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Medical scientist salary & career outlook

Medical scientists seek to improve human health by investigating diseases, pathogens, pharmaceuticals, bodily systems and the process of aging. Most of these professionals specialize in a single area of study and gather data through clinical trials and laboratory experimentation. Here are a few examples of areas in which a medical scientist might specialize:

  • Cancer research
  • Clinical pharmacology
  • Immunochemistry
  • Neuroscience
  • Serology (the study of bodily fluids, such as plasma serum)
  • Gerontology (the study of aging)
  • Clinical and medical informatics

Figures compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicate that a large number of medical scientists work independently in hospital, university or government laboratories. Others work in the private sector, using scientific research to develop new drugs or medical treatments.

Salary information for medical scientists

The mean annual wage for medical scientists in 2013 was $90,230, according to BLS data. The nationwide range of salaries in the field was quite large, with the lowest-paid 10 percent earning less than $42,830 and the top-paid 10 percent taking home $149,310 or more in a year.

The scientific research and development services industry, which employed the highest number of medical scientists in 2013, paid a mean annual salary of $100,430. Pharmaceutical manufacturers paid even higher 2013 wages, reporting a mean annual figure of $107,330, and medical scientist jobs at physicians' offices and the federal executive branch paid $116,510 and $117,730, respectively, for that same year.

Geographic location can also have a significant effect on medical scientist salary expectations. The top-paying states for medical scientists as of May 2013, according to the BLS, include the following:

  • Idaho: $145,570 average annual salary
  • Montana: $136,840 average annual salary
  • Oklahoma: $124,430 average annual salary
  • Connecticut: $120,300 average annual salary
  • Illinois: $116,130 average annual salary

Yearly wage totals can also be combined with regional cost of living analysis to provide some context for the numbers. While certain states might have a lower average annual salary, that can be offset by the cost of living relative to other parts of the U.S. These three states, for example, aren't among those with the highest salaries for medical scientists, but they are ranked among the 10 most-affordable in the nation by the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center:

  • Tennessee: $83,940 average annual salary; ranked No. 2 in affordability
  • Indiana: $96,810 average annual salary; ranked No. 5 in affordability
  • Kansas: $90,680 average annual salary; ranked No. 6 in affordability

In comparing these figures, one state in particular emerges as a highly attractive destination for professionals with medical scientist training. Oklahoma, with its reported 2013 mean annual salary of $124,430, was ranked No. 4 in the MERIC cost of living study. The BLS reports that just 450 medical scientists were employed in Oklahoma in 2013, but analysts expect job growth nationwide in the coming years, and Oklahoma is expected to see 34.7 percent job growth from 2010-20, according to state labor department data.

Medical scientist career training and outlook

The most recent BLS forecast indicates that the increasing demand for specialized pharmaceuticals by an aging population should drive fairly rapid growth in the medical science industry throughout the rest of the decade. Job opportunities for medical scientists other than epidemiologists are projected to grow 13 percent between 2012 and 2022, which should lead to around 13,700 new positions in the field.

Medical scientists often earn a Ph.D. before entering the field. Some complete medical school and earn their M.D. before deciding to pursue research rather than practice medicine as physicians. Each degree contributes its own set of valuable skills to a medical scientist's qualifications, according to the BLS.

Sources:

Cost of Living Data Series: First Quarter 2014, Missouri Economic Research and Information Center, Missouri Department of Economic Development,
http://www.missourieconomy.org/indicators/cost_of_living/index.stm

Long Term Occupational Projections for Medical Scientists, Except Epidemiologists, Projections Central,
http://projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm

Medical Scientists, "Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,
http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Life-Physical-and-Social-Science/Medical-scientists.htm#tab-4

Medical Scientists, Except Epidemiologists, Occupational Employment and Wages, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2013,
http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes191042.htm