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A new masters program in the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the Perelman School of Medicine will welcome its first class next fall semester.

The two-year program — a Master of Science in Medical Ethics — was created specifically to address a clear need to train physician-scientists and other scholars holding doctoral-level degrees to become academic bioethicists.

The MSME is distinct from the one-year Master of Bioethics programs currently offered at Penn and elsewhere, owing mainly to its heavy emphasis on empirical training and research, according to Director of Education Autumn Fiester.

It is also distinct from existing postdoctoral fellowship programs in bioethics, which do not provide systematic formal training in empirical methods and are not degree-conferring.

“In fact, there are no programs tailored to get those holding medical, law or doctoral degrees from what they know now straight into a junior faculty position,” Fiester said.

She explained that MBE programs serve to familiarize students with basic concepts and themes of the field and to equip them with tools to tackle bioethical dilemmas they may encounter in their day-to-day professional life.

“The Penn MBE continues to do that and is unrivaled by any other,” she said.

Fiester added that what Penn had not done before was to create a program for people who are going to make bioethics their career, as opposed to adding it onto what they were already doing.

Department Chair Ezekiel Emanuel, who is also Penn’s vice provost for global initiatives, said that Penn is uniquely poised to train this next generation of bioethics scholars and researchers.

“We are experts in bioethics education, and we have a first-class medical school, academic hospital, law school … all in one place,” he said.

Harvard Medical School professor of pediatrics Steven Joffe, who will join the department next year and run the research fellowship component of the MSME, said the curriculum will consist of an intensive combination of in-class and out-of-class education in bioethics.

“We want to create an active community of people involved in bioethics scholarship,” he said.

As for the applicant pool, Joffe said the program is looking to recruit productive and independent students who have a broad vision for what they want to accomplish and a clear commitment to bioethics research for the duration of their academic careers.

Fiester anticipates receiving a very large number of applications before the Jan. 2 deadline.

“We’ve had tons of inquiries,” she said, adding that class size will be between two and four students each year due to the intense mentoring commitment on the part of faculty and the fact that accepted students will also be fully funded and receive a stipend.

Emanuel added that the MSME was conceived as an elite program that will train future leaders in bioethics-related fields.

“That’s why we’re not looking for big numbers,” he said. “We’re looking for the best.”

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