A medical scientist studies human diseases and conditions with an eye toward improving human health. Through research, he or she determines the causes of diseases and then develops ways to prevent or treat them.
There were 100,000 medical scientists employed in 2010. Most of them worked for scientific research and development firms, colleges and universities, pharmaceutical manufacturers and hospitals.
A medical scientist usually works in an office or laboratory. Positions are typically full-time. Since this occupation involves handling unsafe samples, it comes with some risks, but taking the appropriate steps to keep environments safe and sterile helps mitigate this danger.
One usually starts out on the path to a career as a medical scientist by earning a bachelor's degree in biology or a related major. Coursework should include life sciences, chemistry, physics and math. Classes in writing and communications will prepare students to write grant proposals and publish research results.
After graduating from college, he or she has two educational routes from which to choose. One of these routes entails earning a PhD in genetics, pathology or bioinformatics. The other involves enrolling in a joint MD-PhD program at a medical college. This program takes about seven to eight years to complete, as opposed to the six years or so it takes to earn a PhD alone.
In order to interact medically with patients, for example administer drugs or gene therapy or draw blood, a medical scientist must also be a licensed physician. Licensing requirements include earning a medical degree (MD) from an accredited medical school and passing a licensing exam.
In addition to having the proper education and credentials, certain skills will allow an individual to succeed in this occupation. Since a great deal of one's job involves writing grants and publishing and presenting research findings, good communications skills are needed. Critical thinking, data-analysis, decision-making and observation skills are also necessary.
As a medical scientist gains experience, he or she will be afforded greater independence to do research and will be given a larger budget. Those working in university settings may earn tenure.
The job outlook for medical scientists is excellent. This occupation is projected to experience faster growth, through 2020, than other occupations requiring at least a master's degree (The US Bureau of Labor Statistics).
Medical scientists earned an annual median salary of $76,130 or median hourly wages of $36.60 in 2011.
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A Day in a Medical Scientist's Life:
On a typical day a medical scientist's tasks might include:
- Investigating human or animal disease by designing and overseeing studies
- Analyzing data gathered from research studies and presenting that information
- Evaluating effects of drugs, gases, pesticides, parasites and microorganisms at various levels
- Writing grant proposals to fund research studies
- Conferring with health departments, industry personnel, physicians and others to develop health safety standards and public health improvement programs
- Consulting with and advising physicians, educators, researchers and others regarding medical applications of research findings
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Medical Scientist, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/medical-scientists.htm (visited November 15, 2012).
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online, Medical Scientist, on the Internet at http://www.onetonline.org/link/details/19-1042.00 (visited November 15, 2012).