A medical scientist plays an important role in society. By studying diseases and underlying causes, researchers can uncover root causes and how to develop treatments and prevention measures. During the COVID-19 pandemic, medical scientists were essential in developing vaccines and therapies to help control the coronavirus.
More medical researchers are needed in this fast-growing field. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook over the next seven years is strong. BLS expects the number of jobs to grow by an average of 6%, which is faster than the average of all other jobs.
Medical scientists will typically have a Ph.D. in biology or related life science. While it’s not required to get a medical degree, many medical scientists acquire both a medical degree and a Ph.D. Scientists who administer drugs or gene therapy to patients must be licensed physicians, however, graduate programs will typically include lab work and original research.
In most cases, researchers will also need to acquire specialized skills in addition to the educational training. For example, researchers that are doing work in the field of genomics might need to have training in how genomes impact various diseases, such as coursework offered at the John P. Hussman Institute for Human Genomics at the University of Miami.
If you are interested in getting an introduction in gene-editing applications for research in inherited genetic disorders, infectious diseases, and cancer research, you may want to take the CRISPR course.
Genomics and DNA sequencing are on the cutting edge of medical research and responsible for some significant recent breakthroughs in medical research. Diseases such as cancer, for example, are caused by alterations in genes. Genomics help identify these anomalies. Researchers hope to find ways to edit gene functions and alter DNA sequences to isolate and treat various cancers.
Medical scientists need to have an innate curiosity to seek answers. Some of the most important skills required to become a medical scientist or researcher include:
- Critical thinking: The use of logic to identify problems, solutions, and assess alternatives
- Scientific analysis: The ability to use scientific rules and methodology to solve problems
- Reading comprehension: Ability to discern important details from previously published medical literature
- Writing: Effective communication skills to present information for understanding
- Inductive reasoning: The ability to take disparate pieces of information, find relationships, and draw conclusions
Medical scientists often work with little supervision when studying diseases and health problems. While they may work within company or grant restraints, they are charged with finding solutions. Working from a hypothesis, scientists develop experiments and test theories. This may include the development of potential drugs to treat diseases, leading to clinical trials, and analysis of the results.
Because of the independence researchers are given in how they proceed, they must also have strong project management skills.
Medical scientists and researchers may have a variety of duties depending on the field of research. These include such jobs as:
- Plan, implement, and direct studies to investigate diseases, treatments, and preventative measures
- Prepare and analyze samples to investigate causes
- Conduct research to develop procedures, methodologies, and instrumentation of medical applications
- Analyzing data from clinical studies and presenting findings
- Publish research articles and results in scientific journals
- Write research grant proposals
Many medical scientists will conduct independent research in hospitals, government labs, nonprofit medical research organizations, or universities expanding on the work they started during graduate school projects. Some of the funding for research projects comes from the National Institute of Health (NIH), which funds proposals that have the potential to benefit human health by advancing new ideas or processes.
Other medical scientists work for private companies, such as pharmaceutical companies. They may research new drugs or treatments that can become viable products. In private industry, medical scientists will also work with teams to develop products to be market-ready. This requires the ability to discuss the science behind discoveries and explain it to people that do not have a medical background, such as marketers or financial analysts.
As of May 2020, BLS estimates the median annual salary for a medical scientist is $91,510. While those in the lowest 10% of wage earners were paid approximately $50,000, the highest 10% of medical scientists experienced pay exceeding $164,000.
Those working for private companies, such as pharmaceutical and medicinal manufacturing, earned the highest wages while those working for universities and colleges typically earned less.
A job as a medical scientist or researcher can be a rewarding experience. Breakthroughs in medications, processes, treatments, therapies, and prevention can benefit millions of people. The need for medical scientists continues to grow.