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Medical Scientists - What They Do

How to Advance (Advancement)
Advancement among medical scientists usually takes the form of greater independence in their work, larger budgets, or tenure in university positions. Others choose to move into managerial positions and become natural science managers. Those who pursue management careers spend more time preparing budgets and schedules.

Medical scientists held about 109,400 jobs in 2008. About 31 percent of medical scientists were employed in scientific research and development services firms. Another 27 percent were employed in educational services; 13 percent were employed in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing; and 10 percent were employed in hospitals.

Job Outlook
Medical scientists are expected to grow much faster than average over the coming decade. Those with both a Ph.D. and M.D. are likely to experience the best opportunities.

Job Growth
Employment of medical scientists is expected to increase 40 percent over the 2008-18 decade, much faster than the average for all occupations. Medical scientists have enjoyed rapid gains in employment since the 1980s—reflecting, in part, the growth of biotechnology as an industry. Much of the basic biological and medical research done in recent years has resulted in new knowledge, including the isolation and identification of genes. Medical scientists will be needed to take this knowledge to the next stage—understanding how certain genes function within an entire organism—so that medical treatments can be developed for various diseases. Even pharmaceutical and other firms not solely engaged in biotechnology have adopted biotechnology techniques, thus creating employment for medical scientists. However, job growth will moderate from its previous heights as the biotechnology industry matures and begins to grow at a slower rate. Some companies may also conduct more of their research and development in lower-wage countries, further limiting employment growth.

Employment growth should also occur as a result of the expected expansion in research related to illnesses such as AIDS, cancer, and avian flu, along with growing treatment problems, such as antibiotic resistance. Moreover, environmental conditions such as overcrowding and the increasing frequency of international travel will tend to spread existing diseases and give rise to new ones. Medical scientists will continue to be needed because they greatly contribute to the development of treatments and medicines that improve human health.

The Federal Government is a major source of funding for medical research. Large budget increases at the National Institutes of Health in the early part of the decade led to increases in Federal basic research and development expenditures, with research grants growing both in number and dollar amount. However, the increase in expenditures slowed substantially in recent years. Going forward, the level of Federal funding will continue to impact competition for winning and renewing research grants.

Medical scientists with both doctoral and medical degrees are likely to experience the best opportunities. Workers with both a biological and professional medical background will have a distinct advantage in competing for research funding, as certain opportunities are only open to those with both qualifications.

Medical scientists are less likely to lose their jobs during recessions than workers in many other occupations because they are employed on long-term research projects. However, a recession could influence the amount of money allocated to new research and development, particularly in areas of risky or innovative medical research. A recession also could limit extensions or renewals of existing projects.

Median annual wages of medical scientists, except epidemiologists, were $72,590 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent of these workers earned between $51,640 and $101,290. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $39,870, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $134,770.

Earnings are lower and benefits limited for medical scientists in postdoctoral placements; workers in permanent positions typically receive higher wages and excellent benefits, in addition to job security.

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