How to Become a Medical Scientist

How to Become a Medical Scientist: Career Path Guide

If you want to become a medical scientist, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for you. If the following description sounds like you, then you’re probably well suited for this career:


Those who become medical scientists have a keen interest in contributing to the body of knowledge in medical science.


They must have the intellectual and emotional fortitude necessary to complete an advanced degree in medical science. They must also have communications skills and be articulate, in order to perform such duties as communicating their findings and drafting research grant proposals.


If you’ve determined that you’re interested in becoming a medical scientist, you’ll now need to learn how to become one.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a medical scientist in the United States (and Canada). We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Medical Scientist

To become a medical scientist, you need to begin by earning a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology or a closely related field such as Chemistry or Biochemistry. Completing coursework in biology, chemistry, molecular biology, pharmacology, immunology, physiology, mathematics and statistics is a great way to build an educational foundation for your prospective career as a medical scientist.


Although having a bachelor’s degree may help you gain access to entry-level jobs in medical science, such as lab assistant, it will be necessary to obtain a graduate degree or medical degree in order to work as a researcher.


Graduate programs, such as a Master of Science program or a Ph.D. program, are extremely beneficial for future careers in medical science, as they place additional emphasis on laboratory work, as well as original research.


Prospective medical scientists who attend medical school spend most of the first 2 years doing laboratory work and taking courses such as anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, psychology, microbiology, pathology, medical ethics, and medical law.


It is quite common for medical scientists to continue their education with postdoctoral work at universities or with federal agencies. Postdoctoral work provides valuable lab experience, including experience in very specific processes and techniques such as gene splicing, These opportunities may also lead to permanent jobs with the sponsoring organization.





Medical Scientist Job Description

Medical scientists aim to improve human health by researching human diseases and medical conditions. Many medical scientists conduct research on the life processes of viruses, bacteria and other infectious living organism which affect human health. Their research results in the advance of knowledge pertaining to the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and illness.



Medical Scientist Job Duties

• Conduct applied research to support product development

• May conduct independent research in universities, hospitals or government laboratories

• May submit grant proposals to obtain project funding

• Study biological systems to understand the causes of disease and other health problems

• Draw blood, exact tissue, or perform other invasive procedures

• Use knowledge acquired during research to develop new drugs and medical treatments

• For business reasons may have to explain results of research to the management of the company that employs them

• Confer with engineers, technicians, managers and other scientists from various disciplines

• Read relevant scientific journals and publications

• May review the work of peers


Personal Characteristics and Skills Needed to Become a Medical Scientist

In order to become successful in a career as a medical scientist, you need to have a certain set of personality traits, as well as a certain skill set. These skills and traits will ensure that you are able to perform your job in a competent and professional manner.


• Posses the patience and stamina to keep until results or breakthroughs are achieved

• Have a strong interest in science and medicine

• Should enjoy conducting research and synthesizing information

• Be highly organized and able to keep detailed records of work performed

• Comfortable working with teams of scientists, who will likely be composed of individuals with a variety of personality types

• Be able to effectively deal with a difference in opinion

• Must be able to precisely observe and monitor samples and other data

• Must be able to determine what data will be able to help answer the questions posed prior to, during and after research



Medical Scientist Salary: How Much Do Medical Scientists Earn?

The salary level of medical scientists can vary depending on factors such as where they work, their level of experience, their level of education and many others.


Medical Scientist Salary Alberta: According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans who work in the Biologists and Related Scientists occupational group earn an average wage between $26.73 and $62.00 an hour. The mean wage for this occupational group is $39.83 an hour.


Medical Scientist Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage of medical scientists is $76,700 (May 2010 data). The lowest 10 percent earned less than $41,560, and the top 10 percent earned more than $142,800 per year. 





Who Hires Medical Scientists? Where Do They Work?

There are many employers, both in the private and public sectors, that are interested in employing the skills, knowledge and competencies of medical scientists, including:


• Private and public scientific research and development organizations

• Colleges, universities, and professional schools

• Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing    

• Medical and surgical hospitals

• Pharmaceutical research, production and distribution companies


With enough education and experience, medical scientist may move into managerial positions within their places of employment



Areas of Specialty For Medical Scientists

There are many different areas that medical scientists can decide to specialize in, among them are:


• Haematology

• Blood banking and transfusion

• Clinical chemistry

• Microbiology

• Anatomical pathology

• Cytogenetics

• Stem cell manipulation

• Tumor diagnosis

• Cytological diagnosis

• DNA or forensic testing



Work Environment for Medical Scientists

The work settings, conditions and duties of medical scientists can vary greatly from one job or employer to the next. Below are examples of the primary types of settings for medical scientist careers:


Classroom: These medical scientists typically conduct lectures, grade papers and advise students. They have working hours that can fluctuate from very few hours a week to a very heavy workload. They may work normal weekday working hours with extra hours put in for preparing lesson plans, grading papers and performing other duties during evenings and weekends. Some medical scientists teaching in universities and colleges may teach classes exclusively, or they may be involved in research as well.


Laboratory: Medical scientists that work in labs spend the majority of their time conducting, documenting and analyzing research. Working in a laboratory typically involves working with hazardous organic materials and inorganic chemicals. These medical scientists typically work during normal weekday hours.



Careers Similar to Medical Scientist

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to Medical Scientist, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Biotechnology Researcher

Cell Biologist

Clinical Research Associate


Molecular Biologist



References: How to Become a Medical Scientist

Please use the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a medical scientist.


Occupations in Alberta:Biomedical Engineer.” (March 31, 2018). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved January 3, 2020.

Life, Physical, and Social Science:Medical Scientists.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved January 3, 2020.

Featured Librarian:Finding Nirvana: Paths to Becoming a Physician-Scientist.” Aimee S. Payne, Skip Brass (October 16, 2013). American Association for the Advancement of Science website. Retrieved January 3, 2020.



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Scholarships for Becoming a Medical Scientist

Scholarships in Canada and the United States listed for majors that apply to becoming a Medical Scientist can be found on our Biology Scholarships page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Becoming a Medical Scientist: Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a medical scientist, as they can provide you with the necessary skills, knowledge and competencies to succeed in this career. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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