What you need to know
Medical scientists conduct research aimed at improving overall human health. They often use clinical trials and other investigative methods to reach their findings.
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.
Some of the things a medical scientist might do:
- 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
- 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.
- Decision-making 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.
The average pay for medical scientists in the United States ranges from $46,810 to $156,980 as of May 2018.
The specific pay depends on factors such as level of experience, education and training, geographic location, and specific industry.
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.
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.
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. 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.