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Do I Need a Medical Degree to Be a Medical Researcher?

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Medical researchers conduct important research into the origins and treatment of various diseases. The goal of medical research is to understand, treat and cure these diseases that affect the human population. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the job market for medical researchers will be one of the fastest growing fields from 2008 to 2018, with an expected 40 percent growth rate for new jobs. Becoming a medical researcher requires advanced degrees and extensive laboratory training.

Doctor of Medicine Degree

The Doctor of Medicine, or M.D., degree is the standard degree obtained by most physicians who attend medical school. The exception to the M.D. is the Doctor of Osteopathy, or D.O., degree, which some medical school graduates obtain. Some doctors perform advanced medical research, but they typically do not obtain the necessary research skills for advanced medical research through these programs. These medical degrees are medical practice degrees that prepare doctors to diagnose and treat disease. Doctors who engage in advanced research typically obtain additional degrees in conjunction with their basic medical practice degrees.

Ph.D. Degree

Many medical researchers get the Ph.D. to obtain positions in this field and conduct advanced laboratory and clinical research. It is not necessary to obtain the M.D. or the D.O. degree in order to obtain the Ph.D. in medical science. Some doctors do, however, obtain the Ph.D. in conjunction with their medical degrees so that they can practice medicine and conduct advanced research. Because of their medical degree, doctors can often conduct research without as many limitations as someone working in government agencies or private industry. Those who pursue the Ph.D. and work in the field of medical research generally do so in the fields of biological science or clinical research.

Master of Science in Clinical Research

Another common degree among medical researchers is the Master of Science in Clinical Research. These degrees are sometimes pursued by medical doctors, rather than the Ph.D. They are also sometimes obtained by students without any medical training who have the sole intention of becoming medical researchers. The master's degree can be a stepping stone to the Ph.D. or can bea stand-alone degree that qualifies researchers for entry-level positions or positions as laboratory technicians. Other medical professionals like nurses and pharmacists sometimes pursue these degrees also, and conduct research related to their field of expertise.

Master's Degree in Medical Science

Another option for medical researchers is a degree like the Master of Arts in Medical Science. These degrees are biological science degrees that are geared towards conducting laboratory research or analysis, whereas clinical research degrees focus primarily on clinical trials used to treat disease. As with the Ph.D. and the clinical research degrees offered at the master's level, these degrees are often pursued by doctors, but they can also be pursued by those seeking entry-level positions or those who are en route to the Ph.D.


Jared Lewis is a professor of history, philosophy and the humanities. He has taught various courses in these fields since 2001. A former licensed financial adviser, he now works as a writer and has published numerous articles on education and business. He holds a bachelor's degree in history, a master's degree in theology and has completed doctoral work in American history.

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