Each candidate must complete foundational coursework representing broad exposure to and understanding of the foundation, theory, practice, and central challenges in bioethics.
The master of bioethics degree requires 36 credits: 32 earned in classroom study, and 4 earned through a year-long capstone project and associated capstone seminar courses.
Each candidate must complete a capstone experience that demonstrates facility in and mastery of requisite knowledge, skill, and experience to engage meaningfully in bioethics inquiry and application in the specific field of their professional expertise.
The capstone can be a mentored academic project or externship/experience. All capstone projects culminate with a poster presentation in the spring term.
All capstone projects/placements require formal approval of the program director or designee. Watch a video and learn more about the capstone experience.
Any deviations from the set curriculum will require approval from the program director and the MBE program advisory committee. Read all course descriptions.
Foundations of Bioethics
The backbone of the MBE curriculum is the required year-long, 8-credit core course, Foundations of Bioethics. This course is a multilayered approach to the core challenges in bioethics, from the philosophical underpinnings to the application of theory to central challenges in bioethics and, beyond, to how policy and law shape and are shaped by moral challenges in the life sciences. The course combines readings from original philosophical texts, theoretical critiques, critical evaluation of key areas of bioethics inquiry, legal and policy approaches to subject matter areas (where applicable), and examination of other critical forces, such as religion and social science, that have shaped our understanding of and scholarship and practice in bioethics.
Required Core Courses and Selectives
Students should demonstrate knowledge and analytic ability in a substantial body of the central bioethics topics. In addition to Foundations of Bioethics, degree candidates must complete three three required core courses which cover the breadth of the field, and relate to key concepts, subject areas, and challenges in bioethics. Together, these three courses—Introduction to Clinical Ethics; Research Ethics; and Health Law, Policy and Bioethics—cover critical areas in the field.
Students with backgrounds and/or training who demonstrate proficiency in one of the core course areas may petition the program to substitute an alternate class for one of the core classes. This request must be made in writing prior to the registration period when the student would be expected to enroll in the course. Students may petition for exemption of one core course and submit proof of prior advanced study and/or alternative course selection.
In addition to the above requirements, the 12 elective credits must be selected through either courses offered through the MBE program and/or cross-disciplinary study in other areas of the University on a space-limited basis and with prior approval.
Individual Plan of Study
Given the breadth of backgrounds of enrolled students, each student develops an individually-tailored study plan with their assigned faculty advisor. Each study plan is approved by the program director or designee to ensure both adequate core study and specialized study to support the student’s capstone experience and career goals. In exceptional circumstances, a student with a specific educational background and particular educational goals may petition the program director, in advance, for exemption from the requirement of one core course, although a total of 36 credits must still be earned.
Students may take a limited number of courses through cross-registration across the University, subject to availability and prior approval. This option ensures opportunities for an even broader range of courses for students seeking study in particular areas.
Academic Residence Requirements
The MBE program requires that all didactic coursework take place on Harvard's campus (HMS or other Harvard schools). The capstone project may be conducted on campus, at an HMS-affiliated hospital, or at another institution/organization with HMS faculty supervision in concert with a local mentor or supervisor.
Students who matriculated prior to fall 2020 should refer to their original course of study schedule.
A three-year option may be possible in certain circumstances with prior program review and approval.