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6 careers with a degree in medical science

19 December 2019
How a degree in medical science can launch your career
From pathology to histology, a degree in medical science can open up many doors to a career in medicine or research.

1. Research scientist

Research scientists can work in a variety of settings: government, non-government organisations, labs or universities. They manage lab-based research projects from beginning to end. This involves designing the study, undertaking the lab-work required and analysing collected data.

A typical day

According to Associate Professor Andrew Harman, Honours Coordinator for Applied Medical Science at the School of Medical Science, "a typical day for a research group leader or scientist involves meetings with research students to check on their progress, reading medical papers, writing papers and grants as well as coordinating education workshops/talks and sitting on research committees."

Career progression

"Key to career progression in this role is publishing your research in the best journals you can."

"This career is rewarding because you are pushing forward the frontiers of human knowledge and you get to work with amazing people," says Associate Professor Andrew Harman.

2. Clinical immunolgy scientist

Clinical immunolgy scientists study how pathogens affect the immune system in a lab setting. "Immunology is one of the most rapidly advancing areas of biomedical research. It contributes to the eradication of infectious diseases, as well as development of successful strategies for vaccination and organ transplantation. Immunotherapies are used to cure allergies, asthma and cancer," according to Associate Professor Carl Feng, Honours Coordinator for Infectious Diseases and Immunology at the School of Medical Science.

"Because modern immunology has evolved into a multidisciplinary science that today integrates into many aspects of biology and medicine, immunology graduates are highly sought after by both clinical and research laboratories."

A typical day

Clinical immunolgy scientists usually work in medical schools, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies or labs. A typical day might be collecting tissue samples in order to study protein chemistry and cellular reactions, or it might be designing and conducting clinical trials for a new pharmaceutical drug. This roles also requires a lot of self-education in order to keep up with the latest research in medical journals. 

Career progression

Senior immunology professionals manage labs and train medical students or other lab/hospital staff.

3. Pathologist

Pathology is the study of disease - what causes the disease and its effect on the human body. Pathologists work in labs to study bodily fluids and tissue samples. They provide vital information to help doctors diagnose disease. Some pathologists also perform autopsies to determine cause of death and disease progression.

A typical day

Pathologists spend the majority of their time in the lab. Some pathologists work in hospitals and offices. They are also required to write reports and present their findings, so good communication skills are vital.

Career progression

Pathologists in senior positions manage teams of lab workers and attend conferences to stay abreast of industry and technological developments.

4. Pharmacologist

Pharmacologists enjoy a wide range of employment, according to Professor Michael Murray, Honours Coordinator for Pharmacology at the School of Medical Science, "they can have careers in research, drug industry, clinical trials, marketing of drugs, provision of expert advice to the public or to other health professionals".

A typical day

A typical day looks quite different for each pharmalogist depending on what area they work in. For example, "toxicologists are like pharmacologists but are interested in chemicals, not drugs. Toxicologists can work in regulation of chemicals, understanding why chemicals have effects on the body or tissues, the dangers of exposure to some chemicals, and the prediction of adverse effects after chemical exposure," Professor Michael Murray says.

Career progression

Undergraduate students often go on to do a postgraduate project related to drug/chemical reactions. Some go on to pursue a full time research career and or join a regulatory agency like Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA). 

5. Biomedical scientist

Biomedical scientists work with patients and in labs to find new ways to cure or treat disease with diagnostic tools or therapeutic strategies. They work at diagnosing diseases and illnesses such as HIV, cancer, diabetes, food poisoning, hepatitis and meningitis.

A typical day

Biomedical scientists working in industry are usually based in pharmaceutical or biotechnology labs. They analyse blood, tissue and fluid samples to diagnose disease and work with medical staff to create treatment plans. They also monitor blood abnormalities, provide support in blood transfusions and collect data on the effects of treatments and medications on patients. Attention to detail is a necessary skill as they work with data and reporting on a daily basis.

Career progression

Biomedical scientists can go on to become senior lab staff, consultants, researchers or management within a wide range of government, university, pharmaceutical or not-for-profit organisations.

6. Histology technician

A histology technician works in a medical lab and focuses on coverting tissue samples into microscope slides for disease diagnosis. This role is vital in the diagnosis and treatments of diseases like cancer. They work behind the scenes to supply doctors with important information.

Histology technicians work with pathologists and lab managers on a daily basis.

A typical day

According to Dr Paul Austin, Senior Lecturer of Anatomy and Histology at the School of Medical Sciences, an average can look like this:

"Cyrosectioning specimens using a cryostat or microtome, staining specimens with histological regents, and microscopy analysis of specimens."

Career progression

"This career could also lead to lab technician opportunities in research labs, rather than diagnostic labs. The rewarding aspect of the role would be the direct benefits to patient health as a result of biopsy analysis that could influence treatment," Dr Paul Austin says.