How to Become a Clinical Microbiologist: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a clinical microbiologist. Research the education and training requirements, and learn about the experience you need to advance your career in clinical microbiology. View article »

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Clinical Microbiologist?

Clinical microbiologists are medical workers who perform laboratory research. They study microscopic organisms, like bacteria and fungi, often to gain knowledge about fighting and preventing diseases. Those clinical microbiologists who complete research that will directly impact the health of humans are often called medical scientists. Many work for pharmaceutical companies, completing research to develop new drugs for curing diseases and alleviating symptoms.

Microbiologists, including clinical microbiologists, work full-time schedules during regular business hours. They spend their working hours in both laboratory settings as well as offices, where they write reports of their findings. Microbiologists must wear protective clothing, gloves, and eyewear in order to eliminate contamination and protect themselves from infection. For those whose work is funded through grants, generating results is often key to maintaining funding and, correspondingly, employment. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a median annual salary of $67,550 for microbiologists in May 2015.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; a Ph.D. is usually required to conduct independent research
Degree Field Microbiology, cell biology, biochemistry, or similar field
Certification Voluntary certification available
Experience 1 to 2 years of clinical experience
Key Skills Critical thinking, interpersonal, communication, observational, problem-solving and math skills; sound judgment, attention to detail, and perseverance
Salary $67,550 (2015 median for all microbiologists)

Sources: O*NET OnLine, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

You'll need at least a bachelor's degree in microbiology, cell biology, biochemistry or a similar field. A Ph.D. is usually required to conduct independent research and voluntary certification available. You'll also need 1 to 2 years of clinical experience, along with critical thinking, interpersonal, communication, observational, problem-solving and math skills, sound judgment, attention to detail and perseverance.

Steps to Become a Clinical Microbiologist

Let's go over what steps you'll need to take to become a clinical microbiologist.

Step 1: Get a Bachelor's Degree

Clinical microbiology is an exacting discipline that requires precise medical knowledge from its practitioners. Therefore, many employers in the field require employees to have earned at least a bachelor's degree in a related subject. Undergraduates often study how microorganisms, like bacteria, interact with other living things. These programs usually include a clinical component, which provides the necessary lab experience to work in the field.

Complete an internship in a microbiology lab. An internship offers hands-on training working with experienced microbiologists, which exposes student to lab processes and may improve future employment opportunities. Take additional courses in math, statistics, and computer science. Since microbiologists analyze complex data in the lab, these courses are critical for aspiring microbiologists.

Step 2: Complete a Master's Degree Program

Employers may require their clinical microbiologists to have undergone graduate-level studies. Some schools offer master's programs specifically in clinical microbiology, which provide in-depth, specialized training in dealing with both clinical technology and microorganisms. Classes may include immunology, infection diseases and microbial pathogens.

Enroll in additional laboratory courses. The more laboratory courses a student takes, the more likely he or she will be able to obtain a desired position after graduation. Pursue voluntary certification. While not required for employment, clinical microbiologists can obtain certifications which may increase job opportunities or lead to career advancement.

Step 3: Earn a Doctoral Degree for Career Advancement

For those who want to gain mastery of clinical microbiology, some schools offer Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) programs in the field. These include highly extensive training in microbiology and hands-on experience with the most current technology and methodology. Doctorate programs prepare clinical microbiologists to ascend to the top of their field as laboratory directors who conduct independent research studies. Additionally, a doctoral degree allows graduates to teach and conduct research at colleges and universities.

Gain experience in a postdoctoral research position. These programs provide additional, supervised laboratory training and give microbiologists the opportunity to gain specialized knowledge or broaden their expertise. Publish research findings. A strong publication track record is often a key component in securing a research position at a higher educational institution or laboratory.

Becoming a clinical microbiologist revolves around acquiring the correct education, from a bachelor's degree to a doctorate.

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