Not that long ago, physicians' two main diagnostic tools were their left eye and their right eye. But now, just two more tools--a blood test and a urine test--can help diagnose and treat countless conditions early and relatively inexpensively. And with the cost of sequencing a human genome down from $100 million in 2001 to $3,000 now, and likely in a few years $100, far more on-target diagnostic and interventional tools are on the horizon. Indeed, for people choosing a career today, accelerating medical advances during your career are likely to keep the job market growing and options increasing.
But what are the best launchpads for a biomedical career? Sure, a Ph.D. in molecular biology is one but a rewarding bioscience career can be had with less education. The focus here is on three such careers that many people find rewarding now and, as science advances, are likely to become even more so.
Clinical Medical Technologist: The desire to decrease medical tests' invasiveness and pressure to reduce the cost of health care are driving the development and use of blood, urine, tissue-sample, and DNA tests to replace equipment-intensive and more invasive diagnostics. Clinical medical technologists, traditionally called lab techs, conduct those tests. Contrary to conventional wisdom, most jobs as a clinical medical technologists are not particularly repetitive. In many labs, the technologists rotate across different tests, and the field is continually advancing so the techs receive frequent training on the latest generation of tests and computerized instruments as well as on how to communicate effectively with health care providers and patients. Most lab techs work in hospitals or for medical testing companies such as Quest or LabCorp, but some do forensic work, for example, for a police department or the FBI. A bachelor's degree is required to be a clinical laboratory technologist but just an associate degree qualifies you for a related position: clinical medical technician.
Genomic Analyst: Our 21,000 genes express proteins, which are combined in billions of ways. Statistics geeks called genomic analysts (or bioinformatics analyst, biostatistician, etc.) figure out what combination of proteins cause what condition and what intervention best helps. As important as that is, even more jobs may be created if society decides that such interventions should be used not only to cure disease but to enhance normal functioning-for example, allowing prospective parents to elect to ensure their child will have excellent rather than just normal intelligence. While a Ph.D. may open the most leaderly career doors, a master's in biostatistics or a related field should render you well employable.
Clinical Research Associate: After a new diagnostic tool or treatment has demonstrated efficacy and safety on computer models and on non-human animals, it's time for human trials. The person who coordinates those trials is a clinical research associate. That person may recruit patients, help ensure they comply with the protocol, and aggregate results. Oh yes, and they typically make a solid six-figure income.
Of course, before choosing a career, you need go beyond reading the more information. Do informational interviews and visit practitioners on-site. After that, if a career still seems appealing, you've likely found a well-suited, rewarding career. Congratulations!