Medical Scientists

by Kate Williams

What Medical Scientists Do

Medical scientists conduct research aimed at improving overall human health.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pgzYw77KRsU

Work Environment

Medical scientists work in offices and laboratories. Most work full time.

How to Become a Medical Scientist

Medical scientists typically have a Ph.D., usually in biology or a related life science. Some medical scientists get a medical degree instead of, or in addition to, a Ph.D.

Pay

The median annual wage for medical scientists was $88,790 in May 2019.

Job Outlook

Employment of medical scientists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. Medical scientists will continue to be needed because they contribute to the development of treatments and medicines that improve human health.

Medical scientists conduct research aimed at improving overall human health. They often use clinical trials and other investigative methods to reach their findings.

Duties

Medical scientists typically do the following:

  • 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

Many medical scientists form hypotheses and develop experiments, with little supervision. They often lead teams of technicians and, sometimes, students, who perform support tasks. For example, a medical scientist working in a university laboratory may have undergraduate assistants take measurements and make observations for the scientist’s research.

Medical scientists study the causes of diseases and other health problems. For example, a medical scientist who does cancer research might put together a combination of drugs that could slow the cancer’s progress. A clinical trial may be done to test the drugs. A medical scientist may work with licensed physicians to test the new combination on patients who are willing to participate in the study.

In a clinical trial, patients agree to help determine if a particular drug, a combination of drugs, or some other medical intervention works. Without knowing which group they are in, patients in a drug-related clinical trial receive either the trial drug or a placebo—a pill or injection that looks like the trial drug but does not actually contain the drug.

Medical scientists analyze the data from all of the patients in the clinical trial, to see how the trial drug performed. They compare the results with those obtained from the control group that took the placebo, and they analyze the attributes of the participants. After they complete their analysis, medical scientists may write about and publish their findings.

Medical scientists do research both to develop new treatments and to try to prevent health problems. For example, they may study the link between smoking and lung cancer or between diet and diabetes.

Medical scientists who work in private industry usually have to research the topics that benefit their company the most, rather than investigate their own interests. Although they may not have the pressure of writing grant proposals to get money for their research, they may have to explain their research plans to nonscientist managers or executives.

Medical scientists usually specialize in an area of research within the broad area of understanding and improving human health. Medical scientists may engage in basic and translational research that seeks to improve the understanding of, or strategies for, improving health. They may also choose to engage in clinical research that studies specific experimental treatments.

Medical scientists held about 138,300 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of medical scientists were as follows:

Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 35%
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 23
Hospitals; state, local, and private 17
Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing 7
Offices of physicians 2

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.

Work Schedules

Most medical scientists work full time.

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of medical scientists.

Occupation Job Duties Entry-Level Education Median Annual Pay, May 2019

Agricultural and Food Scientists

Agricultural and food scientists research ways to improve the efficiency and safety of agricultural establishments and products.

Bachelor’s degree $65,160

Biochemists and Biophysicists

Biochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical principles of living things and of biological processes.

Doctoral or professional degree $94,490

Epidemiologists

Epidemiologists

Epidemiologists are public health professionals who investigate patterns and causes of disease and injury in humans.

Master’s degree $70,990

Health Educators and Community Health Workers

Health educators teach people about behaviors that promote wellness. Community health workers collect data and discuss health concerns with members of specific populations or communities.

See How to Become One $46,910

Medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians

Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians

Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians collect samples and perform tests to analyze body fluids, tissue, and other substances.

Bachelor’s degree $53,120

Microbiologists

Microbiologists study microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, algae, fungi, and some types of parasites.

Bachelor’s degree $75,650

Physicians and surgeons

Physicians and Surgeons

Physicians and surgeons diagnose and treat injuries or illnesses.

Doctoral or professional degree This wage is equal to or greater than $208,000 per year.

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers instruct students in a wide variety of academic and technical subjects beyond the high school level.

See How to Become One $79,540

Veterinarians

Veterinarians care for the health of animals and work to protect public health.

Doctoral or professional degree $95,460

For more information about research specialties and opportunities within specialized fields for medical scientists, visit

American Association for Cancer Research

American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

The American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science

American Society for Clinical Pathology

American Society for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics

The American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics

The Gerontological Society of America

Infectious Diseases Society of America

National Institute of General Medical Sciences

Society for Neuroscience

Society of Toxicology

O*NET

Medical Scientists, Except Epidemiologists


Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Medical Scientists,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/medical-scientists.htm (visited ).


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