A medical scientist often holds an advanced degree in biological science and performs research on human diseases, their treatment and prevention. Learn about the career outlook and academic requirements for employment in this field.
Is Medical Science for Me?
Medical scientists conduct research focusing on human diseases, including viruses and bacteria, in order to develop treatments. They pursue ways to advance medical treatments and improve human healthcare. They explore the causes of disease, create new vaccines and research preventative measures. Career opportunities are often available at scientific and development research firms, universities, hospitals and pharmaceutical companies.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than 103,000 peopled worked in medical science in 2012 (www.bls.gov). The BLS projected that the employment of medical scientists would increase by 13% between 2012 and 2022. Although jobs for medical scientists are relatively stable, the BLS mentions that economic conditions can reduce the amount of funding and the amount of grants available for medical research. As of May 2012, the median annual salary for medical scientists was $76,980, according to the BLS.
How Can I Become a Medical Scientist?
A good starting point for a career as a medical scientist is to earn a bachelor's degree in biological science, but earning a degree in a related field, such as chemistry, biology or physics, may also suffice. After that, you could complete a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree, which will allow you to interact with patients by giving them drugs or taking tissue samples after obtaining your medical license. Or, you could complete a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Medical Science or Biological Science, which will prepare you to conduct research in biological science or molecular biology. You could also pursue a joint M.D. and Ph.D. degree program, which will provide you with both clinical and research skills and can improve your employment prospects in the medical science field.
Earning an M.D. takes four years beyond a bachelor's degree. Through the degree program, you'll explore how the human body fights disease, the effect of drugs on the body and physician's ethical responsibilities. You'll also participate in labs, engage in clinical rotations and complete a medical internship. You must earn your medical license, which includes passing a licensing exam, in order to work with patients.
While earning your Ph.D. in biological sciences, you may have the chance to specialize in an area, such as molecular biology, genetics or immunology. Through lectures, labs and individual research, you'll explore biochemistry, pharmacology, microbiology, genetics, physiology, neuroscience, virology, toxicology and pharmacology. You may also study specific diseases, such as cancer or genetic issues, and their causes.
A combined M.D.-Ph.D. program in biological sciences takes seven or eight years to complete. You'll explore topics in human disease, genetics, the human nervous system and pharmaceuticals, conduct research, write a dissertation, complete labs and take part in clinical rotations. You may have the chance to specialize in a specific area of medical research, such as pharmacology, neuroscience, biochemistry, biophysics or immunology.
To do this job well, you should be able to work with a team of people and on your own. You should have good communication skills since you will have to present your findings and you may work directly with patients. You must also pay attention to details and be able to handle dangerous materials with care.