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Career as a Medical Scientist

Who is a medical scientist?

A biomedical scientist is a scientist trained in biology, particularly in the context of medicine. These scientists work to gain knowledge on the main principles of how the human body works and to find new ways to cure or treat disease by developing advanced diagnostic tools or new therapeutic strategies

Also called: Associate Director, Experimental Medicine; Investigator; Research Scientist; Scientist

What does a medical scientist do?

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. Create and test medical devices.

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 typically do the following:

Conduct studies that investigate human diseases and methods of preventive care and treatment of diseases

Develop instruments for medical applications

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

Work with health departments, industry personnel, and physicians to develop programs that improve health outcomes

Apply for funding from government agencies and private funding sources, by writing research grant proposals

Follow procedures to avoid contamination and maintain safety

Many medical scientists, especially in universities, work with little supervision, forming their own hypotheses and developing experiments, accordingly. 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, or combination of drugs, or other medical intervention works. Without knowing which group they are in, patients in a drug-related clinical trial either receive the trial drug or they receive 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 the patients in the clinical trial, to see how the trial drug performed. They compare the results to the control group that took the placebo and analyze the attributes of the participants. Publishing the findings is a very important final step in the process.

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 the 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. The following are examples of types of medical scientists:

Cancer researchers research ways to prevent and cure cancers. They may specialize in one or more types of cancer.

Clinical and medical informaticians develop new ways to use large data sets. They look for explanations of health outcomes through the statistical analysis of existing data.

Clinical pharmacologists research, develop, and test existing and new drugs. They investigate the full effects drugs have on human health. Their interests may range from understanding specific molecules to the effects drugs have on large populations.

Gerontologists study the changes that people go through as they get older. Medical scientists who specialize in this field seek to understand the biology of aging and investigate ways to improve the quality of our later years.

Immunochemists investigate the reactions and effects various chemicals and drugs have on the human immune system.

Neuroscientists study the brain and nervous system.

Pharmacologists develop and research the effects of medicines.

Research histologists have a specific skill set that is used to research human tissue. They study how tissue grows, heals, and dies, and may investigate grafting techniques that can help people who have experienced serious injury.

Serologists research the serums, such as blood and saliva, found in the human body. Applied serologists often work in forensic science. For more information on forensic science, see the profile on forensic science technicians.

Toxicologists research the harmful effects of drugs, household chemicals, and other potentially poisonous substances. They may ensure the safety of drugs by investigating safe dosage limits.

Types of medical scientist

Clinical Trial Research

The clinical trial is a fundamental part of medical research. Medical scientists perform clinical trial research for new drugs and treatment methods once they have been cleared for experimental use in humans. This generally takes place after extensive experimental trials on animal subjects, with very few exceptions. Clinical trial research involves comparing the effects of a drug or treatment method with the effect of a placebo -- any substance or treatment course that omits an active ingredient or experimental aspect -- on a group of subjects who do not know which version of the two treatments they are receiving. Clinical trials research is essential for research in psychology, internal medicine and psychopharmacology, among other medical disciplines.

Public Health Research

Some medical scientists specialize in the area of public health. Public health research encompasses epidemiology, preventive medicine and behavioral health. The aim of public health research is to find new methods and protocols to alleviate illness or adverse conditions on a large-scale basis, whether the research assesses the purity of drinking water in a region of a specific country, or is instead directed at reducing the incidence of suicide attempts in an urban center. The Master of Science in Public Health degree is a common qualifier for medical professionals who wish to specialize in public health research. Additional scientific degrees for public health specializations include the Doctor of Public Health, considered a professional degree, and the Doctor of Health Science, an academic degree.

Genetics Research

Medical scientists can also specialize in genetics. Genetics research involves examining the human genome at the level of DNA. Its aim is ultimately to identify all the different genes in the human genome and their variations, which correspond to specific areas of human DNA. Because many diseases and conditions can be traced to genetic variations, genetics research can also be considered a public health initiative that aims to prevent the occurrence of genetic variations that can result in fatal conditions or a biological predisposition to inheritable diseases. Molecular biologists and biochemists are especially well-qualified to become geneticists, as their advanced knowledge of the interactions and conditions of living tissue at the molecular level aid administration and interpretation of research on DNA.


The human brain remains one of the biggest mysteries of modern medicine. Several regions and functions of the human brain have been identified, but doctors and scientists remain mostly baffled by the brain's immense complexity and intricate processes. This is where neuroscientists come in -- they are medical scientists who work to further reveal the processes and components of the brain, whether from a psychological (conscious) or nervous system (unconscious) standpoint. Neuroscience, a term interchangeable with neurobiology, is an interdisciplinary subject that incorporates aspects of chemistry, computer science, engineering, mathematics, medicine, philosophy, physics and psychology.


Pharmacology, and its subdivision psychopharmacology, is the medical science that examines drugs and their effects. Any substance with medicinal properties -- that which can treat or prevent disease or illness -- is a pharmaceutical. Pharmacology relies heavily on preclinical and clinical trials that use animal, and later human, subjects to examine the effects -- including benefits and risks -- of possible medicinal substances. Cell biologists and biochemists who also hold medical degrees are uniquely suited to study the discipline of pharmacology because of their advanced knowledge of receptors and metabolic pathways in the human body and brain.

Work place of medical scientist?

Medical scientists usually work in offices and laboratories. 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 Environment

Medical scientists held about 103,100 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most medical scientists in 2012 were as follows:

Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 34%

Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state 21

General medical and surgical hospitals; private 10

Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing 8

Offices of physicians 4

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.

Knowledge areas that need to be acquired –

Biology - Knowledge of plant and animal organisms, their tissues, cells, functions, interdependencies, and interactions with each other and the environment.

English Language - Knowledge of the structure and content of the English language including the meaning and spelling of words, rules of composition, and grammar.

Medicine and Dentistry - Knowledge of the information and techniques needed to diagnose and treat human injuries, diseases, and deformities. This includes symptoms, treatment alternatives, drug properties and interactions, and preventive health-care measures.

Administration and Management - Knowledge of business and management principles involved in strategic planning, resource allocation, human resources modeling, leadership technique, production methods, and coordination of people and resources.

Chemistry - Knowledge of the chemical composition, structure, and properties of substances and of the chemical processes and transformations that they undergo. This includes uses of chemicals and their interactions, danger signs, production techniques, and disposal methods.

Mathematics - Knowledge of arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics, and their applications.

Computers and Electronics - Knowledge of circuit boards, processors, chips, electronic equipment, and computer hardware and software, including applications and programming.

Production and Processing - Knowledge of raw materials, production processes, quality control, costs, and other techniques for maximizing the effective manufacture and distribution of goods.

Education and Training - Knowledge of principles and methods for curriculum and training design, teaching and instruction for individuals and groups, and the measurement of training effects.

Law and Government - Knowledge of laws, legal codes, court procedures, precedents, government regulations, executive orders, agency rules, and the democratic political process.

Personnel and Human Resources - Knowledge of principles and procedures for personnel recruitment, selection, training, compensation and benefits, labor relations and negotiation, and personnel information systems.

Engineering and Technology - Knowledge of the practical application of engineering science and technology. This includes applying principles, techniques, procedures, and equipment to the design and production of various goods and services.

Customer and Personal Service - Knowledge of principles and processes for providing customer and personal services. This includes customer needs assessment, meeting quality standards for services, and evaluation of customer satisfaction.

Clerical - Knowledge of administrative and clerical procedures and systems such as word processing, managing files and records, stenography and transcription, designing forms, and other office procedures and terminology.

Communications and Media - Knowledge of media production, communication, and dissemination techniques and methods. This includes alternative ways to inform and entertain via written, oral, and visual media.

Sales and Marketing - Knowledge of principles and methods for showing, promoting, and selling products or services. This includes marketing strategy and tactics, product demonstration, sales techniques, and sales control systems.

Psychology - Knowledge of human behavior and performance; individual differences in ability, personality, and interests; learning and motivation; psychological research methods; and the assessment and treatment of behavioral and affective disorders.

Physics - Knowledge and prediction of physical principles, laws, their interrelationships, and applications to understanding fluid, material, and atmospheric dynamics, and mechanical,

Skills –

Science - Using scientific rules and methods to solve problems.

Critical Thinking - Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.

Reading Comprehension - Understanding written sentences and paragraphs in work related documents.

Active Listening - Giving full attention to what other people are saying, taking time to understand the points being made, asking questions as appropriate, and not interrupting at inappropriate times.

Writing - Communicating effectively in writing as appropriate for the needs of the audience.

Speaking - Talking to others to convey information effectively.

Complex Problem Solving - Identifying complex problems and reviewing related information to develop and evaluate options and implement solutions.

Active Learning - Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.

Monitoring - Monitoring/Assessing performance of yourself, other individuals, or organizations to make improvements or take corrective action.

Judgment and Decision Making - Considering the relative costs and benefits of potential actions to choose the most appropriate one.

Systems Analysis - Determining how a system should work and how changes in conditions, operations, and the environment will affect outcomes.

Systems Evaluation - Identifying measures or indicators of system performance and the actions needed to improve or correct performance, relative to the goals of the system.

Time Management - Managing one's own time and the time of others.

Social Perceptiveness - Being aware of others' reactions and understanding why they react as they do.

Mathematics - Using mathematics to solve problems.

Coordination - Adjusting actions in relation to others' actions.

Management of Personnel Resources - Motivating, developing, and directing people as they work, identifying the best people for the job.

Persuasion - Persuading others to change their minds or behavior.

Operations Analysis - Analyzing needs and product requirements to create a design.

Instructing - Teaching others how to do something.

Service Orientation - Actively looking for ways to help people.

Learning Strategies - Selecting and using training/instructional methods and procedures appropriate for the situation when learning or teaching new things.

Negotiation - Bringing others together and trying to reconcile differences.

Operation Monitoring - Watching gauges, dials, or other indicators to make sure a machine is working properly.


Medical scientists typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Creating interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Creating interest area indicates a focus on being original and imaginative, and working with artistic media.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Creating interest which might fit with a career as a medical scientist, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Work Styles

Integrity - Job requires being honest and ethical.

Initiative - Job requires a willingness to take on responsibilities and challenges.

Dependability - Job requires being reliable, responsible, and dependable, and fulfilling obligations.

Analytical Thinking - Job requires analyzing information and using logic to address work-related issues and problems.

Attention to Detail - Job requires being careful about detail and thorough in completing work tasks.

Cooperation - Job requires being pleasant with others on the job and displaying a good-natured, cooperative attitude.

Achievement/Effort - Job requires establishing and maintaining personally challenging achievement goals and exerting effort toward mastering tasks.

Leadership - Job requires a willingness to lead, take charge, and offer opinions and direction.

Adaptability/Flexibility - Job requires being open to change (positive or negative) and to considerable variety in the workplace.

Persistence - Job requires persistence in the face of obstacles.

Independence - Job requires developing one's own ways of doing things, guiding oneself with little or no supervision, and depending on oneself to get things done.

Innovation - Job requires creativity and alternative thinking to develop new ideas for and answers to work-related problems.

Stress Tolerance - Job requires accepting criticism and dealing calmly and effectively with high stress situations.

Concern for Others - Job requires being sensitive to others' needs and feelings and being understanding and helpful on the job.

Self-Control - Job requires maintaining composure, keeping emotions in check, controlling anger, and avoiding aggressive behavior, even in very difficult situations.

Social Orientation - Job requires preferring to work with others rather than alone, and being personally connected with others on

Work Values

Achievement — Occupations that satisfy this work value are results oriented and allow employees to use their strongest abilities, giving them a feeling of accomplishment. Corresponding needs are Ability Utilization and Achievement.

Independence — Occupations that satisfy this work value allow employees to work on their own and make decisions. Corresponding needs are Creativity,

Responsibility and Autonomy.

Support — Occupations that satisfy this work value offer supportive management that stands behind

employees. Corresponding needs are Company Policies, Supervision: Human Relations and Supervision:



The median annual wage for medical scientists is $84,810. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $46,810, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $156,980.

The median annual wages for medical scientists in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing $115,450

Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences $90,910

Hospitals; state, local, and private $87,060

Offices of physicians $82,560

Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private $61,270

Most medical scientists work full time.


Students planning careers as medical scientists typically pursue a bachelor's degree in biology, chemistry, or a related field. Undergraduate students benefit from taking a broad range of classes including life and physical sciences, mathematics, and disciplines that focus on developing communication skills. The importance of grant writing and publishing research findings makes writing skills essential.

After students have completed undergraduate studies, students typically enter Ph.D. programs. Dual degree programs are available that pair a Ph.D. with a range of specialized medical degrees. A few degree programs that are commonly paired with Ph.D. studies are Medical Doctor (M.D.), Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.), Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.), and Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.). While Ph.D. studies focus on research methods, such as project design, students in dual degree programs learn both the clinical skills needed to be a physician and the research skills needed to be a scientist.

Graduate programs place additional emphasis on laboratory work and original research. These programs offer prospective medical scientists the opportunity to develop their experiments and, sometimes, to supervise undergraduates. Ph.D. programs culminate in a thesis that the candidate presents before a committee of professors. Students typically begin to specialize in one particular field, such as gerontology, neurology, or cancers, in this phase of their studies.

Those who go to medical school spend most of the first 2 years in labs and classrooms, taking courses such as anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, psychology, microbiology, pathology, medical ethics, and medical law. They also learn how to record medical histories, examine patients, and diagnose illnesses. They also may be required to participate in residency programs, as they will have to meet the same requirements that physicians and surgeons have to fulfill.

Medical scientists often continue their education with postdoctoral work. Postdoctoral work provides valuable lab experience, including experience in specific processes and techniques such as gene splicing, which is transferable to other research projects.

Job Outlook

Employment of medical scientists is projected to grow 8 percent over the next ten years, 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.

Medical scientists will be needed for research related to treating diseases such as AIDS, Alzheimer's disease, and cancer. Research into treatment problems, such as resistance to antibiotics, also continue to provide opportunities for medical researchers. In addition, a higher population density and the increasing frequency of international travel may facilitate the spread of existing diseases and give rise to new ones. Medical scientists will continue to be needed because they contribute to the development of treatments and medicines that improve human health.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is some good advice for medical scientist students?

If you are contemplating pursuing a career in the life sciences, or have already embarked on one, you need to give some thought to your career prospects. So, take a study break, grab a cup of coffee and read on.

Unfortunately, I need to begin with some depressing facts. First, only a small minority of Ph.D. students will ever have opportunities to become principal investigators (PI) in academic settings and direct their own independent research programs .Second, even if you are among this elite group, the odds are that you will be well down the path towards retirement by the time you receive your first research project grant (R01) (the average age is 43) from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the principal source of funding for biomedical research in the United States. Third, for your entire career as a PI, you will put inordinate efforts into writing grants. If you should ever lose funding, you will be at the mercy of your institution for your continued employment. Fourth, if you do achieve the ‘Holy Grail’ of full professorship then you will not be poor, but you will be far worse off financially than nearly all of your peers who have similar levels of talent, energy and dedication, but who chose other careers.

What is it like being a medical scientist?

Medical Scientists conduct research dealing with the understanding of human diseases and the improvement of human health. ... They also plan and direct studies to investigate human or animal disease, preventive methods, and treatments for disease

What is the difference between a doctor and a scientist?

The goals of the scientist and the doctor are not the same. A scientist is trying to establish some knowledge, some universal truth about the world we live in. In contrast, a doctor is trying to help a patient. There is a world of difference in these goals.

What is the difference between a medical scientist and a doctor?

Different Goals. The goals of the scientist and the doctor are not the same. A scientist is trying to establish some knowledge, some universal truth about the world we live in. In contrast, a doctor is trying to help a patient.

How difficult is it to become a Medical scientist?

You will need an extensive amount of skill, knowledge and experience to be a Medical Scientist. Many require more than five years of experience. For example, a surgeon must complete four years of college and an additional five to seven years of specialized medical training to be able to do their job.

Is medical scientist an art or a science?

Medicine is supposed to be a scientific study and its practice an art. The study of disease requires the aid of science. Consummate art is required to effect a cure when nature is no longer able to help herself.

Is it worth it to study medical scientist?

Absolutely yes if you are studying out of passion and interest then studying medicine is worth it. studying Medicine is a long-term commitment and it is generally not taken lightly by students.

Should I become a medical scientist?

Students planning careers as medical scientists generally pursue a bachelor's degree in biology, chemistry, or a related field. Students also typically take courses that develop communication and writing skills, because they must learn to write grants effectively and publish their research findings.

What is Medical scientist like?

Medical scientists design and conduct studies to investigate human diseases, and methods to prevent and treat them. Medical scientists conduct research aimed at improving overall human health. They often use clinical trials and other investigative methods to reach their findings.

What are the professional courses one can pursue as a medical scientist?

The courses offered under Medical and Health Science are – MBBS, BDS, BPharm, BSc in Nursing, Public Health, Bachelor in Optometry, and more specializations. To become successful in medical and health science field, one need to specialize by going for post-graduation and research studies in medicine.

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