How To Become a Medical Researcher

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 13 October 2022

Published 19 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 enjoy learning about science and discovering innovations, you might consider a career as a medical researcher. Medical researchers play essential roles in increasing the scientific knowledge of diseases and critical health issues. They also help develop treatments that mitigate symptoms, eradicate diseases or even save lives. In this article, we discuss what medical researchers do, what skills they can benefit from developing and how to become a medical researcher.

What is a medical researcher?

A medical researcher or scientist plans and conducts experiments to study human diseases. They also develop new or improve existing drugs to treat and prevent disease recurrences. Researchers use clinical trials and related scientific methods to achieve their goals. Their long-term objective is to enhance the general health and longevity of human beings.

Medical researchers examine the epidemiological backgrounds of diseases. These results play a significant role in developing methods of treating and preventing diseases. A career in medical research requires a drive to understand the complexities of severe illnesses and a desire to improve public health.

Related: How To Become an Immunologist

What does a medical researcher do?

The duties and responsibilities of medical research scientists vary depending on the project, their scientific specialisation and the organisation they serve. Typically, their duties involve discovering and enhancing methods that improve human health. Many duties relate to their clinical work, whether it be laboratory work or writing reports on findings. These include:

Planning and conducting experiments

Medical research scientists usually plan and conduct experiments to discover disease-causing factors and their effects. Then they analyse and use the outcomes to develop drugs therapies and measures to treat these diseases. This requires patience, diligence and great attention to detail.

Perform clinical trials

Clinical trials are crucial to differentiating the various methods of preventing and treating diseases and other health problems. Medical researchers often conduct studies on people to test the effectiveness and safety of different treatments. While some clinical trials involve healthy people in a society, others involve patients with a particular medical condition or disease. The researchers can then make conclusions about the most effective drugs and preventive measures based on the results from the trials.

Medical research application

In addition to their laboratory work, many medical researchers spend time in the office. They often need to write grant proposals to secure funding for their research. These grant proposals include reports of both their current and planned research efforts or studies.

Write original papers for publications

Medical researchers may help write papers for publication. Medical research papers describe a team's scientific and medical contributions to society. In addition, other medical researchers can use these research publications to gain new knowledge and update their own research or skills.

Stay up-to-date

Lifelong learning or continuous professional development (CPD) is invaluable to medical researchers. Medical researchers should figure out ways to continue learning about their field, such as through conferences, industry events and seminars. They also need to read science-related journals and literature to improve their knowledge base. Many professional associations can help medical researchers develop their knowledge and skills, such as through mentorship programmes or conventions.

Medical researcher and research process

The level of research that scientists conduct varies. It could range from investigating the primary causes of a disease or condition to carrying out clinical experiments. Scientists can perform research on unique specimens, including viruses and bacteria. During the research process, the researchers write reviews and reports that clearly communicate their findings.

Related: Research Skills: Definition and Examples

How to become a medical researcher

Here is how to become a medical researcher in four steps:

1. Receive an undergraduate degree

Get an undergraduate degree in or related to the scientific field you hope to pursue as a researcher. Graduates in statistics, bioinformatics, physics or chemistry are in high demand for this role. Other relevant subjects include:

  • Pharmacology

  • Physiology

  • Genetics

  • Immunology

  • Molecular biology

  • Biochemical sciences

Related: A Beginner's Guide to Earning Your Undergraduate Degree

2. Gain experience

Gain experience in a laboratory. You might be able to get laboratory experience while earning either an undergraduate or advanced degree. Alternatively, you can look for volunteer or paid laboratory experiences outside of your university.

As part of your laboratory work, see if you can help write medical research. Being involved in research publications may help distinguish you to potential employers.

3. Earn an advanced degree

Receive either a Master of Science (MSc) or doctoral degree (PhD). Most medical research positions require candidates to already have or be working toward an advanced degree.

If you want to work at a university, opt to receive a PhD to increase your chances of employment. You may also have to option to study for your PhD while carrying out research work. The benefit here is that the Research Council UK (RCUK) recommends organisations pay a £15,009 stipend for their PhD studentships.

4. Consider getting a license

The primary task of a medical researcher is to conduct research. As such, these positions do not require licenses. However, any medical researchers who administer drugs or gene therapies to patients need licenses to practise as physicians during clinical trials.

Medical researcher work environment

Medical researchers can find work in a variety of establishments. These include:

  • Higher education institutions

  • Hospital laboratories

  • Pharmaceutical companies

  • Research institutes such as the Medical Research Council (MRC)

  • National Health Service (NHS) facilities

Working hours for medical researchers

Medical research scientists typically work regular business hours for five days a week. However, finding treatment for critical health problems may require longer hours. Employers usually compensate researchers for the extra hours they work.

How much time medical scientists devote to their work often depends on their employer. For instance, commercial establishments looking to remain competitive may require researchers to work irregular hours more frequently.

Salary

The average salary of medical research scientists in the United Kingdom is £42,880 annually. The salary of senior researchers and university professors involved in medical research may be higher.

Medical researcher skills

Medical researchers require a skill set that enables them to tackle the intricacies of complex diseases. If you want to become a medical researcher, consider developing these skills:

Written and verbal communication skills

Communication skills are indispensable to medical researchers. They write grants for research funding, put their findings into writing for publication and explain their conclusions verbally in presentations. Additionally, effectively communicating within a research team can positively affect the outcome of a clinical trial process.

Data-analysis skills

Data plays a major role in medical sciences. Research scientists collect a significant amount of data for their studies. A medical researcher then needs to understand how to evaluate this data, draw analytical conclusions from it and explain their findings to others.

Related: Analytical Skills: Definitions and Examples

Critical-thinking skills

Critical-thinking skills enable scientists to identify better alternatives to drugs and therapies for treating or preventing diseases. With critical thinking abilities, medical researchers can determine the best solutions to various healthcare challenges or diseases. Great critical thinking can also help prevent costly clinical and medical errors.

Attention to detail

Researchers who excel at making life-saving discoveries are adept at carefully handling data. Medical research demands accurate evaluation and measurements in order to help patients remain or become healthy. Additionally, medical researchers must use extra care while handling potentially hazardous materials.

Related: How To Improve Your Attention To Detail

Organisational and planning skills

Many critical research projects demand considerable planning from start to finish. In setting up research, medical scientists manage a variety of departments and resources. For this reason, they have to devise a systematic approach to achieving their goals. Proper organisational skills can build a healthy work environment that leads to increased productivity.

Stress management skills

As medical researchers often have strict deadlines for clinical trials or papers, it can be challenging sometimes to handle the stress of the job. However, with proper stress management skills, medical researchers can conduct a balanced work and private life. They may also develop resilience to confront challenging situations daily.

Enthusiasm

Medical researchers should be passionate about their chosen scientific field. You might spend months or years on the same project or scientific concept, so it's important to enjoy your job responsibilities. This enthusiasm for the profession can help medical researchers stay up-to-date on the latest developments in pharmaceuticals, medicine or other relevant subjects.

Related:

  • What does an immunologist do? (With skills and job info)


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