Careers In Medical Research
If you are a prospective medical student or a physician-in-training, but you have also always wanted to be a scientist, then one of the many medical research careers may be for you. A medical researcher—also known as a medical scientist—is typically a physician who conducts research aimed at improving overall human health. Because it may incorporate any number of medical fields or specialties, medical scientists must be well versed in all the medical sciences as well as in all modern and developing medical techniques, treatments, and even unsolved problems.
If you are considering any of the medical research careers, you may be happy to know that medical research is a growing and ever-expanding field. Imagine the everyday research investigating cures for cancer and other diseases, or the immense amount of research that goes into creating vaccines—particularly on the double when an emergency pandemic such as COVID-19 threatens the world’s population. With the never-ending expansion of and quest for medical knowledge, medical researchers are always in demand.
All physicians conduct research in some form or another, but medical scientists dedicate their time and efforts to full-time research. This does not necessarily mean abandoning clinical practice, however. A number of physician-scientists maintain their medical practices—albeit with fewer hours or patients—and indeed seeing patients regularly keeps topics and treatments fresh in mind, feeds medical curiosity, and provokes forays into research and investigation.
How to Become a Medical Research Doctor
Medical research physicians are highly trained. To begin with, they must have a bachelor’s degree and complete four years of medical school at a quality institution such as the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC). After that, the newly minted doctor of medicine (MD) may choose to obtain a license to practice medicine, which requires a three-year residency, and the doctor may also complete a doctor of philosophy (PhD) degree—the part that provides the research expertise. In some medical school programs, students may pursue a dual MD-PhD at the same time. All physician-scientists must pass the first two steps of the United States Medical Learning Examination® (USMLE®).
Not all medical scientists are physicians: a PhD in a biomedical laboratory discipline alone may get you there. But as a medical student, the path to medical research follows your MD degree. To enter the physician-scientist workforce, you must be an excellent student, forever curious, steadfastly determined, and unafraid to fail.
How To Get Into a Medical Research Field
Prior to or during medical school, your investigation begins with looking into how to become a medical researcher. Your first step for how to get into the medical research field is an important one: take courses in research and talk with your instructors about volunteering in a lab or participating in research projects. As you advance through medical school, you will gain the fundamental foundation upon which to build a medical research career. Research and training opportunities during medical school include internships, fellowships, grants, scholarships, and summer programs. For students eager to test their medical research abilities and potential, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) offers a Summer Internship Program (SIP) in biomedical research as well as a year-long Medical Research Scholars Program (MRSP).
The path you take after medical school may depend on the type of research you want to do, and whether or not you want to practice medicine as well. Medical research PhD paths and specialties include:
- Biomedical Engineering
- Cell Biology
- Clinical Research
- Computational Biology
- Data Science
- Developmental Biology
- Experimental Pathology
- Gene Therapy
- Human Disease
- Molecular Biology
- Molecular Medicine
- Structural Biology
- Translational Research
The options are many, and following one path does not bar you from pursuing another. Many disciplines are related or may be combined, and it is very common for research interests to change over the course of training as you discover new medical and research topics during clinical experiences and coursework.
Within the many disciplines, there are different kinds of biomedical research. Basic (or experimental) research is done to advance the fundamental knowledge and understanding of the chemical, functional, and physical mechanisms of life processes and disease. Applied biomedical research takes the findings of experimental research and builds on them to improve health or develop new treatments or medications. Clinical researchers study how the treatments and drugs developed by the applied researchers may advance the treatment of diseases or disorders. Some physician-scientists specialize in research evaluation or research training, while others broaden the horizon to translational research, which applies new discoveries to whole populations. Much important biomedical work is also done in epidemiological and stem cell research.
Where do biomedical scientists work?
As you wonder how to get a job in medical research, you may first look at where you may work in medical research. Laboratories are the top answer, naturally, but where do you find those laboratories? You may be surprised at the some of the options:
- Academic research institutions
- Biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies
- Financial institutions
- Government agencies
- Law firms
- Mass communication companies
- Philanthropic/ Non-profit organizations
This list is only the beginning, too. Every day, opportunities for clinician-scientists grow and expand into new areas, new fields, and new technologies.
Pursuing a career in medical research opens a wide array of opportunities for the medical student who enjoys a challenge and has the grit to stick with a project to the end. Your path to a successful career as a physician-scientist begins with four years of study at a medical school. Apply for admission to the American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC) today.