Medical Scientist: Career and Salary Facts

Explore the career requirements for medical scientists. Get the facts about job duties, education requirements, salary and employment outlook to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Biomedical Engineering Technology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Medical Scientist?

Medical scientists research the causes and treatments for diseases and medical conditions by using clinical trials and other methods of investigation. Medical scientists collect and analyze various medical samples, test drugs and medical equipment and work with health organizations to develop programs aimed at improving public health. They may also pursue a variety of grants to fund their experiments or clinical trials. Depending on their place of work, medical scientists may coordinate and supervise the work of technicians and other lab workers. The following chart gives an overview of what you need to know to enter this profession.

Degree Required PhD or MD; having both is recommended
Education Field of Study PhD: biomedical science, bioinformatics
MD: medicine
Key Skills Critical thinking, decision making, information analysis, communication, observation
Licensure Required Medical license required if practicing medicine, administering drugs, or providing gene therapy to patients
Job Growth (2014-2024 ) 8% for all medical scientists, except epidemiologists*
Average Salary (2015) $93,730 for all medical scientists, except epidemiologists*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Would I Do as a Medical Scientist?

As a medical scientist, you'd usually work in a laboratory to research illnesses and viruses. You'll first learn how disease affects the human body before beginning to develop and test treatments. You'd frequently use sophisticated technological lab equipment and sometimes work with infectious substances, requiring precision, accuracy and an awareness of procedure. You might provide research with government funding, which might require you to hone your grant-writing and communication skills. You could conduct research independently at a university or hospital, or you could work for a private company that would specify your research topics.

What Education Do I Need?

Because of the comprehensive biological knowledge necessary for medical research, you'd usually need at least a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in biomedical science or bioinformatics. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that job prospects could be better if you choose to earn both a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and PhD (www.bls.gov). You can prepare for a career as a medical scientist by taking as many science and math courses as possible at the high school and undergraduate college level. Related majors that might be beneficial to your career goals include epidemiology, pharmacology, genetics and biotechnology.

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences developed the Medical Scientists Training Program (MSTP) that results in earning both MD and PhD degrees (www.nigms.nih.gov). MTSP programs incorporate the clinical training offered in MD programs with the research methodologies of PhD curricula to provide you with a solid medical research knowledge base. As of 2017, these programs were offered at 45 U.S. universities and require about 7-8 years of study.

What Salary Could I Earn?

In May 2015, the BLS reported that medical scientists, excluding epidemiologists, made an average yearly wage of $93,730. About 34% of these professionals worked in research and development, with other top employers being universities, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and medical and diagnostic laboratories.

The BLS also notes that during the 2014-2024 decade, medical scientists can expect employment growth of 8%, which is about as fast as the average for all U.S. occupations. Growth will be driven in part by increased research into medical solutions for disease and antibiotic resistance, as well as the need to prepare for new diseases brought to the U.S. because of an increase in international travel.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

A few related positions include physicians, surgeons, veterinarians, biochemists and biophysicists. All of these careers require a doctoral or professional degree. Physicians diagnose and treat a wide range of conditions in their patients, while surgeons specialize in various kinds of surgical procedures. Veterinarians perform many of the same tasks as physicians and surgeons, but on animal patients. They may work with large or small animals. Biochemists and biophysicists study the chemistry and physical attributes of a variety of living things.

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