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Medical Science Careers

Career Description

Medical Scientists research human diseases to improve human health. Most medical scientists conduct biomedical research and development to advance knowledge of life processes and living organisms, including viruses, bacteria, and other infectious agents.

Common Work Tasks

  • Study biological systems to understand the causes of disease and other health problems
  • Develop treatments and design research tools and techniques that have medical applications
  • Identify changes in cells or in chromosomes that signal the development of medical problems
  • Administer drugs to patients in clinical trials,  monitor their reactions, and observe the results
  • Examine the results of clinical trials and adjust the dosage levels to reduce negative side effects or to induce better results
  • Use knowledge discovered through basic research to develop new drugs and medical treatments
  • Involved in the science of genetic engineering—isolating, identifying, and sequencing human genes to determine their functions
  • Investigate and describe the causes and spread of disease and develop the means for prevention or control
  • Collaborate with physicians who deal directly with patients

Other Job Titles

Medical Scientists are also known by other titles,  including:

  • Epidemiologists
  • Medical Researchers
  • Physicians
  • Genetic Engineers

Education,  Training, and Experience

Education and Training
A Ph.D.  typically qualifies people to research basic life processes or particular medical problems and to analyze the results of experiments. Some medical scientists obtain a medical degree instead of a Ph.D., but some do not become licensed physicians because they prefer research to clinical practice. It is particularly helpful for medical scientists to earn both a Ph.D. and a medical degree.

Students planning careers as medical scientists should have a bachelor’s degree in a biological science. In addition to required courses in chemistry and biology, undergraduates should study allied disciplines, such as mathematics, engineering, physics, and computer science, or courses in their field of interest. Once they have completed undergraduate studies, they can then select a specialty for their advanced degree, such as cytology, bioinformatics, genomics, or pathology.

Certification and Licensure
Medical scientists who administer drug or gene therapy to human patients, or who otherwise interact medically with patients—drawing blood, excising tissue, or performing other invasive procedures—must be licensed physicians. To be licensed, physicians must graduate from an accredited medical school, pass a licensing examination, and complete 1 to 7 years of graduate medical education.

Medical scientists should be able to work independently or as part of a team and be able to communicate clearly and concisely, both orally and in writing. Those in private industry, especially those who aspire to consulting and administrative positions, should possess strong communication skills so that they can provide instruction and advice to physicians and other health care professionals.


The median annual salary for a Medical Scientist is $64,000. The top 10 percent earn more than $124,000, and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $36,000.  Median earnings in the industries employing the largest number of medical scientists are:

  • Scientific Research and Development Services - $84,660
  • Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools - $55,320
  • Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing  - $82,140
  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals - $75,030
  • Offices of Physicians - $85,520

Job Outlook

  • 2006-2016 Employment growth:  20%
  • Number of new jobs created 2006-2016: 18,000
  • Employment 2006 : 87,000
  • Employment 2016:  105,000
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