How Can I Become a Clinical Research Scientist?

Explore the career requirements for clinical research scientists. Get the facts about educational requirements, licensing, job duties and salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Clinical Laboratory Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Clinical Research Scientist?

Clinical research scientists perform medical research for the purpose of improving health in humans and/or animals. Depending on their area of interest, they may design studies that involve the investigation of a particular disease, the evaluation of a drug's effectiveness or the development of a medical device. In order to get funding for their experiments, they must periodically write grants and proposals for submission to governmental agencies and private organizations. These scientists can find jobs within research institutions, universities, hospitals and private industry.

Clinical trials are one of their methods of investigation. Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this field.

Degree Required MD &/or PhD degree
Education Field of Study MD: medicine
PhD: biology
Key Responsibilities Laboratory research & analysis for medical innovations; publication of research
Licensure Required All states require medical licensing if conducting medical procedures on humans
Job Growth (2014-2024) 8% for medical scientists, except epidemiologists*
Average Salary (2015) $93,730 for medical scientists, except epidemiologists*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Kind of Education Do I Need To Be a Clinical Research Scientist?

There are various educational paths to becoming a clinical research scientist, such as starting in a scientific or medical field. Many clinical researchers have medical degrees, doctorates in a natural science or both. You can begin your pursuit of this career with a 4-year bachelor's degree. A course of study in or related to the field of biology is highly recommended. Your coursework in this area should include general biology, mathematics, physics and more specialized subjects such as cell biology. Medical and doctoral programs are highly selective, so you should focus on developing a strong academic record.

What Can I Expect If I Want a Medical Degree?

If you decide to pursue a medical degree, you will likely undergo a strenuous admission process. You will be required to submit scores from the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), copies of all undergraduate transcripts and letters of recommendation. Moreover, many medical programs require students to interview with an admissions officer.

Most medical programs award the Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree and span four years. During this period, your coursework will include a wide-range of subjects such as pathology, anatomy and psychiatry. You will also spend a great deal of time in laboratory and clinical settings. In addition, several schools award the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO), which differs slightly in curriculum and philosophy from the traditional MD program.

Most medical graduates choose to engage in a residency following the completion of their medical degree. A medical residency is a post-graduate program that affords students the opportunity to specialize in a specific field of medicine. Their duration can range from three to eight years, depending on the specialty.

What If I Want A Doctorate?

Admission to Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs is very selective, with undergraduate research experience being a valuable addition to your resume. As an aspiring clinical researcher, you should consider programs in the field of biology, or one of its related sub-fields.

The length of a PhD program varies according to the subject and the speed with which you conclude your research and dissertation, or the final project that represents a significant contribution to your field. Depending on the program, you may be required to sit for departmental written and oral examinations.

As a further option, many medical schools offer a joint MD/PhD program. Lasting seven to eight years, these programs offer a fast-tracked medical and scientific education that caters to the research path in this field.

Do I Need To Be Licensed?

Research scientists who perform medical procedures on human patients must be licensed as physicians. You will be required to take nationally administered board examinations, and to adhere to the licensing practices of the state in which you intend to work.

Where Can I Work?

Clinical research scientists work in a variety of private and public institutions. You may perform research with the Center for Disease Control (CDC), as a fellow at a major research university, or in the laboratories of a pharmaceutical corporation (www.cdc.gov). Job prospects, according to the BLS, are about average, with an 8% increase expected from 2014 to 2024. Scientists with both medical credentials and a doctoral degree may have the best job prospects.

What Will My Work Be Like?

Research will be the focus of your career in this field. You will spend long periods of time in laboratories conducting experimentation and cataloging, analyzing and publishing your results. In contrast to physicians, clinical researchers generally work regular hours. Your research will likely address human health issues, and may culminate in significant medical innovation.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you are more interested in conducting basic research, rather than translational medical research, you might consider becoming a biochemist or biophysicist. Their studies may focus more specifically on the molecular or atomic level of biological organization, rather than direct medical applications. Top jobs in the field require a Ph.D. Alternatively, if you are interested specifically in medicine, you could become a practicing physician, where your main responsibilities would be to diagnose and treat patients. For this, you would need to complete a four-year medical degree and residency in the subfield in which you wish to practice, such as surgery or pediatrics.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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