How to Become a Medical Researcher (And Salary Expectations)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated September 5, 2022

Published September 29, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Medical researchers assist health specialists, governments, NGOs, and research centres with conducting experiments and analyzing results to improve public health. They may test tissue samples, bodily fluids, blood, and medication to increase scientific knowledge on topics related to medicine. By learning more about the role of a medical researcher, you can determine whether it's the right career path for you. In this article, we look at what a medical researcher is, explore what they do, and explain how to become a medical researcher.

What is a medical researcher?

Sometimes known as a medical scientist, a medical researcher's primary role is to study diseases and different conditions to improve public health. Through designing studies, research, and data collection, medical researchers can determine the causes of diseases, learn about the connection between different conditions, and develop ways to treat or prevent them. This includes improving existing drugs, developing new ones, and assisting with creating new medical devices.

To reach their goals, medical researchers study topics such as bacteria, viruses, pathogens, and infectious diseases. They often work alongside other health care professionals, such as physicians, nurses, and numerous health departments.

Related: 12 Rewarding Jobs in Life Science for Those Who Love Research

What does a medical researcher do?

On a typical day, a medical researcher can accomplish a lot to improve public health. Primarily, a day in a medical researcher life involves:

  • collecting, interpreting, and analyzing data from clinical trials

  • working alongside engineering, regulatory, and quality assurance experts to evaluate the risk of medical devices

  • designing and implementing clinical studies

  • preparing and examining medical samples for causes or treatments of toxicity, disease, or pathogens

  • designing, creating, and testing medical devices

  • collaborating with health professionals in other departments to design programs that improve health outcomes

  • adhering to government requirements

  • managing peer presentation and publications at scientific conferences

  • maintaining accurate records of different findings

  • working with researchers, communication, sales, and marketing experts

  • ensuring strict adherence to procedures to avoid contamination and promote proper handling of dangerous materials

  • writing reports based on clinical studies

  • identifying and standardizing potency, methods, and drug doses for mass manufacturing and distribution

  • meeting with external specialists to gain an understanding of their views and share their standpoint

Some medical researchers must apply for external income sources to help fund their research. Some of their time may be spent applying for research grants, along with funding from both the government and private sources. As the goal of their career is to improve overall public health, it's important for medical researchers to share their findings with the medical industry.

How to become a medical researcher

The first step to becoming a medical scientist is ensuring you have the right qualifications. You must earn the right degrees and gain valuable experience to secure a job. You also need to make sure you have the right set of both hard and soft skills. Importantly, make sure you are interested in this career path before getting started. Follow these more detailed steps on how to become a medical researcher:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

To become a medical scientist, you first need to get a bachelor's degree in chemistry, biology, or related fields. A bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement and takes three to four years, and you can proceed to earn a master's degree, which takes another two years.

A bachelor's degree gives you the foundation knowledge you need to succeed in your career, and most medical schools look for candidates with a 3.3 GPA or higher. So, focus on earning excellent grades throughout your program.

2. Study relevant courses

While pursuing your bachelor's degree, you may also want to enrol in elective courses such as math, technical writing, life science, public speaking, and physical sciences. These courses help you develop relevant skills by the time you complete your degree. Consider elective courses directly related to your chosen field of study to become an expert in the field.

3. Earn a doctorate degree

The next step is to get a doctoral medical degree, such as a doctorate of medicine (MD). You also have the option to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry and biology. To earn your doctorate degree, you typically perform lab work, learn about different research methods, review a code of ethics, and write a thesis.

4. Complete a residency in medical research

After school, you need to be prepared to enter medical residency, which can last for three to seven years. During a medical residency program, you work closely with experienced medical researchers. This gives you an opportunity to gain the hands-on experience you can't get in a classroom setting. The medical residency typically takes place in a research facility, which means you have an opportunity to meet and learn from more experienced professionals.

5. Apply for a license

To become a licensed medical researcher, you need to get the right license. This sometimes may involve completing an examination. If unsure how to go about the whole process, the medical scientists you have come across during your residency can guide you. If you plan on performing research without patient contact, a license may not be necessary. To work a job that requires practising medicine or administering drugs, a license is required.

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Skills you need to become a medical researcher

To be a successful medical scientist, you need a range of soft and hard skills to excel in your work. For instance, you need to be able to communicate clearly and collaborate with your colleagues and benefit from relevant technical skills such as knowledge of specific lab equipment to ensure everyone's safety. These skills are part of the many requirements employers look for during a job interview, so it's important to highlight them in your application and when interviewing for a role.

Here is a list of all the core skills you can use to excel as a medical researcher:

  • Critical thinking skills: to analyze different conditions using different approaches to reach appropriate conclusions

  • Data analysis skills: to draw meaningful conclusions from the data amassed through experimentation in the lab

  • Ability to work independently: to prove that employers can trust you to complete different projects without counting on the support of your colleagues

  • Public speaking skills: for presenting your findings to stakeholders

  • Teamwork skills: to collaborate with other professionals on different projects

  • Attention to detail: to determine precise and accurate results

  • Excellent communication skills: to prepare, write, and articulate your findings in reports or presentations

  • Decision-making skills: to use the available test information or findings to advise on public health

Related: Technical Skills: Definitions and Examples

The work environment for a medical researcher

Medical scientists work for colleges, universities, companies involved in research, and health care facilities. Often, they work full time following the standard working hours. They may occasionally need to work outside of regular business hours, depending on the nature of the task and urgency of the research.

When working in learning institutions, medical scientists can work in laboratories to conduct various research experiments and instruct a team on laboratory procedures. They may also pursue careers as instructors or professors, where they teach different courses in traditional classrooms or online. Because they handle biological samples and dangerous chemicals, they must take preventative measures, follow safety procedures, and wear protective equipment when working.

Related: 19 Common Interview Questions and Answers

How much do medical researchers make?

Having a clear idea of what to earn when you become a medical researcher can help you decide if this is a good career choice for you. The national average salary of a medical researcher is $75,344 per year. There is also room for career advancement and higher earning potential as you gain experience.

Related: 20 Popular Careers in Health Science To Consider

Job outlook for a medical scientist

Medical researchers have a significant role in improving public health. Health institutions, research centres, government agencies, and private entities need their expertise to contribute to public health. From 2019 to 2028, the balance in labour supply and demand witnessed in recent years is likely to continue. New opportunities are expected to total 8,000 while the number of job seekers is expected to be 7,800.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organization‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌, ‌and‌ ‌location.‌

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