Health Care Scientist Careers: Salary Information & Job Description

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Health care scientists have the annual median earnings of about $80,000. Is this salary worth the education and work experience involved with this career? Read on to discover salary information, job descriptions and required skills for the job.
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Pros and Cons of Being a Health Care Scientist

Health care scientists (aka medical scientists) research and develop drugs to combat human ailments. If you think this is a career that might interest you, take a closer look at the pros and cons of being a health care scientist.

Pros of Being a Health Care Scientist
Good employment growth*
Variety of workplaces available (hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, government, etc.)*
Several career options in addition to research (postsecondary teachers, program directors, etc.)**
Research can provide breakthroughs in the medical field and improve lives*

Cons of Being a Health Care Scientist
Extensive education required*
Receiving funding for research and development (R&D) can be competitive*
Relatively high scores may be needed for graduate school (B average or above)**
Scientists may be exposed to dangerous substances or organisms*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB)

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Health care scientists work in labs, study diseases, perform drug tests, analyze results and adhere to safe scientific practices. Each work place has different responsibilities and research opportunities. For example, scientists who work at universities determine an ideal research project and request grants from various medical organizations for research. They tend to work independently. Those who work in private industries help develop projects or products that the company or organization has already approved. Scientists working for government projects may perform clinical tests.

In addition to performing meticulous experiments, these professionals must be able to communicate effectively to fellow scientists or technicians concerning results or findings. The scientists must also have exceptional writing skills, since a persuasive and sound research proposal can lead to funding from the government or other interested organizations. They also report their lab research in medical or scientific journals.

Salary Information and Career Outlook

In May 2014, the BLS states that the health care scientists, except epidemiologists from the 25th-75th percentile groups made annual wages ranging from about $56,000-$112,000. At the same time, the highest-paid workers made about $148,000.

The BLS also projects that these workers have the expected employment growth of 13% from 2012-2022. This favorable growth may be due to the need to create new pharmaceutical drugs and treatments for debilitating diseases such as cancer or AIDS.

What Are the Requirements?

You need to get a bachelor's and a doctoral degree in order to become a health care scientist. If you also want to give medical treatment to patients, you would also need to complete the same educational requirements as doctors. You would have to complete med school, receive a medical license and receive further training (such a residency program).

A common undergraduate field is biological science. Some common courses include advanced math, biology, physics and chemistry. Excellent written and oral communications skills are required for this career, so you may want to take English, composition and speech courses.

A doctoral degree program in biological science can take six years to complete. However, combined M.D. and Ph.D. programs also exist, and are an option if you want to become both a scientist and a physician. After receiving these degrees, you might also need to gain some work experience.

Useful Skills

In order to be a successful health care scientist, you need to have these qualities:

  • Good communication skills
  • Able to work with teams and by yourself
  • Strong analytical, problem-solving and observational skills
  • Strong interest in the sciences

Job Postings from Real Employers

Job postings for medical scientists typically explain which fields of study are involved with the work. The typical educational requirement was a Ph.D. degree, although some employers accepted master's degree holders. Prior experience in the field of study was also preferred or required. In April 2012, the following employers posted these following jobs on CareerBuilder.com and Monster.com:

  • A non-profit organization located in Maine requested a research scientist interested in genetics and neurobiology. Their main research focused on glaucoma and neurodegeneration. Applicants are expected to have strong leadership and writing skills.
  • A health services research company with offices in Massachusetts, Virginia and Delaware needed a principal scientist for a safety and epidemiology research team. The scientist needed to have at least ten years of experience in epidemiology or a related field and knowledge of how the biopharmaceutical industry works. The employer preferred applicants with a Pharm.D. or an M.D. degree, although a master's or doctoral degree was also acceptable.
  • A medical devices company in Minnesota sought a R&D scientist who can help develop radiofrequency (RF) ablation catheters and other RF products. A Ph.D. or master's degree holder was preferred, and the employer required experience in biotechnology.
  • A biopharmaceutical company in Massachusetts asked for a molecular toxicology scientist with acute knowledge of biochemistry, cell biology, bioinformatics, short interfering RNA (siRNA), gene expression and mitochondrial toxicity mechanisms. The applicants needed to have a Ph.D. degree and the ability to write for scientific journals/publications.

How Can I Stand Out?

One general way to stand out from other applicants is to keep up to date with current medical practices and research. You can read peer-reviewed medical journals or scientific publications for this information. Because communication is so vital for both employers and grants, you might want to take full advantage of teaching assistant opportunities.

However, one of the most important ways to stand out is to accumulate work experience. You can pursue research internships during the time you earn your baccalaureate degree. Even though you may not have a doctoral degree, you can still garner experience as a lab technician for biomedical firms, hospitals or government agencies like the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Postdoctoral Research

Ph.D. holders can opt for postdoctoral fellowships. These training periods may last 2-3 years, but they can lead to full time jobs. In addition to providing integral work experience, postdoctoral research is usually a prerequisite for teaching positions.

Look for potential postdoctoral mentors at gatherings such as the ASBMB Annual Meeting or Gordon Conferences. Getting to know the committee members from your graduate school can also be highly beneficial to learning where opportunities may exist. You'll want to choose a lab that best fits your own goals. For example, those interested in private industries may want to choose a lab that focuses on technical processes and skills in a specific field.

Alternative Careers

Medical/Clinical Laboratory Technologists

If you're looking for a career that doesn't have educational requirements as stringent as a health care scientist, then you can consider becoming a lab technologist. Clinical lab technologists assist physicians by analyzing specimens like cells or body fluids for microorganisms, parasites, bacteria or fungi.

These workers are involved with the medical field, but they only need a bachelor's degree in medical technology or a similar major. Depending on your state and employer's preferences, you may also need to be licensed and certified.

The BLS states that lab technologists made the median annual salary of about $57,000 in May 2011. The BLS also projects that all clinical lab workers (including clinical lab technologists) may have the employment growth of 11% for 2010-2020.

Pharmacists

Pharmacists share similar educational requirements with health care scientists, but they tend to make higher wages. Keep in mind that the some pharmacists worked long hours, and others were only able to work part-time. Pharmacists give out prescription drugs and ensure that patients are aware of side effects.

Aspiring pharmacists must complete at least 2-3 years of undergraduate work for pharmacy school. Pharmacy school programs last four years, and some students also have 1-2 years of residency/fellowship. Pharmacists must be licensed for work.

In May 2011, the BLS reports that pharmacists made the annual median wages of about $113,000. Their employment was expected to grow 25% for 2010-2020, according to the BLS.

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