A medical researcher, sometimes referred to as a medical scientist, carries out scientific studies to enhance our understanding of medicine and how to treat illnesses better. Their work is crucial for pushing healthcare forward, leading to new treatments and technologies that save lives and improve the quality of care for patients.

Those passionate about making their mark in the medical field often find themselves working there. However, despite the rewards this career offers, it requires commitment. Understanding how to get into medical research as well as the steps to take is crucial for determining whether this career is for you. Read on to discover more!

What Is a Medical Researcher?

A medical researcher plays a crucial role in discovering new ways to improve our health. They conduct experiments to test new medicines or treatments, carefully analyze the results, and then share their findings through publications. This process helps the medical community learn more about diseases and how to combat them.

Medical research is vast and covers various fields. For example, clinical research focuses on testing new treatments or drugs directly on patients to see if they are safe and effective. Epidemiology is the study of how diseases spread and affect different groups of people, helping identify illness patterns and causes. Translational research bridges the gap between laboratory discoveries and real-world medical treatments. It aims to quickly turn scientific findings into practical solutions that can be used in healthcare. Together, these fields of medical research contribute to advancing our understanding of health and disease, leading to better prevention, diagnosis, and treatments.

What Does a Medical Researcher Do?

A medical researcher completes many important tasks. They design studies to answer specific health questions, collect data through experiments or observations, analyze the results to find patterns or answers, and then write research papers to share their findings with others. This process helps improve our understanding of diseases and health.

Medical research is a team effort. Researchers often collaborate with people from different fields, such as biology, statistics, and medicine, to get a well-rounded view of their study. They also collaborate with doctors and healthcare professionals to apply their findings in real-life settings. This teamwork strengthens medical research because it combines knowledge from various areas to tackle health problems more effectively.

How to Become a Medical Researcher?

Becoming a medical researcher is an exciting path for those who want to explore the mysteries of health and disease. The journey to getting there includes a mixture of education and practical work, ensuring you are equipped with all the skills necessary to succeed in this dynamic field.

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Earning a Bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry, or biochemistry is like laying the foundation for future study. It gives you the basic knowledge and skills needed for a career in medical research or related fields. A strong GPA is important because it shows you understand the material well, which is crucial for tackling complex research problems. Also, getting involved in research during your undergraduate studies is a big plus. It gives you a taste of what medical research is like and helps you stand out when applying for further studies or jobs. Together, these steps prepare you for success in the scientific community.

Earn a Medical Degree

Choosing to pursue a medical degree, like an MD program (Doctor of Medicine) or DO (Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine), opens the door to becoming a physician-researcher. At this point, it’s crucial to know what makes a medical school application stand out and approach it strategically. This special path lets you both treat patients and conduct research to find new ways to improve healthcare. As a physician-researcher, you can apply your scientific discoveries directly to patient care, seeing firsthand how your work makes a difference. It’s a challenging but rewarding journey for those passionate about making a lasting impact on health and medicine.

Complete a Three-Year Residency

After earning their medical degree, physician-researchers must complete a residency program. This is a critical step where they work in hospitals or clinics for several years, gaining hands-on experience in treating patients under the supervision of experienced doctors. During residency, they learn a lot about different medical conditions and how to manage them. This period is crucial for building their clinical skills and medical knowledge, preparing them to be both excellent doctors and insightful researchers who can contribute to advancing medical science.

Get a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) Degree

Obtaining a PhD in a field like biomedical sciences or public health means going deeper into studying and researching a specific area of medicine. This journey starts with taking advanced classes to build your knowledge. Then, the main focus shifts to doing your own research project. You’ll pick a unique question to explore, conduct experiments or studies to find answers, and finally, write a detailed dissertation about what you discovered. This process, which takes several years, prepares you to be an expert in your field, ready to contribute new knowledge to the world of medical research.

Pass the United States Medical Learning Examination (USMLE)

For physician-researchers in the United States, passing the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination) is a must to get a medical license. This series of exams tests your knowledge and skills in medicine to ensure you’re ready to provide high-quality care to patients. Part of the test, for example, is the USMLE Step 2 CK, where you will be tested on clinical science. At further stages, it will cover everything from basic medical science concepts to clinical skills. Passing this exam is a big step toward practicing medicine and conducting research that can improve patient care.

Obtain Licensing and Certification

Getting a medical license or certification is highly important for doctor-researchers, depending on what their job or the place they want to work requires. This license proves they have the knowledge and skills to treat patients safely and effectively. For research positions, especially those involving direct patient care, being licensed ensures you meet the high standards needed to conduct medical research ethically and responsibly. It opens doors to more opportunities, allowing researchers to make a more significant impact in both patient care and the medical research community.

What Skills Do You Need to Become a Medical Researcher


Medical researchers need several key skills to be successful at their job, including:

  1. Analytical Skills: Ability to examine data and extract meaningful insights
  2. Attention to Detail: Noticing and considering every small part or fact to avoid errors
  3. Communication Skills: Clearly conveying research findings and ideas, both in writing and speaking, to a variety of audiences
  4. Teamwork: Collaborating effectively with other researchers, healthcare professionals, and possibly patients
  5. Critical Thinking: Evaluating information logically and creatively to make reasoned decisions and solve problems
  6. Problem-Solving Skills: Identifying issues within a study and finding effective solutions
  7. Ethics: Understanding and applying ethical principles to research involving human or animal subjects
  8. Time Management: Effectively managing one’s time to balance research, publication deadlines, and possibly clinical duties

Job Outlook and Salary

The job outlook for medical researchers is bright, with a growing demand for skilled professionals. As we face new health challenges and continue to seek better treatments for diseases, the need for innovative research increases. According to BLS data, the need for medical researchers is projected to grow 10% in the following decade, meaning more opportunities to work in the field.

Salaries in this sector can vary widely. Factors like experience, education, and where you work (e.g., in a big city versus a rural area) can make a big difference in how much you earn. Generally, medical researchers can expect to earn up to $99,930 per year, a salary that reflects the importance and complexity of their work and offers many opportunities for advancement.


To become a successful medical researcher, you need a strong foundation in biology, chemistry, or a related field, followed by advanced training such as a PhD or medical degree. Essential skills include analytical thinking, attention to detail, and effective communication. If you’re passionate about advancing healthcare, start by pursuing relevant education and seeking research opportunities. Dive into the world of medical research and contribute to life-saving discoveries!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs):

Can you still be a doctor and do research?

Yes, you can be a doctor and also conduct research. Many physicians split their time between seeing patients and working on research projects to advance medical knowledge.

Can you be a medical researcher without being a doctor?

Yes, you can be a medical researcher without being a doctor. Many researchers have PhDs in fields like biology, biochemistry, or public health instead of medical degrees.

If I want to go into medical research, is biochemistry a good major choice?

Biochemistry is an excellent major for going into medical research. It gives you a solid foundation in the sciences that underpin medicine, helping you understand the chemical processes behind health and disease.

How many years does it take to be a medical researcher?

Becoming a medical researcher typically takes about 8 to 12 years after undergraduate studies, including time spent earning a PhD or MD and gaining additional research experience.