How to Become a Medical Scientist
Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary
Love the idea of driving breakthroughs in human health? Medical scientists are a critical part of developing emerging medical technology in medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and numerous other fields in the healthcare industry. If you’re the curious type who thrives on the pursuit of knowledge, a career as a medical scientist may be for you.
This career guide will teach you everything you need to know about becoming a medical scientist, including the educational requirements, certifications, day-to-day duties, and how long it generally takes to launch your new career.
Not sure if becoming a medical scientist is right for you? Click here to see our full list of the best entry-level medical jobs.
Medical Scientist Definition
What is a Medical Scientist?
Medical scientists are the researchers and fact-finders of the healthcare industry. They develop and conduct experiments to test medical devices and new drugs, study the root causes of diseases, and improve the effectiveness of treatments. They also analyze data to develop research-based insights that hospitals, physicians, or manufacturers depend on to help people get healthier.
Medical Scientist: Job Description
What Does a Medical Scientist Do?
Before any pharmaceutical drug, treatment, or medical device is used to treat patients, it goes through extensive testing and research to ensure it’s both safe and effective. Medical scientists use their curiosity, analytical skills, and attention to detail to conduct the research that drives advancements in the medical field, both in developing new treatments and developing knowledge to prevent health problems.
Medical Scientist Duties
Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of medical scientists include:
- Developing hypotheses and designing experiments to test them
- Preparing and analyzing medical samples and data
- Working with physicians or public officials to develop and implement public-health programs
- Following strict guidelines to ensure safety and prevent contamination of samples
- Writing research grant proposals to secure funding sources
Medical Scientist Skills
Great medical scientists are observant and curious, with the critical-thinking and data-analysis skills to turn large amounts of information into actionable insights. Good attention to detail is equally important, especially when working in a laboratory setting. You’ll also need the communication skills to explain your conclusions or write grant proposals to convince people that your research is worthwhile.
Medical Scientist Hours & Work Environment
Medical scientists usually work a full-time, 40-hour workweek. They usually split their time between laboratory and office settings, though most entry-level medical scientist jobs will involve lots of lab work. Certain areas of their research may involve working with dangerous biological samples or chemicals. However, adequate protective gear and training are always provided, and many protocols are in place to ensure a safe working environment.
Medical Scientist Schooling & Certification
How Long Does it Take to Become a Medical Scientist?
What Degree Do You Need to Be a Medical Scientist?
While many top medical scientists have a Ph. D. in biology or another life science, increasing numbers of medical scientist jobs are becoming available for those with just a bachelor’s degree, providing ample opportunities to get started in a growing industry. That means that instead of spending an extensive amount of time in school, you can complete a Medical Laboratory Science program in as little as 120 weeks before starting in an exciting new line of work.
Like any long-term goal, working toward a new career as a medical scientist seems much more attainable when you break it down into individual steps.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to the education, experience, and certifications you’ll need to become a medical scientist:
1. Enroll in a Medical Laboratory Science Degree Program
Whether you’re fresh out of high school or looking for a change of pace after working another career, a bachelor’s degree program from an accredited college is the best way to start working towards your future as a medical scientist. To enroll in the Medical Laboratory Science program at Brookline College, you’ll need a high school diploma or GED and a passing grade on a Scholastic Level Exam.
2. Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree in Medical Laboratory Science
Every bachelor’s degree program will have general education requirements like math, communications, and social and behavioral sciences. All these courses will help you become a more well-rounded professional and person in general—plus keep you from getting too burnt out on all the chemistry and biology you’ll undoubtedly be studying!
Speaking of your degree-specific studies, as you might have guessed, for a career as a scientist, you’ll spend a lot of time studying various types of science—including microbiology, organic and chemical chemistry, and medical-specific applications like hematology and immunology. Ideally, you’ll also receive hands-on training in a laboratory environment, where you’ll learn practical knowledge about the equipment used and learn to perform and analyze the type of lab tests you’ll likely be performing as an entry-level medical scientist. When choosing a medical lab science degree program, consider looking for one that offers students job-placement assistance after finishing their degree, as it can give you a major leg up when it comes time to find an employer.
3. Get Certified by One of the Major Professional Organizations
After earning your medical laboratory science degree, gaining additional certifications is a great way to make yourself more attractive to potential employers. Medical scientists looking to land entry-level jobs should consider certifications from American Medical Technologists (AMT) or the American Society of Clinical Pathology (ASCP). Both organizations will test you on your knowledge of general laboratory methods and procedures, as well as specifics about areas ranging from hematology and urinalysis to chemistry and microbiology.
AMT certification requires passing a standardized multiple-choice test, usually consisting of 200-230 questions. ASCP certification is a little different—rather than a standardized test, they use computer-adaptive testing in which a correct answer will prompt a more difficult question, and an incorrect answer will prompt a less difficult question. Both are great options, but one may be best for you depending on the area you plan to specialize in.
How Much Does it Cost to Earn a Medical Scientist Degree?
Many colleges and universities can charge $20,000 and up per semester in tuition alone—and that amount doesn’t include books, lab fees, or other supplies, not to mention living expenses. However, the rise in online education has made earning a bachelor’s degree much more accessible.
Medical Scientist Salaries
How Much Do Medical Scientists Make?
Medical scientists are one of the highest-paid non-clinical professions in the healthcare industry. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical scientists bring home an average annual salary* of about $99,000. Medical scientists in the top 10% of earners can make up to $160,000 or more per year.
Highest Paying Industries for Medical Scientists
Medical scientists work anywhere in the healthcare industry research is happening—though a few industries tend to employ the majority of professionals in the field. Scientific research and development facilities employ the most medical scientists by far, with colleges, universities, and hospitals being the other major employers. Your salary* as a medical scientist can also vary depending on your chosen industry or workplace setting.
The following is a list of the highest paying industries for this profession:
|Industry||Average Hourly Pay||Average Salary|
|Scientific Research & Development||$51.41||$106,930|
|Medical & Diagnostic Labs||$44.67||$92,910|
|General Hospitals & Surgical Centers||$42.16||$87,700|
|Colleges & Universities||$37.08||$77,120|
Highest Paying States for Medical Scientists
Your location can also influence your level of compensation in the field of medical science. While many of the top-paying jobs for medical scientists tend to be in more densely populated areas, you may be surprised to learn some of the states with the highest average wages for medical scientists.
|State||Average Hourly Pay||Average Salary|
Highest Paying Cities for Medical Scientists
The following cities pay the highest average salaries to medical scientists in the US.
|City||Average Hourly Pay||Average Salary|
|New Haven, CT||$65.45||$136,130|
|Pine Bluff, AR||$60.76||$126,390|
|San Francisco, CA||$57.92||$120,470|
What is the Job Outlook for Medical Scientists?
Due to improvements in laboratory technology many of the medical lab science responsibilities that were traditionally carried out by PhDs. are now accomplished by medical scientists in more entry-level positions. And as the demand for medical scientists continue to increase, at an above-average rate of 6% by 2029, it’s a stable career field with an excellent long-term job outlook.
Ready to Start Your Career as a Medical Scientist?
For those with an insatiable curiosity and a desire to contribute to a healthier world, a career as a medical scientist is incredibly rewarding. Learn more about the Medical Laboratory Science Program at Brookline College, and get started on the road to a fulfilling new field of work.