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:

  • Design and conduct studies to investigate human diseases and methods to prevent and treat diseases
  • Prepare and analyze data from medical samples and investigate causes and treatment of toxicity, pathogens, or chronic diseases
  • Standardize drugs' potency, doses, and methods of administering to allow for their mass manufacturing and distribution
  • Create and test medical devices
  • Follow safety procedures, such as decontaminating workspaces
  • Write research grant proposals and apply for funding from government agencies, private funding, and other sources
  • Write articles for publication and present research findings

Medical scientists form hypotheses and develop experiments. They study the causes of diseases and other health problems in a variety of ways. For example, they may conduct clinical trials, working with licensed physicians to test treatments on patients who have agreed to participate in the study. They analyze data from the trial to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment.

Some medical scientists choose to write about and publish their findings in scientific journals after completion of the clinical trial. They also may have to present their findings in ways that nonscientist audiences understand.

Medical scientists often lead teams of technicians or students who perform support tasks. For example, a medical scientist may have assistants take measurements and make observations for the scientist’s research.

Medical scientists usually specialize in an area of research, with the goal of understanding and improving human health outcomes. The following are examples of types of medical scientists:

Clinical pharmacologists research new drug therapies for health problems, such as seizure disorders and Alzheimer’s disease.

Medical pathologists research the human body and tissues, such as how cancer progresses or how certain issues relate to genetics.

Toxicologists study the negative impacts of chemicals and pollutants on human health.

Medical scientists conduct research to better understand disease or to develop breakthroughs in treatment. For information about an occupation that tracks and develops methods to prevent the spread of diseases, see the profile on epidemiologists.

Work Environment

Medical scientists held about 119,200 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of medical scientists were as follows:

Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences            36%
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 23
Hospitals; state, local, and private 17
Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing 4
Offices of physicians 1

Medical scientists typically work in offices and laboratories. In the lab, they sometimes work with dangerous biological samples and chemicals. They must take precautions in the lab to ensure safety, such as by wearing protective gloves, knowing the location of safety equipment, and keeping work areas neat.

Work Schedules

Most medical scientists work full time, and some work more than 40 hours per week.

Education and Training

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.

Personality and Interests

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.

Medical scientists should also possess the following specific qualities:

Communication skills. Communication is critical, because medical scientists must be able to explain their conclusions. In addition, medical scientists write grant proposals, which are often required to continue their research.

Critical-thinking skills. Medical scientists must use their expertise to determine the best method for solving a specific research question.

Data-analysis skills. Medical scientists use statistical techniques, so that they can properly quantify and analyze health research questions.

Decision-making skills. Medical scientists must use their expertise and experience to determine what research questions to ask, how best to investigate the questions, and what data will best answer the questions.

Observation skills. Medical scientists conduct experiments that require precise observation of samples and other health data. Any mistake could lead to inconclusive or misleading results.


The median annual wage for medical scientists was $95,310 in May 2021. 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 $50,100, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $166,980.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for medical scientists in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences               $102,210
Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing 99,830
Hospitals; state, local, and private 79,800
Offices of physicians 79,760
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 62,560

Most medical scientists work full time, and some work more than 40 hours per week.

Job Outlook

Employment of medical scientists is projected to grow 17 percent from 2021 to 2031, much faster than the average for all occupations.

About 10,000 openings for medical scientists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire. 


Demand for medical scientists will stem from greater demand for a variety of healthcare services as the population continues to age and rates of chronic disease continue to increase. These scientists will be needed for research into treating diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and cancer, and problems related to treatment, such as resistance to antibiotics. In addition, medical scientists will continue to be needed for medical research as a growing population travels globally and facilitates the spread of diseases.

The availability of federal funds for medical research grants also may affect opportunities for these scientists.


Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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This information is taken directly from the Occupational Outlook Handbook published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Truity does not editorialize the information, including changing information that our readers believe is inaccurate, because we consider the BLS to be the authority on occupational information. However, if you would like to correct a typo or other technical error, you can reach us at

I am not sure if this career is right for me. How can I decide?

There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. On this site, you can take the Career Personality Profiler assessment, the Holland Code assessment, or the Photo Career Quiz.

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