How to Become a Medical Scientist
Medical scientists typically have a Ph.D. and sometimes are certified medical doctors as well.
Medical scientists typically have a Ph.D., usually in biology or a related life science. Some get a medical degree instead of, or in addition to, a Ph.D.
Medical scientists typically need a Ph.D. or medical degree. Candidates sometimes qualify for positions with a master’s degree and experience. Applicants to master’s or doctoral programs typically have a bachelor's degree in biology or a related physical science field, such as chemistry.
Ph.D. programs for medical scientists typically focus on research in a particular field, such as immunology, neurology, or cancer. Through laboratory work, Ph.D. students develop experiments related to their research.
Medical degree programs include Medical Doctor (M.D.), Doctor of Dental Surgery (D.D.S.), Doctor of Dental Medicine (D.M.D.), Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.), Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.), and advanced nursing degrees. In medical school, students usually spend the first phase of their education in labs and classrooms, taking courses such as anatomy, biochemistry, and medical ethics. During their second phase, medical students typically participate in residency programs.
Some medical scientist training programs offer dual degrees that pair a Ph.D. with a medical degree. Students in dual-degree programs learn both the research skills needed to be a scientist and the clinical skills needed to be a healthcare practitioner.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Medical scientists primarily conduct research and typically do not need licenses or certifications. However, those who practice medicine, such as by treating patients in clinical trials or in private practice, must be licensed as physicians or other healthcare practitioners.
Medical scientists with a Ph.D. may begin their careers in postdoctoral research positions; those with a medical degree often complete a residency. During postdoctoral appointments, Ph.D.s work with experienced scientists to learn more about their specialty area and improve their research skills. Medical school graduates who enter a residency program in their specialty generally spend several years working in a hospital or doctor’s office.
Communication skills. Medical scientists must be able to explain their research in nontechnical ways. In addition, they may write grant proposals in order to get funding for their research.
Critical-thinking skills. Medical scientists must use their expertise to determine the best method for approaching research questions.
Data-analysis skills. Medical scientists use statistics to evaluate research questions and information from clinical trials.
Decision-making skills. Medical scientists must determine what research questions to ask, how to investigate the questions, and which data answer the questions.
Observation skills. Medical scientists conduct experiments that require monitoring samples and other health-related data.