On the Job
Medical scientists conduct research to find causes of and treatments for disease.
In 1955, history was made when Dr. Jonas Salk announced that he had discovered the vaccine for polio. Before this, people had lived in fear of polio for at least three decades. Doctors did not know (and still don't) how polio spread, and thousands of children each year lost some or all use of their limbs to the disease. Then, after years of research, Salk introduced the vaccine and the disease was nearly eradicated. Today, thanks to Salk's work, polio is no longer a threat in most of the world.
Discovering a new vaccine is just one thing that medical scientists do.Medical scientists conduct basic research to advance knowledge of living organisms. For example, they study viruses, bacteria, and cancer cells. They also study ways to make the human body better able to fight disease. Scientists who work in applied research use knowledge provided by basic research to develop new drugs and treatments. They often have less freedom to choose the focus of their research.
Medical scientists plan their research design. They also plan the procedures for collecting data. Scientists prepare samples according to the design of their study. Some studies analyze changes in cells that signal medical problems. These types of studies examine cell samples under electron microscopes. Other research investigates how to treat or prevent problems. For example, a study might look at the effects of a drug on bacteria in a Petri dish. Another might analyze the effects of a drug on the tissues of laboratory animals. Another might give a new drug to patients in clinical trials and monitor their reactions. Scientists in the field of biotechnology work with genetic material to find ways to treat or prevent disease.
When the data collection is complete, medical scientists analyze the data using computers. They apply their knowledge of statistics to decide what techniques to use. Then they write reports or articles to present their findings. Depending on where they work, scientists may also make presentations. In addition, they may write follow-up grants to request funding to continue their research.
Medical scientists have other related duties. They study reports of research done by other scientists in their field. They consult with doctors, educators, and other researchers about their medical findings. Scientists may teach medical principles and lab procedures to staff who help collect data. They may also supervise the duties of clerical, computer, or lab staff.
In some settings, medical scientists have other specific duties. For example, those who work for drug companies perform research to standardize the dosages for new drugs. They also determine the best procedures to use to manufacture new drugs. Scientists who work for government agencies confer with health departments, doctors, and others. Their goal is to develop policies to improve public health. In many cases, they oversee public health programs.
The following list of occupational tasks is specific to this career.
- Conduct studies to investigate the causes of disease or develop methods for treatment.
- Plan research design, methods, and procedures for data collection.
- Oversee public health programs.
- Prepare samples to study cell structure, or to analyze bacteria or other organisms.
- Examine tissues, cells, or microorganisms, often using an electron microscope.
- Study effects of drugs and other substances on microorganisms or animals.
- Administer experimental drugs to patients as part of a study and monitor reactions.
- Use computers and statistical software to analyze data.
- Prepare written and oral reports of findings.
- Study research findings in the field.
- Consult with and advise doctors, researchers, and educators about medical applications of science.
- Teach medical principles and lab procedures to doctors, residents, students, and technicians.
- Supervise duties of clerical, statistical, or laboratory staff.
- Standardize dosages and procedures for manufacture of drugs.
- Confer with health department, doctors, and others to develop standards and procedures to improve public health.
People in this career perform the following list of tasks, but the tasks are common to many occupations.
- Get information needed to do the job.
- Process information.
- Update and use job-related knowledge.
- Use computers.
- Analyze data or information.
- Document and record information.
- Evaluate information against standards.
- Identify objects, actions, and events.
- Make decisions and solve problems.
- Explain the meaning of information to others.
- Communicate with people from outside the organization.
- Organize, plan, and prioritize work.
- Establish and maintain relationships.
- Monitor events, materials, and surroundings.
- Provide advice and consultation to others.
- Estimate sizes, quantities, time, cost, or materials needed.
- Judge the value of objects, services, or people.
- Develop goals and strategies.
- Think creatively.
- Teach others.
In a typical work setting, people in this career:
- Are responsible for the work outcomes of technical staff.
- Have a medium level of social contact. They work directly with staff, research subjects, doctors, and other professionals.
- Communicate by telephone, e-mail, and in person on a daily basis. They also write letters and memos, but less frequently.
- Are responsible for the health and safety of patients and laboratory staff.
- Almost always work as part of a team of researchers.
- Nearly always work indoors.
- Are sometimes exposed to diseases or infections. There is a low likelihood of moderate injury when safety procedures are followed.
- May share the same work space with other scientists and assistants.
- Sometimes wear a special uniform such as a lab coat.
- Must be very exact in their work and be sure all details are done. Errors could result in serious health hazards for laboratory staff.
- Make decisions that affect others on a monthly basis. They rarely consult another before deciding a course of action.
- Set nearly all their daily tasks and goals independently.
- Work in a moderately competitive atmosphere where weekly and monthly deadlines must be met.
- Repeat the same mental and physical activities.
- Usually work regular hours.
- Most work full time, about 40 hours per week.
- Generally work a set schedule.
Physical Work Conditions
In a typical work setting, people in this career:
- Sit when analyzing data or writing reports.
- Repeat the same motions.
- Use hands to handle, control, or feel objects, tools, or controls.
- Speak clearly so listeners can understand.
- See details of objects that are less than a few feet away.
- Understand the speech of another person.
- See details of objects that are more than a few feet away.
- Use fingers or hands to grasp, move, or assemble small objects.
- See differences between colors, shades, and brightness.
- Focus on one source of sound and ignore others.
- Determine the distance between objects.
People in this career frequently:
It is important for people in this career to be able to:
It is not as important, but still necessary, for people in this career to be able to:
Source: Minnesota Department of Education.