Medical Microbiology Careers: Job Options and Requirements
Medical microbiologists are educators and research scientists who are responsible for investigating microscopic organisms and analyzing their effects on humans and animals. The profession has furthered medical advances in chemotherapy, the curing of infectious diseases and the alleviation of viruses.
Medical microbiology includes studies of bacteria, viruses and parasites, all of which can be seen as the cause, and often part of the cure, for various diseases. Those with an undergraduate degree can work as research technicians in the private sector, nonprofit organizations and academia. Advanced degrees can translate to a career as a college educator or contributing member of a scientific team, which eventually could result in a leadership or management position, such as the director of an immunology or clinical microbiology laboratory. Employers include:
- Government agencies, such as the Center for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health
- Private health care services and philanthropic organizations, such as the American Cancer Society, the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the American Heart Association
- Pharmaceutical companies
- Medical schools and university-affiliated teaching hospitals
- Veterinary hospitals
Upward mobility in this profession requires not only scientific skills, but also good communication, business and management techniques. With advanced education and experience, medical microbiologists can develop and manage their own research projects.
The BLS estimated that employment for microbiologists was expected to rise by 12% between 2010 and 2018. In medical fields, such as pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, that increase was expected to be much higher, at 16.5%. Jobs for microbiologists in healthcare were expected to rise seven percent. The mean annual wage for the profession, as of May 2009, was $71,980 (www.bls.gov).
Earning a bachelor's degree in medical microbiology or medical laboratory sciences gives graduates the opportunity to enter the field as technologists or teachers at the high school level, or to continue to study for an advanced degree. Undergraduate programs provide coursework in theoretical and technical aspects of the field, through classroom and laboratory studies. First and second year courses include general microbiology, the biology of microorganisms, immunology, biochemistry and anatomy. Upper division courses, such as genetics, microbial physiology, bacteriology and hematology, focus heavily on laboratory applications.
A master's degree program in medical microbiology prepares graduates to teach at the college and university level or to work as laboratory managers, supervisors or research associates. Master's degree programs in microbiology focus on advanced topics and laboratory training, which helps to direct students toward research projects that correspond with their interests. Through the help of a mentor, the project is often the final arbiter toward earning a Master's degree.
A Ph.D. degree usually begins with students choosing a particular research topic. The student then develops a hypothesis and a plan to prove it through research. Earning the degree hinges on presenting a final report and dissertation. Graduates can then obtain a postdoctoral position, which provides the opportunity for publication, a necessary step in obtaining a tenured faculty position at a college or university.
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