MBE Curriculum

Required Coursework

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.

  • All degree candidates must complete Foundations of Bioethics I and II in the first year of study
  • Capstone I and II must be taken during the year of graduation
  • Students must take three required core courses:
    1. Introduction to Clinical Ethics;
    2. Research Ethics; and
    3. Health Law, Policy and Bioethics.

Course of study schedules are listed below in Schedule Details for both the Full-Time, 1-Year and Part-Time, 2-Year options.

Capstone Experience

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.

Curriculum Details

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

    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

    Cover key concepts, subject areas, and challenges in bioethics

    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 required core courses which cover the breadth of the field. 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

    Tailored for 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

    Complete coursework at Harvard's historic Longwood campus

    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.

    For more information on HMS requirements, download the HMS Masters Student Handbook or visit the HMS Graduate education website.

  • Schedule Details

    Details about the full-time 1-year and part-time 2-year programs

    Students who matriculated prior to fall 2020 should refer to their original course of study schedule.


    Full-Time, 1-Year Schedule


    Foundations I* 4 credits


    Foundations II* 4 credits

    Core Classes 8 credits
    Intro to Clinical Ethics 4 credits
    AND Research Ethics 4 credits

    Electives at HMS

    Core Classes 4 credits
    Health Law, Policy and Bioethics 4 credits

    Electives 2 – 4 credits

    Cross Register Course

    Electives 2 – 6 credits

    Capstone Seminar* 2 credits   Capstone Seminar* 2 credits
    16 – 18 credits Total 0 – 4 credits 16 – 18 credits
      Total Required: 36 credits

    Part-Time, 2-Year Schedule


    Foundations I* 4 credits

    Choose from: 2 – 4 credits of
    January Term Courses 

    Foundations II* 4 credits

    Core Classes 4 credits

    No Courses

    One Core Course 4 credits

    Electives 1–4 credits


    Electives 1– 4 credits

    8 – 12 credits 0 – 4 credits 8 – 12 credits
      Total Year One: 18 – 20 credits

    Part-Time, 2-Year Schedule


    Capstone Seminar* 2 credits + 

    Choose from: 2 – 4 credits
    of January Term Courses 

    Capstone Seminar* 2 credits

    One Core Course 4 credits

    OR No courses

    One Core Course 4 credits

    Electives 1 – 6 credits


    Electives 1– 6 credits

    8 – 12 credits 0 – 4 credits 8 – 12 credits
      Total Year Two: 16 – 18 credits
      Total Required: 36 credits
    Part-Time, 3-Year

    A three-year option may be possible in certain circumstances with prior program review and approval.