How Do I Become a Medical Scientist?

Steve R.
Steve R.
Medical scientists conduct research in medicine and how to combat disease.
Medical scientists conduct research in medicine and how to combat disease.

A medical scientist is someone with a strong scientific background who conducts research in a specific field of medicine, often seeking ways to combat diseases. A person who wants to become a medical scientist should have strong analytic skills and an interest in the sciences. Years of training are required to become a medical scientist; a doctoral degree in a science-related field such as chemistry or biology is typically the minimum education required to gain employment in various clinical settings, which may include a laboratory, research university, or private industry. After obtaining doctoral degrees, many students who want to become medical scientists obtain postdoctoral positions to gain more research experience.

A person seeking to become a medical scientist needs to earn a bachelor’s degree, typically in a biological science. During the undergraduate experience, a student who wants to enter the medical research profession needs to take courses such as physics, engineering, chemistry, and mathematics. Writing and communication courses are often helpful as well: Medical scientists compose grant proposals and write up research findings, and they also may need to offer instructions to others.

Generally, after receiving an undergraduate degree, a potential medical scientist concentrates in a particular area. Some specializations of medical science include cytology, infectious diseases, and pathology. One path to becoming a medical scientist entails completing a doctorate program, which generally takes six years, in a specialized area.

Another way to become a medical scientist is to receive dual training to become skilled as both a medical scientist and a doctor. An individual who wants to do clinical research may need a medical degree even though he may not want to practice as a physician. A medical scientist who interacts with patients to perform procedures such as drawing blood or removing tissue must obtain a physician's license, which requires successful completion from an accredited medical college or university and passing a specific assessment examination. Dual physician and doctorate programs may take up to eight years to complete. An individual who obtains a joint degree gains a competitive edge in obtaining research funding.

After completing an advanced degree, an aspiring medical scientist may begin his or her career path with a period of postdoctoral work. During this time, a person gains additional familiarity by working in a research environment. Postdoctoral work also allows a person to hone his or her skills on specific practices under the tutelage of a senior researcher. In some instances, postdoctoral work may lead to a full-time job.

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Discussion Comments

bythewell

@Iluviaporos - I actually think that was really brave of your friend. There is such big status attached to doctors that I think a lot of people go into medical school who don't really enjoy the work.

Or, at least, they don't enjoy all the aspects of the work. Bedside manner has been shown in research to be incredibly important in patient care.

The people who don't genuinely enjoy being around people and making them feel good should go into other fields like a medical research career and leave the doctoring to those who are better suited to it.

lluviaporos

I have a friend who became a medical scientist after giving up on becoming a medical doctor. Which is not to say that they are less skilled than doctors of course! But, being a doctor usually requires not only enormous intelligence and commitment, but also people skills.

My friend just didn't think he could deal with patients day in and day out.

He wanted to help people though, and the processes of medical science fascinated him, so after completing pre-med he switched his papers slightly to concentrate on medical science instead.

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    • Medical scientists conduct research in medicine and how to combat disease.
      Medical scientists conduct research in medicine and how to combat disease.