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A Career in Clinical Research

By Lynn Friedman, Ph.D.
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, June 18, 2004; 4:40 PM

A clinical researcher studies issues and concerns related to mental health and wellness. Clinical researchers have a wide array of goals: understanding the etiology of disease and the disease process, identifying and evaluating potential treatments and their outcomes, and studying policies related to the delivery of services.

How Do You Develop the Skills for Pursuing a Career in Clinical Research?

Optimally, training begins at the undergraduate level. Students can select any major in which they can develop and refine their research skills. Some possible majors include: psychology, biology, chemistry, physics and other majors in the sciences and social sciences. As an undergraduate, it is important to take numerous courses in ones discipline and coursework in statistics and experimental design.

After earning your bachelor's or master's degree, you can participate in conducting clinical research as a research assistant or project manager. In order to conceptualize and design research and to successfully compete for research grants, a Ph.D. or medical degree is necessary. Aspiring clinical researchers either complete pre-medical requirements, enter medical school or complete the requisites for doctoral study and then enter a doctoral program in their field of interest.

Requirements for a doctorate vary across disciplines. Most students must demonstrate their commitment to a research career by gaining experience at the undergraduate level. Typically, students are required to have a high GPA and score highly on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE).

What Sort of Doctorate in Clinical Research Should You Consider?

Students interested in behavioral medicine, also called, "health psychology" may consider a career in clinical or experimental psychology. A doctorate in public health is good career choice if you're interested in the incidence and prevalence of disease. People who prefer medical research can pursue a doctorate in the biological or physical sciences, or they might consider earning an M.D. After earning a Ph.D. or M.D., many people find it helpful to seek postdoctoral training in a specialty research area. NIH, federal agencies, foundations and universities offer many postdoctoral opportunities.

Some researchers are more interested in health policy research. These investigators study the impact of health care policies on the delivery of health care. You should first complete your doctorate in the social or biological sciences and then seek out a postdoctoral fellowship in health policy. Washington is one of the best places in the country to seek out these kinds of fellowships.

Lynn Friedman, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Bethesda, Maryland. She specializes in worklife and organizational consultation and psychotherapy.

Editor's note: This article by Lynn Friedman, Ph.D., was acquired by washingtonpost.com in April,2003.

© 2004 Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive