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Medical laboratory scientists conduct research through clinical trials and studies to improve human health. The average medical laboratory scientist salary exceeds $84,000 a year, with strong projected job growth through 2028.

Essential Career Information for Medical Scientists
Median Annual Salary $84,810
Employment Growth Forecast from 2018-2028 8%
Number of New Jobs from 2018-2028 10,600
Average Entry-Level Education Requirements Doctoral or Professional Degree
Annual Salary of the Highest 10% $156,980
Annual Salary of the Lowest 10% $46,810

Source: BLS.gov: OOH, May 2018

Table of Contents

This guide explores medical laboratory scientist careers, including job duties and degree options.

What is a Medical Laboratory Scientist?

A medical laboratory scientist is a healthcare professional who conducts clinical studies to identify cures and treatments for diseases. They also design and conduct studies to identify preventative treatments for diseases. Depending on their specialization and industry, medical laboratory scientists may develop new pharmaceuticals, design medical devices, or investigate causes of chronic diseases.

A medical laboratory scientist is a healthcare professional who conducts clinical studies to identify cures and treatments for diseases.

Medical laboratory scientists work in several industries. Most of these professionals work for research and development organizations or colleges and universities. Hospitals and the pharmaceutical industry also hire medical laboratory scientists. Additionally, medical laboratory scientists work in offices or laboratories, where they conduct medical research. They may specialize in areas like cancer research, gerontology, neurology, or another medical field.

Prospective medical laboratory scientists can follow several education paths. Many of these professionals hold a Ph.D. in biology, medical science, or a doctor of medicine (MD). Some medical laboratory scientists earn a joint Ph.D./MD degree. During their training, students strengthen their research skills while completing coursework in biology, medicine, and health science. Many doctoral programs incorporate clinical research components to give students hands-on experience in the field.

Alternate Job Titles for Medical Laboratory Scientists

  • Cancer Researcher
  • Clinical Pharmacologist
  • Clinical Research Scientist
  • Gerontologist
  • Histologist
  • Histopathologist
  • Immunochemist
  • Industrial Pharmacist
  • Medical Health Researcher
  • Medical Research Scientist
  • Medical Scientist
  • Neuroscientist
  • Pharmacologist
  • Serologist
  • Toxicologist

What Does a Medical Laboratory Scientist Do?

Medical laboratory scientists apply clinical and research skills to develop new medical treatments and prevent health problems. They analyze data from their research to draw conclusions about a disease or treatment, presenting the results of their trials in reports that help physicians, healthcare organizations, and the FDA improve medical treatments.

Medical laboratory scientists often specialize their skills. Cancer researchers, for example, focus on the study, cause, prevention, and treatment of cancer. Clinical research scientists specialize in clinical trials and investigations of diseases. Additionally, toxicologists study the toxicity of drugs, while histologists specialize in tissue. In every medical specialty, medical laboratory scientists conduct research to improve human health.

Medical laboratory scientists apply clinical and research skills to develop new medical treatments and prevent health problems.

The position requires strong data analysis and critical thinking skills. Medical laboratory scientists must apply analytical skills to solve research questions, including determining how to investigate medical questions and what data can answer the questions. They also bring strong observational and communication skills to their jobs.

A medical scientist must conduct experiments with precision and effectively communicate their conclusions. Additionally, medical laboratory scientists draw on leadership skills to supervise medical laboratory technicians or undergraduate assistants.

How to Become a Medical Laboratory Scientist

Most medical laboratory scientists hold a doctoral degree. They may earn an MD or a Ph.D. in biology, medical science, or a life science. During graduate training, students complete coursework on research methods, data interpretation, and project design. Many students also build clinical skills, particularly those pursuing specialty clinical roles, like clinical laboratory scientist, clinical pharmacologist, or clinical research scientist.

During doctoral programs students conduct experiments, analyze the results, and draw conclusions. They often work under the supervision of an experienced medical laboratory scientist. Doctoral students can specialize their training in an area like cancer research, pharmacology, or neuroscience.

After earning a doctorate, many medical laboratory scientists complete a postdoc to gain additional laboratory experience and strengthen their training. Medical laboratory scientists who perform clinical trials that involve patients may need a license to practice medicine.

When choosing a doctoral program, prospective medical laboratory scientists should select an accredited institution. Accredited universities meet the highest standards for educating students. Independent accrediting agencies evaluate institutions on student learning outcomes, graduation requirements, and faculty qualifications. Programmatic accreditation from an organization like the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS) also benefits students.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

Prospective medical laboratory scientists must hold a bachelor's degree before applying to graduate medical laboratory scientist programs. Most students considering careers as medical scientists earn a bachelor's degree in biology, chemistry, or another life science. During a bachelor's program, students complete major and general education classes. Coursework in the physical sciences, math, and English particularly benefit prospective medical laboratory scientists.

Earning a bachelor's degree generally takes four years for full-time students to complete. Undergraduates can strengthen their chances of admission to a graduate program by meeting premed prerequisite requirements and pursuing clinical experience through a medical lab internship.

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Master's Degree Programs

Earning a master's degree can help prospective medical scientists strengthen their training and gain admission to competitive doctoral programs. As admission to medical school becomes increasingly competitive, many candidates choose to earn a master's degree before applying.

A master's degree generally takes two years of full-time study to complete, though some programs offer accelerated options. Gaining clinical experience during a master's program helps prospective medical laboratory scientists narrow their research interests and apply to specialized doctoral programs. A master's degree can also help prospective medical scientists decide whether to pursue a Ph.D. or attend medical school.

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Doctoral Degree Programs

A doctoral degree meets the entry-level education requirement for medical laboratory scientist jobs. Prospective students must choose between a Ph.D. or an MD when considering doctoral programs. Students interested in clinical trials may need an MD to qualify for a medical license, which many clinical careers require. Students can also pursue a joint Ph.D./MD program to earn both degrees.

During a doctorate, medical laboratory scientists complete courses on topics like human anatomy, biochemistry, pharmacology, and medical ethics. Doctoral students also receive clinical and laboratory research training. Ph.D. students, for example, conduct original research and write a dissertation as part of their training.

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