Innovators Guide

Medical Scientist job outlook

Medical scientists can expect to face competition for most jobs, in part because of the attractiveness of the career. However, those with both a Ph.D. and M.D. are likely to experience very good opportunities.

Employment change. Employment of medical scientists is expected to increase 20 percent over the 2006-16 decade, faster than the average for all occupations. The Federal Government funds much basic research and development, including many areas of medical research. Although previous budget increases at the National Institutes of Health have led to large increases in the number of grants awarded to researchers, the increase in expenditures has slowed significantly, causing expected future employment growth to be more modest than in the past despite the faster than average projected growth.

Medical scientists enjoyed rapid gains in employment since the 1980s—reflecting, in part, the growth of biotechnology companies. Job growth should be dampened somewhat as fewer new biotechnology firms are founded and as existing firms merge or are absorbed by larger biotechnology or pharmaceutical firms. Some companies may conduct a portion of their research and development in other lower-wage countries, further limiting employment growth. However, much of the basic medical research done in recent years has resulted in new knowledge, including the isolation and identification of new genes. Medical scientists will be needed to take this knowledge to the next stage—understanding how certain genes function within an entire organism—so that medical treatments can be developed for various diseases. Even pharmaceutical and other firms not solely engaged in biotechnology have largely adopted biotechnology techniques, thus creating employment for medical scientists.

Employment growth should also occur as a result of the expected expansion in research related to illnesses such as AIDS, cancer, and avian influenza, along with growing treatment problems such as antibiotic resistance. Moreover, environmental conditions such as overcrowding and the increasing frequency of international travel will tend to spread existing diseases and give rise to new ones. Medical scientists will continue to be needed because they greatly contribute to the development of treatments and medicines that improve human health.

An increasing focus on monitoring patients at hospitals and health care centers to ensure positive patient outcomes will contribute to job growth for epidemiologists. In addition, a heightened awareness of bioterrorism and rare, but infectious diseases such as West Nile Virus or severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) should spur demand for these workers. As hospitals enhance their infection control programs, many will seek to boost the quality and quantity of their staff.

Job prospects. Besides job openings due to employment growth, openings will arise as workers leave the labor force or transfer to other occupations. However, doctoral degree holders can expect to face considerable competition for basic research positions and for research grants. If the number of advanced degrees awarded continues to grow, applicants are likely to face even more competition.

Although medical scientists can expect competition for jobs, those with both doctoral and medical degrees are likely to experience very good opportunities. As funding for research becomes more difficult to obtain, those with both a biological and professional medical background will have a distinct advantage. Opportunities in epidemiology also should be highly competitive, as the number of available positions will continue to be limited.

Medical scientists and epidemiologists are less likely to lose their jobs during recessions than are those in many other occupations because they are employed on long-term research projects. However, a recession could influence the amount of money allocated to new research and development, particularly in areas of risky or innovative medical research. A recession also could limit extensions or renewals of existing projects.

Source:  Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition

Find related resources below:

Medical Scientist Income     Medical Scientist Training and Qualifications


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