The field of toxicology integrates a variety of disciplines, including biology, chemistry, pharmacology and physiology. Specializations in the field include chemical, environmental, plant and molecular toxicology. Medical scientists such as toxicologists are generally required to possess a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) at minimum. Students studying toxicology at the doctoral level look at effects of chemical agents through lab research. Along with scientific properties of toxicology, studies explore sociological factors in their use and ramifications of use of potentially toxic substances.
Toxicology programs leading to a Ph.D. require that applicants hold a bachelor's or master's degree in a science or engineering-related field and have completed stipulated coursework in biology and math, among others. Applicants must have strong research skills and achieve certain GRE scores. Letters of recommendation may also be required.
Ph.D. in Toxicology
Courses in a Ph.D. in toxicology program focus on assessment of risk of being exposed to different toxicants. Classes cover topics in:
- Cellular and molecular toxicology
- Pesticide and insecticide toxicology
- Chemical risk assessments
- Biological kinetic extrapolation
- Environmental impact of chemicals
Career Outlook and Salary Info
The majority of toxicologists go into advanced research within the medical field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical scientists (except epidemiologists) were projected to experience an 8% increase in employment opportunities between 2018 and 2028 (www.bls.gov). Those who choose to earn a combined doctorate and medical degree are expected to have the greatest advantages in the job market. In May 2018, the BLS reported a median salary for medical scientists of $84,810 annually.
Certification and Continuing Education
The American Board of Toxicology offers certification and requires applicants to have a Ph.D. plus three years of experience in full-time research or professional work. Recertification is required every five years. The continuing education requirements for recertification depend upon the toxicologist's years in professional practice.
The Society of Toxicologists (SOT) offers continuing education seminars and courses at regional meetings or online. Courses change from year to year; topics covered in the 2011 curriculum included epigenetics and toxicology, drug hypersensitivity and stem cell use in toxicology. SOT also encourages society members to present courses on their own research.
Students interested in studying toxic substances and their effects can pursue a Ph.D. in Toxicology. Graduates can expect positive job growth as medical scientists and will need to have their Ph.D. and 3 years of experience to qualify for certification.