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|Quick Facts: Medical Scientists|
|2017 Median Pay||$82,090 per year
$39.46 per hour
|Typical Entry-Level Education||Doctoral or professional degree|
|Work Experience in a Related Occupation||None|
|Number of Jobs, 2016||120,000|
|Job Outlook, 2016-26||13% (Faster than average)|
|Employment Change, 2016-26||16,100|
Medical Scientists Career, Salary, and Education Information
What Medical Scientists Do
Medical scientists conduct research aimed at improving overall human health. They often use clinical trials and other investigative methods to reach their findings.
Duties of Medical Scientists
Medical scientists typically do the following:
Design and conduct studies that investigate both human diseases and methods to prevent and treat them
Prepare and analyze medical samples and data to investigate causes and treatment of toxicity, pathogens, or chronic diseases
Standardize drug potency, doses, and methods to allow for the mass manufacturing and distribution of drugs and medicinal compounds
Create and test medical devices
Develop programs that improve health outcomes, in partnership with health departments, industry personnel, and physicians
Write research grant proposals and apply for funding from government agencies and private funding sources
Follow procedures to avoid contamination and maintain safety
Many medical scientists form hypotheses and develop experiments, with little supervision. They often lead teams of technicians and, sometimes, students, who perform support tasks. For example, a medical scientist working in a university laboratory may have undergraduate assistants take measurements and make observations for the scientist’s research.
Medical scientists study the causes of diseases and other health problems. For example, a medical scientist who does cancer research might put together a combination of drugs that could slow the cancer’s progress. A clinical trial may be done to test the drugs. A medical scientist may work with licensed physicians to test the new combination on patients who are willing to participate in the study.
In a clinical trial, patients agree to help determine if a particular drug, a combination of drugs, or some other medical intervention works. Without knowing which group they are in, patients in a drug-related clinical trial receive either the trial drug or a placebo—a pill or injection that looks like the trial drug but does not actually contain the drug.
Medical scientists analyze the data from all of the patients in the clinical trial, to see how the trial drug performed. They compare the results with those obtained from the control group that took the placebo, and they analyze the attributes of the participants. After they complete their analysis, medical scientists may write about and publish their findings.
Medical scientists do research both to develop new treatments and to try to prevent health problems. For example, they may study the link between smoking and lung cancer or between diet and diabetes.
Medical scientists who work in private industry usually have to research the topics that benefit their company the most, rather than investigate their own interests. Although they may not have the pressure of writing grant proposals to get money for their research, they may have to explain their research plans to nonscientist managers or executives.
Medical scientists usually specialize in an area of research within the broad area of understanding and improving human health. Medical scientists may engage in basic and translational research that seeks to improve the understanding of, or strategies for, improving health. They may also choose to engage in clinical research that studies specific experimental treatments.
Work Environment for Medical Scientists
Medical scientists held about 120,000 jobs in 2016. The largest employers of medical scientists were as follows:
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences: 35%
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private: 27%
Hospitals; state, local, and private: 16%
Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing: 4%
Offices of physicians: 4%
Medical scientists usually work in offices and laboratories. They spend most of their time studying data and reports. Medical scientists sometimes work with dangerous biological samples and chemicals, but they take precautions that ensure a safe environment.
Most medical scientists work full time.
How to Become a Medical Scientist
Medical scientists typically have a Ph.D., usually in biology or a related life science. Some medical scientists get a medical degree instead of, or in addition to, a Ph.D.
Students planning careers as medical scientists generally pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry, or a related field. Undergraduate students benefit from taking a broad range of classes, including life sciences, physical sciences, and math. Students also typically take courses that develop communication and writing skills, because they must learn to write grants effectively and publish their research findings.
After students have completed their undergraduate studies, they typically enter Ph.D. programs. Dual-degree programs are available that pair a Ph.D. with a range of specialized medical degrees. A few degree programs that are commonly paired with Ph.D. studies are Medical Doctor (M.D.), Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.), Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.), Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.), and advanced nursing degrees. Whereas Ph.D. studies focus on research methods, such as project design and data interpretation, students in dual-degree programs learn both the clinical skills needed to be a physician and the research skills needed to be a scientist.
Graduate programs emphasize both laboratory work and original research. These programs offer prospective medical scientists the opportunity to develop their experiments and, sometimes, to supervise undergraduates. Ph.D. programs culminate in a dissertation that the candidate presents before a committee of professors. Students may specialize in a particular field, such as gerontology, neurology, or cancer.
Those who go to medical school spend most of the first 2 years in labs and classrooms, taking courses such as anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, psychology, microbiology, pathology, medical ethics, and medical law. They also learn how to record medical histories, examine patients, and diagnose illnesses. They may be required to participate in residency programs, meeting the same requirements that physicians and surgeons have to fulfill.
Medical scientists often continue their education with postdoctoral work. This provides additional and more independent lab experience, including experience in specific processes and techniques, such as gene splicing. Often, that experience is transferable to other research projects.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Medical scientists primarily conduct research and typically do not need licenses or certifications. However, those who administer drugs or gene therapy or who otherwise practice medicine on patients in clinical trials or a private practice need a license to practice as a physician.
Medical scientists often begin their careers in temporary postdoctoral research positions or in medical residency. During their postdoctoral appointments, they work with experienced scientists as they continue to learn about their specialties or develop a broader understanding of related areas of research. Graduates of M.D. or D.O. programs may enter a residency program in their specialty of interest. A residency usually takes place in a hospital and varies in duration, generally lasting from 3 to 7 years, depending on the specialty. Some fellowships exist that train medical practitioners in research skills. These may take place before or after residency.
Postdoctoral positions frequently offer the opportunity to publish research findings. A solid record of published research is essential to getting a permanent college or university faculty position.
Work Experience in a Related Occupation
Although it is not a requirement for entry, many medical scientists become interested in research after working as a physician or surgeon, or in another medical profession, such as dentist.
Communication skills. Communication is critical, because medical scientists must be able to explain their conclusions. In addition, medical scientists write grant proposals, because grants often are required to fund their research.
Critical-thinking skills. Medical scientists must use their expertise to determine the best method for solving a specific research question.
Data-analysis skills. Medical scientists use statistical techniques, so that they can properly quantify and analyze health research questions.
Decisionmaking skills. Medical scientists must determine what research questions to ask, how best to investigate the questions, and what data will best answer the questions.
Observation skills. Medical scientists conduct experiments that require precise observation of samples and other health-related data. Any mistake could lead to inconclusive or misleading results.
Salaries for Medical Scientists
The median annual wage for medical scientists was $82,090 in May 2017. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $45,120, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $160,520.
In May 2017, the median annual wages for medical scientists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:
Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing: $118,380
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences: $94,390
Offices of physicians: $82,360
Hospitals; state, local, and private: $79,810
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private: $58,360
Most medical scientists work full time.
Job Outlook for medical scientists
Employment of medical scientists is projected to grow 13 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. A larger and aging population, increased rates of several chronic conditions, and a growing reliance on pharmaceuticals are all factors that are expected to increase demand for medical scientists. In addition, frontiers in medical research are expected to require the services of medical scientists.
Medical scientists will be needed for research related to treating diseases such as AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer. Research into treatment problems, such as resistance to antibiotics, also continue to provide opportunities for medical researchers. In addition, a higher population density and the increasing frequency of international travel may facilitate the spread of existing diseases and give rise to new ones. Medical scientists will continue to be needed because they contribute to the development of treatments and medicines that improve human health.
The federal government is a major source of funding for medical research. Going forward, the level of federal funding will continue to affect competition for winning and renewing research grants.
Employment projections data for Medical Scientists, 2016-26
Employment, 2016: 120,000
Projected Employment, 2026: 136,100
Change, 2016-2026: +13%, +16,100
Careers Related to medical scientists
Agricultural and food scientists research ways to improve the efficiency and safety of agricultural establishments and products.
Biochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical principles of living things and of biological processes, such as cell development, growth, heredity, and disease.
Epidemiologists are public health professionals who investigate patterns and causes of disease and injury in humans. They seek to reduce the risk and occurrence of negative health outcomes through research, community education, and health policy.
Health educators teach people about behaviors that promote wellness. They develop and implement strategies to improve the health of individuals and communities. Community health workers collect data and discuss health concerns with members of specific populations or communities.
Medical laboratory technologists (commonly known as medical laboratory scientists) and medical laboratory technicians collect samples and perform tests to analyze body fluids, tissue, and other substances.
Microbiologists study microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, algae, fungi, and some types of parasites. They try to understand how these organisms live, grow, and interact with their environments.
Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses. Physicians examine patients; take medical histories; prescribe medications; and order, perform, and interpret diagnostic tests. They counsel patients on diet, hygiene, and preventive healthcare. Surgeons operate on patients to treat injuries, such as broken bones; diseases, such as cancerous tumors; and deformities, such as cleft palates.
Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and technical subjects beyond the high school level. They may also conduct research and publish scholarly papers and books.
Veterinarians care for the health of animals and work to improve public health. They diagnose, treat, and research medical conditions and diseases of pets, livestock, and other animals.
|Occupation||ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION||2017 MEDIAN PAY|
|Agricultural and Food Scientists||Bachelor's degree||$62,910|
|Biochemists and Biophysicists||Doctoral or professional degree||$91,190|
|Health Educators and Community Health Workers||$45,360|
|Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians||$51,770|
|Physicians and Surgeons||Doctoral or professional degree||This wage is equal to or greater than $208,000 per year.|
|Veterinarians||Doctoral or professional degree||$90,420|
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Medical Scientists,
on the Internet at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/medical-scientists.htm