Becoming a Clinical Scientist: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a clinical scientist career? Get real job duties, career outlook and salary info to see if becoming a clinical scientist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Clinical Scientist Career

As a clinical scientist, also called a 'medical scientist', you conduct research geared towards advancing human health. Check out the table below to explore some positive and negative aspects of a career in clinical science.

Pros of Being a Clinical Scientist
You could earn a high salary (the 2014 annual median salary was about $90,000)*
Average employment growth (13% from 2012 through 2022)*
Specializations make it possible for you to hone in on a subsection of the field*
Work is available through a variety of employer types/industries*

Cons of Being a Clinical Scientist
A doctorate degree is the typical educational requirement (at least 10 years of undergraduate and graduate studies combined)*
Contains health risks from handing harmful substances*
Work opportunities may be vulnerable due to government budget cuts (the federal government is a chief funding source for medical research)*
You may possibly work in a restrictive work environment (a lesser degree of autonomy in research activities in the private industry)*

*Source: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Information

Job Description

As a clinical scientist, you plan, direct and conduct research of varying types, including clinical trials. In a clinical trial, you monitor and analyze the effects of pharmaceutical products or other medical treatments given to patient groups. You might also develop medical protocols and instruments for clinical applications and analysis as well as create drug dose and immunization standards and procedures. In your career you may also have some administrative responsibilities, such as preparing grant proposals for research funding.

Specialization Options

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that specializations in areas such as pathology, genetics or bioinformatics may be offered during your graduate studies. In a pathology concentration, you would study diseases and how they impact the human body. In a genetics concentration, you would study the various aspects and components of heredity. In a bioinformatics specialization, your studies would focus on using technology for providing insight into biological processes.

Salary Info

According to the BLS, in 2014 the annual median salary for medical scientists, including clinical scientists (but excluding epidemiologists) was about $80,000. In the same year, the lowest paid 10% of scientists earned approximately $43,000, and the top-paid 10% made around $148,000.

What Are the Career Requirements?

The educational requirements for the majority of clinical or medical scientist positions is a Ph.D. in a life science, such as biology. However, many employers also accept a medical degree. The BLS reports that, to earn this degree, you would typically enroll in a degree program that yields either a Ph.D. only, which usually takes six years, or a Ph.D. and M.D. jointly, which lasts 7-8 years. Your graduate studies would provide advanced training through extensive laboratory work and classroom instruction.

Licensing

If you intend for your work duties to include interactions with medical patients, such as administering treatments (medications or therapy) or conducting invasive procedures, the BLS states that you would likely need to be a licensed physician. To earn your medical license, you must graduate from an accredited medical school, complete up to seven years of graduate medical education and pass a licensing exam.

What Employers Are Looking For

You could work for a wide range of employers, including government agencies, educational institutions, private research firms, pharmaceutical companies and hospitals. While employers are usually seeking individuals with doctorate degrees, they are also interested in those with excellent oral and written communication skills, industry experience and data-analysis skills. Below are job listings from real employers that found online in May 2012.

  • A research firm in MD seeks a clinical scientist with a Ph.D. in biology, microbiology or immunology. Ten years of work-specific experience including genetic analysis of microorganisms and in-vitro model development required. Additionally, applicants must have clinical systems or trials experience in immune modulation and responses. Having research-related peer reviewed journal articles also a must.
  • A pharmaceutical company in CT seeks a clinical scientist with a Ph.D., but a Pharm.D. degree would also be considered. Applicants must have 3-5 years of clinical development experience, preferably with a pharmaceutical company. Knowledge of drug development processes and FDA guidelines required. Successful candidates should also have excellent medical/scientific writing skills.
  • A research company in VA seeks a principal scientist with a M.S. or Ph.D, but prefers a Pharm.D. or M.D. At least ten years of epidemiology, biostatistics, health service research or other related work experience required. Other requirements include advanced knowledge of pharmacoepidemiology study design, published works of epidemiologic research via peer-reviewed scientific journals and excellent communication skills.

How to Stand Out in the Field

To increase your job opportunities, the BLS reports that is advantageous for clinical scientists to have both a Ph.D. and a medical degree.* Also, joining a trade association, such as the American Physician Scientists Association, may be another way to stand out in the marketplace. Membership benefits include networking opportunities and pertinent industry updates.

*Source: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Alternative Career Paths

Epidemiologist

If you are interested in working in the clinical science field, but are not interested in earning a Ph.D., you might consider becoming an epidemiologist. As an epidemiologist, you investigate the causes of public health problems to learn how to prevent them from occurring. The BLS reports that most epidemiologists have a master's degree. The BLS also predicts that during the 2010-2020 decade, job opportunities in the field will increase 24%, which is 12% lower than that of clinical scientists. According to the BLS, the 2011 annual salary for an epidemiologist was about $64,000.

Health Educator

As a health educator, you provide instruction to people on how to be facilitate personal wellness. You need a bachelor's degree and possibly professional certification for entry-level opportunities in the field. The BLS projects that employment opportunities for health educators will grow 37% during the 2010-2020 decade, which is slightly higher than the rate for clinical scientists. However, during 2011, the annual medial salary for health educators was about $48,000, which was $28,000 less than the annual median salary for clinical scientists during the same year.

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Kaplan University

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American University

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Keiser University

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Herzing University

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Northcentral University

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