What does a medical researcher do? Duties and functions

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 28 April 2022

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.

A medical researcher, also called a medical scientist, investigates ways to resolve and prevent health problems in humans. They conduct comprehensive research, experiments and clinical trials and share their findings with their peers and the public. A career in this challenging field can be exciting and rewarding for anyone with an interest in the science of medicine and public health. In this article, we explore a medical researcher's typical duties and various responsibilities, the relevant principles and ethics and what they may expect in terms of their work environment and conditions.

What does a medical researcher do?

A medical researcher's objective is to develop better methods of diagnosing, treating and preventing illnesses. Your research may contribute to significant advances in medicine and science to produce life-changing treatments and cures. Your work can help the medical field develop new therapies, drugs and vaccines and improve existing ones. A medical researcher aims to improve overall public health, eliminate diseases and viruses where possible and prevent epidemics.

Medical science covers several disciplines, including biology, chemistry, pharmacology, physiology and the specialist areas of haematology, dermatology, endocrinology, oncology, embryology, histology and toxicology. It may also include environmental science, political science and computer science. As a medical researcher, you can assume the role of a technical advisor, communicate with non-medical or non-scientist associates or focus purely on experiments or case studies. You may also choose to specialise in a particular area, such as biochemistry and biomedical research, genetics and genetic engineering, immunology, microbiology or molecular biology.

Responsibilities of a medical researcher

As a medical researcher, you may work independently but you may also lead teams of technicians or other specialists. You can use students or undergraduates to assist you. You may also pursue financial support, apply for research funding from private or industry investors or request government grants to further develop your research. The typical duties of a medical researcher include the following:

  • developing and conducting studies to investigate diseases and the methods of treating and preventing them

  • creating, conducting and monitoring experiments and clinical trials

  • preparing and analysing samples and data to determine the probable cause and possible treatments for chronic diseases, toxicity or infections

  • designing and testing medical devices

  • evaluating optimum drug dosages to help facilitate mass production and distribution

  • ensuring all activities comply with industry regulations and best practices

  • observing strict laboratory procedures to avoid cross-contamination and maintain sample integrity

  • writing research reports and papers for publication

  • preparing and delivering presentations

  • applying for support funding and grants

  • developing programmes in conjunction with medical specialists and health departments to improve overall public health

  • keeping up to date with scientific developments by reading relevant literature, attending industry conferences and seminars and participating in discussions with other scientists

More information can be found on these duties below:

Studies

As a medical researcher, you typically study the factors that cause diseases or physical conditions. You may examine links between specific diseases—such as diabetes and cancer—and factors like environmental, lifestyle and socio-economic circumstances. You may also study cell changes that can indicate the presence or potential onset of a medical issue. The knowledge you gain from your studies helps you design and implement research programmes and clinical trials.

Research

Biomedical research helps identify bacteria, pathogens and viruses that cause diseases in humans and animals. Such research helps in the development of new drugs and vaccines. Medical researchers who work in a hospital, academic institution, government facility or veterinary laboratory may often conduct specific research, such as gene therapy or new chemotherapy strategies and stem cell research.

If you work in the private sector, you may typically focus on specific research to support product development. It's important to remember that a business's goal usually involves developing marketable and profitable products. A company may accept or reject your proposed research programme or conclusions as they relate to revenue potential instead of merit.

Related: How to become a medical researcher

Experiments

As a medical researcher, you may typically initiate experiments to identify the factors that cause diseases and how they affect the human body. You may investigate new treatments and techniques while evaluating the efficacy of the medical intervention. Some experiments use tissue or bodily fluid cultures, while others use laboratory animals. Many scientists work with live animals, such as mice, rabbits and dogs to ascertain the safety of chemicals, drugs and cosmetics. With animal welfare and ethics in mind, researchers continue to pursue alternatives to animal testing.

Clinical trials

Successful experiments usually lead to clinical trials. As a medical researcher, you may conduct a clinical trial to test the efficacy of a new drug or a combination of drugs on humans. These trials involve the participation of patients and other suitable volunteers, typically divided into two groups. The trial group receives the drug, while the control group receives a placebo. The participants don't know which group they're in, nor whether they receive an active drug or a placebo.

You may collaborate with physicians to administer the drug and monitor the trial participants' reactions. You may also collect blood or tissue samples. Once the trial is complete, you can analyse the data from each participant in the trial group and compare it with that of the control group. You can then evaluate the drug's performance and publish your findings. You can also adjust the drug dosage and conduct another trial.

Related: A brief guide on how to become a research scientist

Publication

You may often publish papers in medical journals and gazettes as a medical researcher. These papers describe the reasons for your research, your objectives and your research methods and findings for the benefit of other researchers or medical professionals. You can also prepare audio or visual presentations for industry conferences and seminars.

Medical research

In the past, medical research produced successful therapies for various medical conditions. Work is continuing to establish suitable therapeutic strategies for existing disorders. Medical researchers also aim to improve the management and prevention of chronic conditions and enhance the efficacy of certain drugs and treatment regimes.

Many researchers work in the biomedical field. They often study genetics to identify specific genes that cause physiological infirmity of physical disabilities. This can enhance genetic engineering that may help prevent inherited medical conditions.

Related: How to become a biomedical scientist

Ethics of a medical researcher

Ethics are fundamental to healthcare and particularly relevant in medical research. There are sometimes conflicts of interest in terms of a researcher's quest to develop new or improved products and a company's desire for profits. Medical researchers typically observe several principles:

  • Justification: This involves determining whether the research is essential.

  • Consent: This is knowing whether the participants understand the procedure, potential risks and their rights to withdraw from the trial prior to their participation.

  • Risk mitigation: This involves an understanding of the procedures in place to try and prevent risks, including compensation, remedial measures and aftercare.

  • Confidentiality: This covers ensuring the trial participants understand that while that the study keeps all personal information confidential, you may share the clinical data for research purposes.

  • Integrity: This involves ensuring the use of professional and qualified people when conducting research.

  • Accountability: This relates to making sure to conduct the research in an ethical and transparent manner.

  • Records: This involves retaining comprehensive and complete records of the research for the prescribed period to enable review, evaluation and further research if necessary.

  • Public interest: This pertains to determining when to release the research findings into the public domain and to the medical and scientific community.

  • Responsibility: This is ensuring that the researchers comply with their professional and moral responsibility to observe the principles, guidelines and industry best practices regarding their research.

The work environment of a medical researcher

As a medical researcher, you can work in academic institutions, hospitals, research institutes, government agencies, non-profit organisations or the private sector. You typically work in laboratories, often as a team member or team leader. You can also undertake fieldwork outside the laboratory. An invitation to present your research findings to peers or conference delegates may involve regional or international travel.

Since medical researchers can often access substances that require careful handling, they're typically particularly vigilant about compliance with industry safety protocols and government regulations. As a researcher, you usually work normal business hours. Occasionally a strict deadline, sometimes determined by a time-sensitive testing window or a trial's tight timeline, may necessitate after-hours or weekend work.

How much do medical researchers make?

Pay varies depending on several factors, including whether you work in the public or private sector. The national average salary for a research scientist is £35,380 per year. This can change with location, experience and the qualifications or certifications you have.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and the candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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