Medical Scientist

Career Information

Medical scientists working in a laboratory
••• Medical scientists work in laboratories. Cultura Science/Matt Lincoln / Getty Images

A medical scientist studies diseases and conditions with the goal of improving human health. Through research, he or she determines the causes of diseases and then develops ways to prevent or treat them.

Quick Facts

  • In 2016, medical scientists earned a median annual salary of $80,530.
  • Approximately 120,000 people were employed in this field, most of them full-time.
  • Most work for entities that do research and development, colleges and universities, and hospitals.
  • Medical scientists have a good job outlook. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment will grow faster than the average for all occupations between 2016 and 2026.

A Day in a Medical Scientist's Life

To learn what a medical scientist does on a typical day, we looked at job announcements on Indeed.com. Here are some of the job duties we found listed there:

  • "Work closely with Quality Assurance, Engineering, and Regulatory functions to conduct risk analyses and health risk assessments of medical devices"
  • "Deliver timely, accurate and succinct clinical and scientific presentations to cardiopulmonary healthcare professionals, both proactively and in response to requests for information, consistent with promotional compliance and FDA regulatory requirements"
  • "Interpret clinical trial data"
  • "Collaborate with colleagues in other functional areas, including Clinical Research, Medical Communications, Sales, and Marketing"
  • "Meet with external experts to gain an understanding of their views and appropriately inform about information relating to diseases of interest to [company name, removed by author]"
  • "Responsibility for design and implementation of clinical studies, writing clinical study synopses and protocols/major amendments, design of data collection systems and preparation of final clinical study reports."
  • "Manage peer review publications and presentations at scientific conferences by [company name, removed by author] collaborators"

How to Become a Medical Scientist

If you want to become a medical scientist, you will have to earn a Ph.D. in biology, a medical degree, or a dual degree that combines the two. Ph.D. students spend most of their time in school doing laboratory work and learning about research methods. They must complete a written thesis before they graduate. Medical school students study subjects such as anatomy, biochemistry, medical ethics and law, and pathology, earning either a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or  Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) degree. 

You will apply to graduate school after you first get a bachelor's degree in biology or chemistry. During college, you should make sure to take classes in writing and public speaking. You will use those skills in graduate school and throughout your career.

Unless a medical scientist has direct patient contact, he or she doesn't need a license to practice. Those whose jobs involve administering drugs or otherwise practicing medicine must be licensed physicians. 

What Soft Skills Will You Need?

In addition to your education, you will also need certain soft skills, or personal qualities, to do your job.

They are:

  • Critical Thinking: The ability to select the right methods to solve a problem is an essential skill for anyone doing research.
  • Writing and Verbal Communication: You must be able to present your research findings to your peers.
  • Reading Comprehension and Active Listening: In addition to sharing your own research, you will also need to learn a lot from others' work. Medical scientists must read about studies and listen to colleagues' presentations.
  • Problem Solving: You must be able to identify problems and solutions to them.

What Will Employers Expect From You?

In addition to skills and experience, what qualities do employers look for when they hire workers? Here are some requirements from actual job announcements found on Indeed.com:

  • "Demonstrated project management expertise"
  • "Highly motivated, decisive and results-oriented individual with the flexibility and creativity to excel in and contribute to a rapidly growing company"
  • "Capable technical writing skills"
  • "Interest and skilled at literature- and web-based research"
  • "Demonstrated authorship of periodic and regulatory reports"
  • "Sound scientific and clinical judgment"

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

Don't neglect to consider your interestspersonality type, and work-related values when you choose a career. If you have the following traits, you should think about a career as a medical scientist:

Occupations With Related Activities and Tasks

 DescriptionMedian Annual Wage (2015)Minimum Required Education/Training
EpidemiologistInvestigates causes of diseases

$70,820

Master's Degree in Public Health
Biochemist/BiophysicistStudies living organisms' chemical or physical principles$82,180Ph.D. in biochemistry or biophysics
GeneticistStudies the inheritance of genetic traits$74,790

Master's Degree or Ph.D. in genetics, or a Medical Degree

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,  Occupational Outlook Handbook; Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor,  O*NET Online (visited December 21, 2017).