MSW/Master of Bioethics (MBE)


The MSW/Masters in Bioethics (MBE) is a dual degree program sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy & Practice and the Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania. The aim of the dual degree program is to prepare students to be leaders in bioethics-related, research-based program and policy venues in the social services, life sciences, and medicine. This dual degree program blends the like missions and values of social work and medicine for equitable service provision, knowledgeable development of ethical policies, and just decision making in the 21st century global environment of rapid technological and social change.
Students will have the opportunity to earn both degrees in two years (two academic years and two summers).

This program is intended to:

  • Provide valuable tools for social workers in local, state, and national venues.
  • Expand the range of frameworks applicable to decision making in matters of bioethics and social policy and practice.
  • Stimulate interdisciplinary collaboration in research, policy making, and implementation.

Application Process

Students apply first to the School of Social Policy & Practice, and only upon acceptance to the Penn MSW program should students apply for the MSW/MBE dual degree.

  • Students applying to the MBE may use the same letters of recommendation used for the MSW application.
  • The MBE degree requires no GRE or other standardized test scores.

The MSW/MBE degree is open only to full-time MSW students on the clinical or macro practice track.

Degree Completion Requirements

In order for a student to receive both degrees, he or she must complete the independent degree requirements of each program.

  • For Social Work
    • Students must complete 16 CUs for the MSW portion of the degree:
      • SWRK 601, 602, 603, 604, 614, 615, 701, 702, 704/708, 714/718, 713, 744 and BIOE 601 and 602, a policy option, and a SWRK elective of their choice (SWRK 760 must be chosen if the student is pursuing the clinical concentration).
  • For the MBE program:
    • Students must complete nine course units toward the MBE portion of the degree.  Of these, students take six course units in the Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy (BIOE 601, 602, 996, and 3 electives) and three course units at the School of Social Policy & Practice (SWRK 701, 702, and 744).
  • Combining non-course requirements from both programs:
    • Students have two options after completion of SWRK 744:
      • If the final paper for SWRK 744 relates to Bioethics, the student can petition it to count as BIOE 996, the final project for the MBE.
        • Students who would like to count SWRK 744 as their MBE final project must submit a Petition for Action and receive approval from the Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy Director of Education prior to the semester in which the writing is to be done.
        • If the student chooses this option, then they may take a BIOE elective instead of BIOE 996
      • Alternatively, the topic discussed in SWRK 744 can be built upon and completed as BIOE 996, the final project for the MBE.
    • Given the above, the following table illustrates how the double counting works:

MSW/MBE Degree Completion Requirements (Required)

16 for MSW/MBE16 for MSW5 for MBE
SWRK 601SWRK 601
SWRK 602SWRK 602
SWRK 603SWRK 603
SWRK 604SWRK 604
SWRK 614SWRK 614
SWRK 615SWRK 615
SWRK 7xx (Policy Option)SWRK 7xx (Policy Option)
SWRK 701SWRK 701SWRK 701
SWRK 702SWRK 702SWRK 702
SWRK 704/708SWRK 704/708
SWRK 713SWRK 713
SWRK 714/718SWRK 714/718
SWRK 744SWRK 744SWRK 744
SWRK 760 (for clinical students; SWRK 7xx for macro students)SWRK 760 (for clinical students; SWRK 7xx for macro students)
BIOE 601BIOE 601BIOE 601
BIOE 602BIOE 602BIOE 602

MSW/MBE Degree Completion Requirements (Elective)

4 for MSW/MBENone for MSW2 for MBE
BIOE 996 or XXX*BIOE 996 or XXX*

* If the student uses their SWRK 744 as their MBE final project, then the student would take 4 BIOE electives (XXX).

Program Sequencing

The joint degree is earned in two years, as follows:

Year 1

SWRK 601SWRK 7xx: Policy OptionSWRK 7xx: Elective
SWRK 602SWRK 7xx: ElectiveSWRK 744
SWRK 604 + FieldSWRK 614 + Field

Year 2

SRK 704/708SWRK 714/718BIOE 996 or XXX
SWRK 760/7xxBIOE 602

*XXX indicates a flexible elective. Students should consult with both departments for guidance in choosing appropriate electives.

Tuition and Tuition Assistance

  • The School of Social Policy and Practice will be the home school for all of the first year, as well as the summer of year 1 and the fall of the second year.
  • The Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy will be the home school for the spring and summer of the second year.
  • Tuition assistance decisions are made by the School of Social Policy and Practice alone.
  • The Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy does not offer any tuition assistance, grants, or scholarships.

Scheduling Courses

Students register for courses in one program in that program’s registration period and according to that program’s registration rules and procedures. The timing and location of course scheduling must also be considered so that students are best able to attend all classes.

Communication Issues

Students with questions about the MSW/MBE program can address them to the following persons:

  • Current and Prospective students with questions about the MSW program:
  • Prospective students with question about the MBE Program:
  • Currently enrolled MSW/MBE students with questions about MBE course selection, scheduling, tuition concerns, etc:

Each year, this document will be reviewed and re-approved by representatives of both departments. Currently, that review will be handled by:

  • For the School of Social Policy and Practice:
    • Mai Le, Administrative Director of the MSW Program, School of Social Policy & Practice.
  • For MBE:
    • Autumn Fiester, Director of Education, Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy

Issues Particular to the Program

Students in the joint degree program may have particular career interests and goals. They are encouraged to contact Sharon Fleshman in the Career Services Office at the University of Pennsylvania, Suite 20, McNeil Bldg. 3718 Locust Walk, and with either Dr. Fiester or their faculty advisor at the Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy.

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