Clinical Ethicist Job at Stony Brook

Sort-of-fresh in my inbox this morning was a notification that SUNY Stony Brook is advertising for an assistant/ associate professorial level job as a clinical ethicist.  I’ve blogged about this kind of role before, and I have to say that the wording of the advert sort of confirms my suspicions about clinical ethics consultancy.

The primary responsibilities of this person are threefold: clinical ethics consultation, education, and leadership; curriculum development and implementation for medical student clerkships and residency programs; and research and publication. It is also expected that the candidate will have modest practice responsibilities as negotiated with the relevant clinical department. The position is tenure track at the level of assistant or associate professor, to be determined by the candidate’s professional background and accomplishments. To qualify for an appointment as an Associate Professor, the candidates must meet the School of Medicine’s criteria for Appointment, Promotion and Tenure and must have an established reputation and record of research or scholarly activity.

So far, so good.  But what’s odd is the list of requirements to be met by the successful candidate:

The candidate must hold an M.D. degree, be board certified in a clinical specialty, and be eligible for a New York State medical license. Candidates must demonstrate substantial experience in clinical ethics case consultation; excellent interpersonal skills; the ability to work successfully in a team with other professionals; and a record of teaching, service, and scholarship appropriate to academic rank. Preferred: The candidate should have experience in medical school curriculum development, program development, and an ability to interact with faculty across a large and diverse university. 

That is to say – a clinical ethicist would be expected to be a doctor first, second and third.  (Remember that the job description implied that “clinical ethics consultation, education, and leadership” was the primary task of the position-holder.  And in a job for a clinical ethicist, one might be forgiven for expecting that “curriculum development and implementation for medical student clerkships and residency programs” would refer to an ethics curriculum.)  Ethics gets a brief mention in fourth place in the list of requirements, notwithstanding that no formal ethics training is required; all that we’re told is that experience of clinical ethics case consultation must be “substantial”.  But what does that mean?  To my mind, it doesn’t amount to much.  After all, anyone who’s ever sat on an ethics committee will know, first hand, that there are people involved in such bodies who quite frankly oughtn’t to be.  Experience of clinical ethics case consultation is no indication at all that you’re even in the vicinity of cutting the mustard as an ethicist.  The world is full of people claiming ethical expertise because they once thumbed through Beauchamp and Childress and think that ethical decisionmaking is reducible to the 4Ps.

Granted, the job also includes medical responsibilities – but, to that extent, it’s not an ethics gig.  It’s a medical gig with a bit of ethical stuff as well.  And even if what’s wanted is, in the final analysis, a medic with awareness of ethics… well, even then, wouldn’t some formal evidence of that be a good thing?  Or have I missed the point entirely?

*takes deep breath*

Well, I guess that’ll be my application on the fire, then…

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