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How to Become a Toxicologist

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As professionals who research the harmful effects of chemicals, gases and other substances on living organisms, toxicologists have a solid academic background in chemistry and biology. They use their advanced training in toxicology to identify effective ways to control or eliminate the effects of toxic substances on people, animals and the environment.

Obtain the Relevant Education

Although some people enter the profession with a bachelor’s degree in biology, environmental science or chemistry, a bachelor’s degree in toxicology gives you the best preparation. The program provides training in areas such as the principals of toxicology, forensic science and toxicology methods. Upon graduation, you can find a job as a laboratory technician in a toxicology lab, or enter graduate school and earn a master’s degree in toxicology -- the credential needed to secure research jobs. At the master’s level, you can specialize in forensic, environmental, aquatic, chemical or clinical toxicology.

Develop the Requisite Skills

You need strong research and laboratory skills to excel as a toxicologist. When studying the effects of chemicals on human health, for instance, you must be able to formulate the research question, as well as operate microscopes, digital pH meters and other pieces of toxicology lab instrumentation. Analytical and report-writing skills come in handy when evaluating the accurateness of experiment results and crafting research reports, respectively. Field skills are important too as the job may involve collecting samples of potentially toxic substances in various human and animal habitats. Finally, you need clear speaking skills to advise people on best practices for handing of toxic substances.

Meet Licensing Requirements

Many toxicologists don’t need an occupational license to practice. However, those specializing in clinical toxicology may require a clinical license to find employment in some states. In California, for example, you must obtain a license from the Department of Public Health to work as a clinical toxicologist scientist. Prospective licensees must pass a state-recognized exam to get licensed. The Society of Toxicology also offers membership opportunities that you can use to access career resources such as mentoring programs, and demonstrate professionalism to prospective employers.

Get Hired

Employment opportunities for toxicologists are available at federal agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, state departments, forensic laboratories, pharmaceutical manufacturing plants and healthcare facilities. Colleges, universities and professional schools also hire toxicologists with a doctorate to teach toxicology students. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of all life scientists, including toxicologists, will grow by 5 percent between 2018 and 2028, slower than the 6 percent average for all occupations.

Medical Scientists salary

  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $163,280 ($78.50/hour)
  • Median Annual Salary: $90,010 ($43.27/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $50,160 ($24.12/hour)

Based in New York City, Alison Green has been writing professionally on career topics for more than a decade. Her work has appeared in “U.S. News Weekly” magazine, “The Career” magazine and “Human Resources Journal.” Green holds a master's degree in finance from New York University.

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Juan carlos Herrera arango/Hemera/Getty Images