on an approved bioethics topic suitable for submission to a medical or bioethics journal. We feel this program allows our Scholars to prepare themselves to take leadership roles in bioethics during their careers in medicine and perhaps in the field of bioethics itself.

In the late 1990’s discussions began to start a new master’s program in bioethics. In a joint effort with Union College the new M.S. in bioethics program began in 2001 and our first class graduated in 2005. In 2006 the joint program terminated and a new AMBI program began. By now there are two types of master’s degrees—one comprehensive and one in clinical ethics consultation. And we also have a basic certificate in clinical ethics.

Less than one month ago AMBI received approval from the New York Education Department to offer a Doctoral of Professional Studies (DPS) for those working professionals who wanted the most advanced training in clinical ethics consultation. 

This new program is for working health care professionals who want to want to become professional clinical ethics consultants but are unable to leave their full time work to attend an onsite fellowship program. The core of the program includes the “Virtual Fellowship” that allows students to use the cases they are encountering in their professional work life as the basis for the required case consultation reports. In addition to the 5 required core courses in the Virtual Fellowship, students will take 4 electives on topics of special interest and complete a doctoral research project, for a total of 10 courses or 30 hours. In the coming year or so, it is our intention to have two more tracks in doctoral program: one in health policy and another in research ethics.

The AMBI faculty members are fortunate to teach in such a wide range of both medical and graduate bioethics programs that range from the most basic to the most advanced. For more information about all of these programs go to our website.

The Alden March Bioethics Institute offers a Master of Science in Bioethics, a Doctorate of Professional Studies in Bioethics, and Graduate Certificates in Clinical Ethics and Clinical Ethics Consultation. For more information on AMBI's online graduate programs, please visit our website.

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BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.