MD/Master of Bioethics (MBE)
The MD/Master of Bioethics program (MD/MBE) is designed to provide its graduates with the interdisciplinary training they will need in order to address the ethical, legal, and social challenges in health care today and in the future.
These guidelines offer prospective and current Perelman medical students specific information regarding components of the MD/MBE dual degree program. When students are accepted into the Master's in Bioethics program, they must take responsibility for following all regulations and policies of the Medical School and of the Master of Bioethics Program.
For a look at some of the past alumni, check out the article: 20 at 20: Longstanding Bioethics Master’s Program Milestone.
The first step of the process is to gather information regarding the MD/MBE dual degree. Interested students have several resources:
- MBE Program — the Master of Bioethics program website provides detailed information on the program and application process.
- MD/MBE Information Session — every fall and spring the Combined Degree office holds an MD/MBE Information Session for medical students. Email announcements are sent out to students prior to the event. Check out the full recording of the August 28, 2020 BlueJeans info session here or the recording of the January 7, 2021 BlueJeans info session here.
- AJ Roholt — candidates are encouraged to contact AJ, MBE Coordinator, to discuss the Master of Bioethics program.
- Assoc Director of CD Office — students are encouraged to contact the Associate Director of Combined Degree Office to discuss their interest in a Master's program.
- Perelman School of Medicine (PSOM) Financial Aid Office — As soon as a medical student is considering the pursuit of an integrated dual degree program, financial aid counseling and planning is strongly advised.
Additional Bioethics resources on Penn's campus:
- Dept of Medical Ethics and Health Policy seminar series and events
For prospective Perelman medical students - there will be opportunities for MD applicants who are invited to interview to interact with the Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy and attend a session of an MBE course before, during, or after the interview visit.
Current Perelman medical students are eligible to take up to 3 elective courses in the Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy before formally applying. Many students will take a bioethics course in their first year to test the waters, so to speak. Taking an elective course is an excellent way to learn about the course load, time commitment, and to help determine if the MBE is right for you. Please refer to the PSOM Additional Course Policy for information on tuition implications. Also, please note that all BIOE courses must be taken for a grade not pass/fail, and any course taken before applying to the MBE program will count towards the MBE upon acceptance.
Once a student is accepted into the MD/MBE program, the student will connect with the Dr. Lance Wahlert, MBE Program Director, to develop a curriculum plan. In the final year, each student in the Master of Bioethics program will be assigned a faculty adviser, who will guide the student in his/her final research project. Additional student supervision will be given by members of the Department faculty, as well as other faculty at Penn working in various areas of bioethics.
After a curriculum plan is developed, the student is encouraged to meet with the Registrar of the Medical School to discuss the plan and seek approval from the Medical School.
Students are strongly encouraged to meet with a staff member in the PSOM Financial Aid Office to discuss financial issues.
Perelman medical students who are matriculated in the MD/MBE program will be required to complete 9 course units for the MBE degree (2 of which may be transferred from the Medical School curriculum, upon approval). However, the timing of these course units may vary based on the student’s curriculum plan.
The following course units are required for the MBE degree :
- Introduction to Clinical Ethics (BIOE 601) - This course is intended to serve as a broad introduction to the field of bioethics. The course focuses on three of the most important areas in bioethics: genetics and reproduction, human experimentation, and end-of-life care. Each module covers essential bioethics concepts, relevant legal cases, and classic readings on that theme.
- Conceptual Foundations (BIOE 602) - This course examines the various theoretical approaches to bioethics and critically assesses their underpinnings. Topics include: an examination of various deontological theories, utilitarianism, virtue ethics, principalism, casuistry, feminist ethics, narrative theory, and pragmatism.
- Students must take one course in one of the following three content areas: Policy OR Research Ethics OR Clinical Ethics. Each semester the MBE program will provide a list of which courses count for each area of this distribution requirement, examples include: Rationing (BIOE 565), Research Ethics (BIOE 580), and Advanced Clinical Ethics (BIOE 603).
- 5 Electives (2 of which may be MD curriculum transfer credits)
- Final Project (BIOE 996)* - A research project that results in a publishable quality paper.
* MD/MBE students are strongly encouraged to attend the BIOE 996 Info Session during their third year of the program. The introductory seminar on BIOE 996 is held twice every year at the beginning of the the fall and spring semesters -- with supplementary sessions offered with the MBE Program Director as needed.
Required Course Units: 9
Perelman medical students who are matriculated in the MD/MBE program will have the option to earn transfer credit for two courses in the MD curriculum, ‘Doctoring’ and ‘Bioethics and Professionalism,’ contingent on the completion of supplemental work.
- To receive one MBE credit for 'Doctoring,' the following two courses must be completed: ‘Doctoring I’ and ‘Doctoring II,’ along with one supplemental 5-10 page research paper under the supervision of an approved faculty member. Please contact Dr. Lance Wahlert for more information.
- Additionally, to receive one MBE credit for ‘Bioethics and Professionalism’ (FRO 601), the student must write a 5-10 page research paper under the supervision of an approved faculty member and must also participate as a discussion leader (i.e. TA) in this course. NOTE: Students who are unable to attend FRO 601 due to an away rotation will be required to take an additional BIOE course at their own expense. Please contact Dr. Lance Wahlert for more information.
Please note that if a student has not made arrangements prior to the course for this work to be counted as transfer credit, he/she cannot apply to use this credit toward the MBE degree.
Mediation Certificate option:
The Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy now offers the Penn MBE Clinical Ethics Mediation Certificate. This Certificate can be added to the Master of Bioethics degree, offering students the opportunity to receive additional clinical ethics mediation training right here at Penn. This certificate option is only available to students who are in the MBE program. All Certificate students would be required to complete the 9-course MBE degree, and then the Certificate would require 3 additional course units for a total of 12 course units.
Every bioethics course in the masters program is held in the late afternoon, from 4:30-6:30, once a week for 12-14 weeks. Coordinating the Master of Bioethics course offerings with the demands of the MD curriculum will require careful attention to the guidelines described below. With careful planning, it is possible to complete both the MD and the Masters in four years. To complete both degrees in four years, it will be necessary for the student to implement a schedule which takes into account the maximum number of courses which may be taken in a given semester.
MD/MBE Degree Completion Time: 4 Years (with careful planning)
Starting the Master of Bioethics program any later than the spring of the third year in Medical School will require that additional semesters be added to the standard timeline for Medical School in order to complete the degree. Students do have the option of taking a 5th year to complete the MD/MBE. However, there may be financial aid implications.
Students must be proactive about researching any possible changes from the original schedule approved by the Medical School and the Master of Bioethics program. Some seemingly simple changes in course selection and timing may have the unintended consequence of adding additional semesters and increasing tuition. Be sure to consult with the Medical School and the Master of Bioethics program directors before making adjustments to your schedule.
MD/MBE Sample Study Plans:
The following are possible scheduling scenarios that an MD/MBE student might follow. They are based on the assumption that students will complete the requirements for two transfer credits.
Sample 1: Begin MD/MBE Spring of First Year (Note: a MBE elective may be taken in the Fall of Year 1 as well)
|1||MD curriculum||1 MBE cu
|1 MBE cu|
|2||1 MBE cu
|MD curriculum||MD curriculum|
|3||MD curriculum||Boards 1
1 MBE cu
2 MBE cus
Sample1 2: Begin MD/MBE Fall of Second Year
|1||MD curriculum||MD curriculum|
|2||1 MBE cu
|MD curriculum||MD curriculum|
|3||MD curriculum||Boards 1
1 MBE cu
|1 MBE cu|
2 MBE cus
2 MBE cus
Medical School Planning:
There are several things to keep in mind when making your Medical School plans:
The PSOM tuition policy for the MD/MBE program seeks to minimize the additional financial burden for students enrolling in the program. The Medical School will cover the cost of 4 MBE required course units (in a fall or spring semester) as long as the student has not taken any other university registered credits. Students who also take advantage of the 2 units of transfer credit (see details above) from the Medical School curriculum will therefore only need to pay for 3 of the 9 course units required for the degree.
Perelman medical students will be charged additional tuition for:
3 MBE graduate school course units
IF 2 credits have been earned via ‘Doctoring’ and ’Bioethics and Professionalism,’
IF the PSOM is paying for 4 course units (which would happen as long as the student has not taken any other university registered credits).
Students will be charged for more than 3 course units if either of the above conditions are not met. Students with questions about credits earned or needed should contact the Registrar of the Medical School. If the Medical School is paying for 4 course units, these would normally be the first 4 the student takes with the exception of any courses taken during the summer.
Tuition: $5965/course. This includes a general University fee and the technical fee. (2019-2020)
As soon as a Perelman medical student is considering the pursuit of an integrated dual degree program, financial aid counseling and planning is strongly advised. Students should contact Michael Sabara, Director of Financial Services. He is available to help explain program costs, the financial aid process, funding options and how to apply for financial aid. Here are some things to consider:
- It is recommended that a student who needs to maximize his/her eligibility for loans takes 2 or fewer MBE course units per med school term. By taking 2 or fewer MBE course units each semester, a medical student can retain a MD Scholarship (for tuition/living expenses) and would have a Direct loan eligibility of $40,500. If a student takes 3 or more MBE course units in a semester, the loan/scholarship system will automatically categorize him/her as a Graduate Student (not as a Medical Student), and the student would be eligible for a significantly lower amount of Direct loan funds. A student who takes 3 or more MBE course units in a semester is not eligible for a MD Scholarship (for tuition/living expenses) and has a Direct loan eligibility of $20,500.
- Direct loans have aggregate limits, which are cumulative and include any undergraduate, graduate, and medical school loans borrowed in the Direct loan program. For any semester when a student is a full-time MBE student (versus full-time MD student), the MBE program aggregate limit is $138,500 versus the MD aggregate limit ($224,000).
- Students who require funds in excess of their Direct loan may apply for a Direct PLUS loan. Details on this loan and instructions for applying can be found at the PSOM Financial Aid Office.
Part-time Student Status Implications:
If a student is considering a Master's curriculum plan that would include one or more part-time Masters semesters, we urge students to consider the following:
- Is registered for 2 cus or 2.5 cus in a Masters primary semester.
- Is eligible for student loans and loan deferment.
- Part-time students’ health insurance (PSIP) coverage is not mandated by the University. Students are strongly encouraged to continue health insurance of some kind and are eligible to opt-in to the PSIP plan.
- To opt-in to PSIP: Online application during open enrollment periods. See https://www.vpul.upenn.edu/shs/psipinsurance.php#Single%20Student%20Rate for open enrollment schedule.
- A student who is full-time in the fall is considered subject to the insurance coverage requirement. This means that they must be enrolled in PSIP or waive out, and that enrollment or waiver is good for 12 months. If this student becomes part-time in the spring term, the PSIP enrollment or the waiver will not be terminated.
- A student who is part-time in the fall, and becomes full-time in the spring term will at that point become subject to the insurance requirement for the spring term and must then waive out or be enrolled for that term.
- The clinical fee, which provides access to Student Health Services (SHS), is mandatory when on PSIP. A Primary Care Physician (PCP) designation needs to be considered for students who are not opting into SHS and who used SHS before for this purpose. If a part-time student is not enrolled in PSIP, they can opt-in to the clinical fee to have access to SHS. Students can stop by SHS for the application or call the insurance office at 215-746-3535 to request it.
- Is not eligible for Penn gym membership, but the student pays less in fees, which hopefully offsets this expense.
For Current Penn Medical Students:
Admission to the MD/Master of Bioethics program is competitive, and the strongest applicants will have outstanding academic records, interest in the humanities in medicine/bioethics, and a demonstrated passion for the subject matter.
There are two steps to applying:
- Apply to the Master of Bioethics Program
The Master of Bioethics program information and application can be obtained at the MBE Program. Students are encouraged to contact AJ Roholt, MBE Coordinator, for more information. Please note: the MBE program has waived the application fee for Perelman medical students.
- Submit Master's Program Registration Form to the Combined Degree Office
In addition to submitting an MBE application, Perelman medical students must also submit a Master's Program Registration Form to the Associate Director of the Combined Degree and Physician Scholar Programs Office (6th Floor JMEC). The Master of Bioethics program will not consider any medical student's application unless it has certified that the student has submitted the form to the Combined Degree Office.
Application Deadline: Rolling Basis
The Master of Bioethics program considers applications on a rolling basis.
For Prospective Perelman Medical Students:
Students may only apply to the combined degree MD/MBE program after admission and matriculation in the Medical School.
For more information regarding the MD/MBE program, contact:
Dr. Lance Wahlert
Autumn Fiester, PhD
Perelman School of Medicine:
Francia G. Portacio, MPH
Please note that policies concerning admissions, curriculum, funding and financial aid are subject to change. Additionally, though variations in the curriculum may be possible, any changes will need prior approval and may have financial implications. This website is meant to provide preliminary general overview information only. Students interested in or enrolled in the program should seek personal advising from relevant faculty and staff.