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How to Become A Medical Scientist

The nature of viruses, bacteria, and other living organisms is to adapt and change. There are also a large number of diseases and illnesses being discovered, which could endanger the human health and lifestyle.  As such, medical scientists, who are also known as biomedical scientists, are professionals who conduct research on diseases, and on the viruses and bacteria that cause them, in order to develop vaccines and medications to improve overall healthcare practices.

What does a medical scientist do?

Medical scientists are trained to conduct research and carry out clinical trials in the quest of improving the overall health of humans. Clinical trial procedures are conducted on volunteer test groups or individual subjects to see how various drugs interact with their systems.
Research is also carried out on the life processes of viruses, bacteria and other infectious living organism, which affect human health. All of this is done in order to find new, more effective ways to cure or treat diseases by developing advanced diagnostic tools or new therapeutic strategies.
Medical scientists work full-time and are found working in a variety of settings like hospitals, clinics and laboratories. They may sometimes have to work with dangerous biological samples and chemicals, and in these instances, precautions must be taken in order to ensure a safe environment.

Is this career for you?

In order to determine whether or not a career as a medical scientist is for you, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you interested in contributing to the body of medical science dedicated to improving human health?
  • Do you have the emotional and intellectual stamina to not only complete advanced coursework to become a medical scientist, but to practice it as well?
  • Do you have good writing skills and are you articulate?

These are important skills to have because medical scientists need to communicate their findings and draft research grant proposals.

Job duties

Some of the common job duties of a medical scientists include:

  • Conducting research and clinical tests that investigate human diseases and the potential methods of preventive care and the treatment of diseases
  • Using knowledge acquired during research to develop new drugs and medical treatments in order to improve medical outcomes
  • Studying biological processes to understand why diseases occur
  • Writing research grant proposals in order to get funding from government agencies and private funding sources

How to become a medical scientist?

Typically, a medical scientist needs to have a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Biological Sciences from an accredited college or university. There are some candidates, however, who choose to practice as a physician instead and therefore opt for a medical degree, such as the Doctor of Medicine (M.D.).
Whichever route you decide to take, the first step is to attain a bachelor's degree in biology , chemistry, or in a health related major. Typical courses taken at this stage include life sciences, chemistry, physics and math. In addition, classes in writing and communications are very important because they will prepare students to write grant proposals and publish research results.
After completing undergraduate studies, students have two graduate school educational routes to  choose from:

  • Earning a Ph.D. in genetics, pathology or bioinformatics, or
  • Earning a joint M.D.-Ph.D. program at a medical school

The difference between the two routes is that while a Ph.D. program focuses solely on research methods, in dual degree programs students learn both the clinical skills needed to be a physician and the research skills needed to be a scientist.
For those who seek a medical degree, they can expect to take courses in physiology, anatomy, microbiology, biochemistry, pathology, pharmacology, psychology, medical ethics, and medical law. They will also learn how to record medical histories, examine patients, and diagnose illnesses. Medical students must also participate in residency programs.
Furthermore, if candidates wanting to become medical scientist wish to interact with patients by either administering drugs, gene therapy, or drawing blood, they must also be a licensed physician. Licensing requirements include passing a licensing exam.
In addition to formal education, medical scientists also usually continue with postdoctoral work. This  provides them with valuable hands-on training, lab experience, and experience in specific processes and techniques such as gene splicing.

Important skills and qualities

Some important skills and qualities that a medical scientist is required to have include:

  • Good communications
  • Critical thinking
  • Data-analysis
  • Good decision-making abilities
  • Astute observation
  • A keen interest in science and math
  • Good people skills as you may be working with teams of scientists

Job outlook and salary

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average median salary for medical scientists in 2012 was $76,980. The top ten percent earned more than $146,650.
In addition, in 2012, the median annual wages for medical scientists in the top five industries were as follows:

  • Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing - $92,940
  • Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences - $87,620
  • Offices of physicians - $77,180
  • General medical and surgical hospitals; private - $71,840
  • Colleges, universities, and professional schools - $53,740

Data from BLS also indicated that employment for such professionals is expected to grow at the rate of 13 percent between now and 2022. This is slightly faster than the average for all other occupations, which is 11%. This growth rate is attributable to a number of factors and considerations that include:

  • An increasing dependence on pharmaceuticals
  • Greater affluence results in more spending in the medical field. The federal government is a major source of funding for medical research. More wealth results in large budget increases at the National Institutes of Health
  • Increasing aging population
  • The constant stream of new discoveries results in opportunities for research, and this will require the services of medical scientists
  • Greater efforts to understand illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, Ebola, AIDS, and cancer
  • Continued antibiotic resistance will call for research into how to combat this phenomena
  • Globalization and increased worldwide travel results in the spreading of diseases and may even give rise to new ones. This requires the work of medical scientists.  

Medical scientists are professionals whose services contribute to the development of treatments and medicines that improve human health. They are constantly carrying out research in the quest of understanding illnesses and diseases better so as to be able to treat them more effectively.

States with the highest employment level in this occupation:



Employment per thousand jobs

Location quotient

Hourly mean wage

Annual mean wage

California 1660 0.11 1.26 18.13 37720
Florida 1130 0.14 1.68 17.97 37370
Illinois 960 0.16 1.92 17.9 37240
Texas 760 0.07 0.78 16.62 34570
New York 650 0.07 0.85 20.12 41840


How long does it take to become a medical scientist?

To become a medical scientist, you will need to get a Ph.D. in biology or a related life science. Some medical scientists opt for a medical degree instead of, or in addition to a Ph.D. You will first need to complete a four-year long undergraduate degree in biology or a medical health related major. A Ph.D. can take anywhere between three to eight years to complete.

What are the requirements to become a medical scientist?

Medical Scientists first need to complete the educational requirements, including a bachelor’s degree and a Ph.D. program. You will be completing a broad range of classes including life sciences, math and physical sciences. Common Ph.D. program options include Medical Doctor (M.D.), Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.), Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) and Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.). Following this, you might need to get a license in some cases – if you will be administering medications or gene therapy. You will also need to complete training before you can begin working as a full-time medical scientist.

How much can I make as a medical scientist?

According to 2017 data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, you can make $82,090 per annum as a Medical Scientist.

Frequently Asked Question(s)

Q:What is a medical laboratory scientist?

A:Medical Laboratory scientists are also known as laboratory technologists. They are responsible for collecting samples such as body fluids, substances, and body tissue for medical testing. Laboratory scientists use various equipment and tests to diagnose any abnormalities and issues. The demand for these professionals is expected to grow in the coming few years. (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Q:Can you tell me what to do to become a medical scientist?

A:Generally, an individual needs to have a PhD in Biological Sciences from an accredited institution in order to work as a medical scientist. If you want to practice as a physician however, you will need to get a medical degree such as an M.D or Doctor of Medicine. Whatever you choose to do, the first step will entail getting a bachelor's degree in a health related major.

Q:Who is a medical laboratory scientist?

A:A medical laboratory scientist is an individual with knowledge of biology and chemistry, and the potential to work in places such as hospital labs and clinics, forensic labs, industrial research labs, veterinary clinics and molecular biology labs. As a medical laboratory scientist, you will be required to analyze various forms of specimen from the body including urine, blood and tissue and aide the process of testing for and diagnosing dangerous diseases.

Q:What do medical scientists do?

A:Medical scientists conduct test to understand different diseases and methods of prevention. They develop instruments for medical uses. Preparation and analyses of medical samples and data to determine causes and treatment of various diseases is also part of the job description of medical scientists. They work in various settings such as the health department, industry personnel and physicians to formulate programs that improve outcomes. (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Q:Where can I launch a medical scientist career?

A:According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 34% of medical scientists were hired in the research, life sciences, and engineering sector. One can also look for employment in colleges, medicine manufacturing firms, offices of physicians, and general hospitals. These professionals are responsible for conducting research and finding ways to improve overall human health. (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Q:How to become a medical scientist with just a high school diploma?

A:Unfortunately, you cannot become a medical scientist with just a high school diploma. You must have a PhD degree. The first step is to complete a bachelor degree in any science-related field. You can then move on to entering a PhD program. It is also possible to pursue a dual degree program such as a PhD and a medical doctor degree, or a PhD and a doctor or dental medicine degree.

Q:What are the skills needed by medical scientists?

A:To become a competent medical scientist, one should have a broad set of skills alongside formal education. Since these professionals perform research, they must have strong analytical and research skills. Other skills needed for the career are: strong communication skills, decision-making skills, critical-thinking skills, observation skills, interpersonal skills, and data-analysis skills.

Q:Can you tell me about the components of a medical scientist training program?

A:Medical scientist training programs are typically MD-PhD programs. There are a number of colleges offering this program. This program is designed to prepare students for a role as a medical scientist. The curriculum may vary from college to college. Generally, the major components include: coursework, research, lab training, clinical training, thesis, and a dissertation.

Q:Can you tell me what is the medical lab scientist salary?

A:According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical lab technologists and technicians made a median annual income of $47,820 in 2012. The growth rate for this occupation is 22% (2012-2022), which is faster than average. Please remember that the exact income level will vary slightly from place to place and will also depend upon factors such as experience, skill, and qualification. (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Q:What are the medical scientist education requirements?

A:Medical scientist must have a post-secondary degree. If you plan to become a medical scientist, you can choose from an associate degree, a bachelor degree, or a certification in medical laboratory technology. The requirements for each of these programs vary. Also keep in mind, some states require medical lab scientists to have a license. (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Q:What will I learn in a medical laboratory scientist program online?

A:A medical scientist program will equip you wit in-depth knowledge of medical technology and science. You will learn how technology is used to conduct various medical tests. The program will typically include subjects such as microbiology, statistics, mathematics, anatomy and physiology. A certain portion of the program is dedicated to practical training and hands on experience.

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