Job Growth in the Next Decade: Medical Research

May 11, 2011

Given the United States' recent economic troubles, it may seem odd to talk about job growth. Yet according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), certain professions may be looking at a worker shortage by 2018. In a four-part series, will take a look at the employment sectors where the BLS predicts the most opportunities. Up today: medical research industries.

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By Eric Garneau

Anyone with an ear to recent news has probably noticed that healthcare's always on the public's mind. As the United States' population ages and technology continues to develop, a growing number of health-related job opportunities will be available for those with the proper training. In particular, the BLS predicts that careers for biomedical engineers, medical scientists, biochemists and biophysicists will grow significantly by 2018.

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Medical Scientists

Medical scientists focus on improving human health through research. Primarily they study diseases and other afflictions. They often work in a laboratory setting, but they may also occupy hospitals or clinics. Most medical scientists need a Ph.D. in a biological field, or they can earn a joint M.D.-Ph.D. from a medical college.

The BLS predicts a 40% growth in medical scientist job openings by 2018. That continues a trend that began in the 1980s, due in part to increasing medical knowledge and availability of biotechnology. As of May 2009, the BLS reported that medical scientists earned a mean annual wage of $84,760, with the top ten percent of earners in their profession taking home $138,840 a year. Massachusetts, California and Pennsylvania employed the most workers in the field per thousand, while Vermont, New Jersey and Illinois paid their medical scientists the best.

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Biomedical Engineers

Another job incorporating biotechnology, biomedical engineers build devices and design mechanical procedures that solve health problems. They use their engineering expertise to create prosthetic limbs, medical diagnostic machines and more. If this interests you, you'll need at least a master's degree in engineering or biology, though it may be easier to get the engineering degree first and take biology classes later, since the field emphasizes engineering.

The BLS predicts a massive 72% job growth for biomedical engineers by 2018, propelled by an aging population and an increased demand for efficiency in the biomedical world. In May 2009, biomedical engineers earned a mean annual salary of $82,550. The most employment opportunities for them were found in the medical equipment and supplies manufacturing industry. Minnesota, Massachusetts and Arizona were the highest-paying states for the occupation.

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Biochemists and Biophysicists

These two jobs are closely related to each other and not too far off from the above professions. Biophysicists study how living organisms and their parts relate to physical concepts like energy. Biochemists look at the chemical composition of organisms. Both jobs can be put to use in the biotechnology field, for instance by creating devices which manipulate biological compounds chemically and physically. Like with medical scientists, a Ph.D. is generally required to work in this field.

The BLS foresees a 37% increase in biochemistry and biophysics jobs by 2018. As of May 2009, workers in the profession earned $88,550 annually. The scientific research and development services industry employed the most workers in the field, while those biochemists and biophysicists who worked in physicians' offices earned the highest salary, at $139,150 a year. Outpatient care centers and general medical and surgical hospitals also ranked among the highest-paying employers, while pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturers and universities rounded out those industries who employed the most professionals.

Thinking about going to med school? Here's a few tips on how to survive the experience.

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