Online PhD in Medical Humanities

An individual who has earned an online PhD in medical humanities, or bioethics, has accomplished a goal that will give them increased opportunities to help physicians and health care facilities evaluate and resolve difficult ethical issues that arise during patient care. The individual will have the valuable opportunity to further the goals of medicine, such as communication, compassion, reflection, and professionalism. Furthermore, because medical humanities is such an expansive field, a student who has obtained an online doctorate in medical humanities may have an influence on the standards, policy, and education in areas such as literature, medical history, the visual and performing arts, and social sciences.

Candidates applying for online doctoral programs in medical humanities from an accredited school should have a master’s degree in a health related area. Some programs may require specific degrees. For example, Loyola University Chicago’s online PhD program in bioethics requires a master’s degree in bioethics or health care ethics as a prerequisite.

Additionally, there may be GPA requirements and experience as a health care professional is preferred and, in fact, required by some top programs. Students pursuing an online doctorate in medical humanities, or bioethics, should be able to complete the program in 2.5 to 4 years. Different programs have different course requirements. Loyola University Chicago’s online medical humanities PhD program requires 57 credit hours, 27 of which can be transferred from prior graduate level education. The course of study includes a practicum and a two-semester capstone course. Additionally, students choose one of three tracks of specialization:

  • Clinical bioethics
  • Organizational bioethics
  • Religious bioethics.

About Online PhD Programs in Medical Humanities

Programs like Loyola University Chicago’s online PhD in medical Hhumanities are aimed at helping experienced health care professionals develop the necessary expertise and empathy to deal with ethical dilemmas that arise in the practice of medicine. Curriculum is centered around courses to develop both critical thinking and research skills with a focus on the humanities. Students enrolled in online medical humanities doctorate programs will also be expected to complete a two semester capstone course, or dissertation, that will include the completion and presentation of a lengthy academic paper.

Year One:

  • Clinical Topics in Bioethics. An overview of the terminology, resources, and major frameworks of analysis in biomedical ethics.
  • Justice and Health Care. Examines justice and equality in health care with a focus on the developing world and underserved communities.
  • Principles of Health Care Ethics. Introduction to identifying and analyzing ethical issues in health care with special attention to the human factor in the practice of medicine.

Year Two:

  • Social Science and Bioethics. A review of the theoretical framework of social science and moral reasoning as it pertains to the discipline of bioethics.
  • Religion and Bioethics. Overview of religion and medicine with the goal of establishing familiarity and scholarly reflection on some of the larger questions of human purpose.
  • Ethics, Genetics&Health Policy. Introduction to genetic ethics, including topics such as gene patenting, human cloning, and race.

Year Three:

  • History of Medicine&Bioethics. Examines the development of Western medicine and the field of bioethics.
  • Cultural Competence in Health Care. Analyzes the role of racial and economic health disparities with the goal of promoting cultural competency within a health care system.
  • Narrative Bioethics. Equips students with a sophisticated understanding of narrative and the role it plays in medicine and bioethics. Students will read stories, watch films, and discuss their use in the ethics consultation process.


  • Doctoral Capstone. Planning, development, research, and writing of two articles for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. Students are also required to present one of their papers on campus in a capstone presentation with faculty.

The doctoral capstone, or dissertation, is the culminating point of the online PhD in medical humanities degree program. This is when students demonstrate an active knowledge of theory in real world applications. Some examples of past topics of study include:

  • Pain: Mind, Meaning and Medicine
  • Approaching End-Of-Life Care in Organ Transplantation: The Impact of Transplant Patients' Death and Dying
  • Genes as Intellectual Property

Value and Criticisms of Online PhD Programs in Medical Humanities

Despite the growing prevalence of online education, an online degree may have some drawbacks in a field that is focused on face to face interactions with patients in real life practice. Also, most true medical humanities programs are offered only on-campus due to the specialized and interdisciplinary nature of the field. This can make things difficult when searching for a program, and may mean you have to settle for a degree in a related field. On the positive side, earning medical humanities doctorate degrees online may be beneficial because it can allow professionals to remain at work and possibly take advantage of tuition reimbursement. However, for some individuals this can be too disruptive to their work life and may not be the right choice. Pursuing a medical humanities PhD online requires time and dedication. Students that are successful in online doctoral programs are focused, goal-oriented and self-motivated.

Application&Admission Requirements

Most medical humanities PhD programs online are looking for candidates with relevant professional or academic experience and require a certain level of academic achievement to ensure students are prepared for the rigor of a PhD program. Here is an example of the requirements for Loyola University of Chicago’s PhD in bioethics:

  • A master’s degree or higher in bioethics or health care ethics with a GPA of 3.67 or higher. This is to ensure students are prepared for the level of academic work at the doctoral level.
  • Evidence of scholarly ability, such as publication in a scholarly journal, as well as proof of related professional experience. Selecting candidates with adequate experience in their industry improves the quality of discussion and research conducted within the program.
  • Application form and fee along with a statement of purpose expressing your motivations for attending the program, your areas of interest, and goals for after the completion of the program.
  • Three letters of recommendation attesting to the quality of your past professional or academic experience.

Career Options&Job Market

Graduates obtaining online PhD degrees in medical humanities are a diverse group with a wide range of career opportunities. Some of their career choices include:

  • University professor. Online doctoral degrees in medical humanities qualify graduates to teach health studies in any post-secondary setting, which can earn you an average of $103,340 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • Chief medical officer. A chief medical officer must create a dynamic and functional health care environment that promotes clinical and professional growth. They oversee aspects of patient care and define and maintain standards in patient care. The average salary for chief medical officers is $317,010.
  • Health care administrator. Hospital administrators make between $39,109 and $130,874. They help put into place community education programs and make connections between the hospital and the community.

In our present health care system, advances in science and technology often outpace our ability to understand and cope with new medical concepts and ethical circumstances. Thus, students with online doctorate degrees in medical humanities, will find a rapidly-expanding job market awaiting them.

Where to Find Information

How to Get Funding

Federal and institutional financial aid are available for most programs. Check with the specific school when you are considering pursuing an online PhD in medical humanities to assess the total cost for the program and see what type of aid you might qualify for. The cost of tuition varies between schools. For example, Loyola University Chicago’s tuition is $830 per credit hour. So depending on whether or not you transfer any existing credits, the total cost can range from $24,900 to $47,310, not including books, materials, and other institutional fees.

Also, keep in mind that some employers might offer tuition reimbursement for further education in your field. Contact your employer’s human resources department for more information.

Essential Advice

  • Check Requirements. The majority of online doctoral programs in medical humanities require applicants to have at least a master's degree, sometimes in a specific field. Other requirements may include a minimum GPA standard, proof of published work, and letters of recommendation attesting to your experience either in a professional or academic setting.
  • Look for the best programs for your own needs. Keep in mind that medical humanities is an emerging interdisciplinary field of study and it may be hard to find a program that is offered online. You may need to make a compromise by either choosing a related degree or attending an on-campus program.
  • Try talking with past graduates and current faculty. This can give you a better sense of the experience you are likely to have in the program and can help you gauge whether or not this, or other online doctorate programs in medical humanities or bioethics, are the right fit for your educational goals.
  • Explore federal and institutional financial aid options as well as the possibility of employer reimbursement. While typically earning an online medical humanities PhD is less costly than a traditional on-campus program, you should always look to see which program offers the best aid packages. Think twice before considering a program that does not offer many options for financial assistance. Also, check with your employer’s human resources department about the possibility of tuition reimbursement.