How To Become a Medical Scientist

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 14 July 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

If you're interested in pursuing a results-oriented career in science with strong future growth, consider becoming a medical scientist. They specialise in areas like haematology, immunology and microbiology, and help in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of diseases. Understanding the steps required to achieve this career can help you decide whether this role is right for you. In this article, we discuss everything you need to know about how to become a medical scientist, including the right qualifications and skills, and provide answers to frequently asked questions.

How to become a medical scientist

Medical scientists perform tests in laboratories on blood, body fluids and tissue with the aim of diagnosing, treating and preventing various diseases. Now, here's a step-by-step guide to how to become a medical scientist:

1. Complete a relevant bachelor's degree

The first step to becoming a medical scientist is to earn a bachelor's degree. You need to complete a Bachelor in Medical Science, Medical Laboratory Science, Laboratory Medicine or Biomedical Science. Depending on the course and university, these degrees take between three and four years to complete. Prerequisites differ across states and territories but typically include English, science (particularly chemistry and biology) and mathematics subjects.

While studying for your degree, you can learn through coursework and hands-on experiences. Your coursework can focus on the different medical science disciplines, like microbiology, pathology, haematology and immunology. You can also gain practical experience through onsite teaching laboratories and internships at recognised state laboratories.

2. Focus on a specialty

In the final year of your bachelor's degree, you can typically specialise in one or more medical science disciplines. According to the Australian Institute of Medical and Clinical Scientists (AIMS), there are nine distinct medical science disciplines:

  • Anatomical pathology: examine body cells and tissues microscopically to determine whether a disease, such as cancer, is or isn't present.

  • Cytology: this is the study of cells to determine whether abnormal cells exist. One of the most common areas of work for cytologists involves pap smear tests, to detect cervical cancer early.

  • Haematology: use automated laboratory instruments to count the number of red cells, white cells and platelets to identify anaemia and leukaemia.

  • Immunology: assist in the diagnosis of viral and autoimmune diseases, together with cancer and immunological deficiencies.

  • Virology: perform examinations to detect viruses in tissue or cells and study the consequences of viral infections.

  • Blood transfusion: also known as immunohaematology, this involves testing recipient and donor blood to ensure compatibility and then a safe transfusion.

  • Clinical biochemistry: perform chemical analysis on body fluid to establish abnormal levels of chemicals or hormones. A common practice is analysing blood to assess the function of the liver, kidneys and heart.

  • Microbiology: identify microorganisms like bacteria, viruses and parasites through microscopic examination and biochemical tests and determine the right antibiotic treatment.

  • Genetics and molecular pathology: molecular pathology is a fast-growing area for medical scientists and focuses on the study and diagnosis of diseases through the molecular examination of organs, tissue and body fluids. It crosses over other disciplines like genetics, biochemistry, clinical pathology and molecular biology.

3. Gain professional membership

The Australian Institute of Medical and Clinical Scientists (AIMS) is an independent body that represents the country's medical science professionals. Its aim is to support and further develop the careers of medical scientists through continued education, which includes lectures on the latest advancements and the publication of its scientific journal. If you graduate with an AIMS-accredited degree, you gain automatic admission to the organisation as a Graduate Member. When you complete two years of postgraduate professional medical laboratory experience, you are eligible to become an official member.

Another organisation to join is AusBiotech, the country's largest biotechnology network. Its aim is to connect its members to a nationwide network of life science professionals. Become a member to stay updated on current trends and issues and support the growing life science industry.

4. Start working

Once you graduate from university and become a member of these organisations, the last step in how to become a medical scientist is gaining employment. Network using the contacts made at your course-related internship and find open positions through Indeed Job Search.

Related: Guide: Using Indeed Job Search

What does a medical scientist do?

Here's a list of typical day-to-day duties a medical scientist might perform:

  • Study blood, test blood and identify blood diseases.

  • Analyse body tissue and fluid samples and develop techniques to help diagnose and treat diseases.

  • Examine samples to study the effects of microbial infections.

  • Conduct studies on common human diseases and determine ways to treat and prevent them.

  • Interpret tests and clinical trial data and advise medical practitioners on how to diagnose and treat certain diseases.

  • Create and implement clinical studies.

  • Prepare scientific research papers and reports, manage peer review publications and deliver presentations to healthcare professionals at events like scientific conferences.

  • Operate and maintain laboratory equipment and follow quality assurance and safety procedures.

  • Collaborate with colleagues in departments like clinical medical research, medical communication, and sales and marketing.

Medical scientists predominantly work in laboratories at public and private hospitals, universities, private medical practices and state health offices.

What skills do you need to become a medical scientist?

Here is a list of recommended skills you need to become a successful medical scientist:

  • Analytical skills: as you can spend your days examining samples under a microscope, no matter the discipline, it's essential to have excellent attention to detail, so you're able to work accurately and make logical observations. You can also use your strong analytical and problem-solving skills to identify problems, process potential issues and develop practical solutions.

  • Communication skills: it's imperative you have strong verbal and written communication skills as a medical scientist. A part of your role may involve writing highly detailed scientific papers or submitting reports to medical practitioners, advising about important results. You may also have to do public speaking about your medical research at scientific and health conferences, so proficient oral communication skills are beneficial.

  • Organisation and time management skills: in a laboratory, you need to organise your work efficiently and use your strong time management skills to prioritise the most important tasks. You can also use this skill set to perform your job effectively under pressure.

  • Teamwork skills: a successful medical scientist can work both independently and as part of a team. In most workplaces, you can collaborate with fellow research colleagues, as well as staff in other relevant departments. Effective teamwork includes being able to communicate efficiently, active listening and knowing when to take leadership.

Related: Definition and Examples of Analytical Skills

FAQs about becoming a medical scientist

Here are answers to the most commonly asked questions concerning becoming a medical scientist:

How many years does it take to become a medical scientist?

It takes between three and four years to complete a medical science-related degree at university. But once you're qualified, you're ready to work as a medical scientist. There's no on-the-job experience required.

What qualifications do you need to be a medical scientist?

You need to complete a Bachelor's degree to pursue a career as a medical scientist. Depending on the university, the degree might be a Bachelor of Medical Science, Medical Laboratory Science or Biomedical Science.

Do medical scientists get paid well?

According to JobOutlook, the average weekly income for a full-time medical laboratory scientist is $1,871 per week. This is much higher than the national average weekly income of $1,460. Typically, a medical scientist's salary increases depending on their experience, level of education, location and employer.

Is medical science a good career option?

Yes, medical science is a career with strong future job prospects. According to JobOutlook, the number of people working as medical laboratory scientists grew very strong between 2014 and 2019: from 16,200 to 24,100.

What careers are similar to medical science?

If you're interested in the duties and skills of medical laboratory science, consider these similar positions:

1. Laboratory assistant

National average salary: $54,536 per year

Primary duties: A laboratory assistant works alongside scientists and researchers and prepares experiments, processes samples, keeps accurate records and cleans and maintains the laboratory.

2. Microbiologist

National average salary: $69,454 per year

Primary duties: Microbiology is the study of organisms on a cellular level. Scientists can specialise in microbiology and work in a variety of industries, like food production, public health and research and development.

3. Medical technician

National average salary: $111,165 per year

Primary duties: Often called a laboratory or calibration technician, medical technicians operate anaesthetic, cardiac and operating room and medical testing equipment in hospitals and private medical practices. They also perform and assist with laboratory tests.

4. Chemist

National average salary: $74,280 per year

Primary duties: Chemists work in laboratories and conduct experiments and analysis to identify the chemical compositions of materials. This includes food products and materials that must comply with government regulations. They can work in disciplines like analytical chemistry, geochemistry, organic chemistry or physical chemistry.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed. Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing.

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