Healthcare Careers: Medical Research and Development

The second in a series of guides about health and social care careers. Read our previous article: An overview of the health and social care industry.

If you want to save lives and help people, you don’t have to be on the front lines of patient care to make a difference. It’s not just doctors, nurses, surgeons and other healthcare professionals who are making a difference – those working behind the scenes developing new medical advancements have a hugely important role to play.

What is medical research and development?

The role of medical research and development scientists is to better understand illnesses and medical problems, to develop new medicines, improve existing ones and to pinpoint preventative measures. Those that work in this field provide the knowledge and tools needed by doctors, nurses, surgeons, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals who directly treat patients to do their jobs effectively.

Depending on the particular role or field of research, you could be working in a higher education institution, a research institute, a hospital or a pharmaceutical company in order to investigate the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of illnesses and disorders.

What are the different areas of medical research and development?

Pharmacy and pharmaceuticals – developing and testing new drugs to prevent the spread of disease, ease pain, cure illnesses, slow the ageing process and more.

Physiological sciences – studying organs like the heart, brain, and lungs, and systems in the human body such as the respiratory, nervous and digestive, in order to better understand and treat the illnesses that affect them.

Life sciences – setting up experiments and investigations in controlled environments and natural settings in order to understand a particular aspect of life. Often done on behalf of an organisation, such as Government, educational institutions, or commercial enterprises in medical, pharmaceutical, chemical, food and cosmetics industries.

Clinical engineering and physical sciences – developing new ways to find out what is happening in the human body and to diagnose and treat illnesses. Examples include ultrasound, radioactivity, radiation, magnetic resonance, electromagnetism and optical imaging.

Forensics and Pathology – investigating the human body or crime scenes to discover the causes and effects of illnesses and injuries. It involves performing autopsies on deceased patients to determine the cause of death.

How do I get into the medical research and development industry?

To enter the field of medical research and development, you will need a medical degree or a degree related to the specific area you want to specialise in, plus laboratory experience, to enter some graduate programmes. says that the following subjects are particularly relevant:

biomedical sciences
medical microbiology
molecular biology

Many areas of medical research now look for graduates in chemistry, physics or statistics/bioinformatics.

There are also many other routes into this career, outlined here by Prospects:

“Direct entry to a research scientist role with an HND or foundation degree is not possible. Opportunities for HND or foundation degree holders may exist at technician level, but progression to medical research scientist will require further qualifications. Some employers may allow you to study while working part time.

‘You will usually need to have an MSc or PhD, or be working towards one, to secure a position in this field. However opportunities at entry level without a postgraduate qualification do exist, particularly in industry. Career progression does usually require further qualifications though, particularly a PhD.”