If you enjoy conducting research to study the harmful effects of chemicals found in the food we eat, the drugs we consume, the air we breathe, and the water we drink, then you could be the perfect fit to become a toxicologist. As specialized medical scientists, toxicologists are typically responsible for investigating physical and chemical agents that interact with the body to reduce the risks of harming human health. Due to our society’s increased reliance on pharmaceuticals, it is estimated that the employment of toxicologists and other medical scientists will grow steadily by 13%, thus creating 13,700 new jobs before 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In order to get on the right track to a rewarding career in reducing our risk from threatening chemical exposure, below is a step-by-step guide that you should follow to become a toxicologist.
Complete a Relevant Bachelor’s Degree
Students who are planning future careers in toxicology typically will begin their academic journey by earning a four-year bachelor’s degree in biology, toxicology, chemistry, pharmaceutical science, ecology, biochemistry, physiology, or other physical sciences. Regardless of your chosen major, it is essential that you take introductory courses that will cover the chemical makeup of toxins as well as their effects on the human or animal body. Furthermore, the Society of Toxicology (SOT) recommends that undergraduates fill their course schedule with courses in statistics and mathematics to build a foundation for research. Gaining hands-on experience in lab classes, research projects, and internships is also extremely beneficial to work in toxicology.
Pursue a Doctoral Degree Program within Toxicology
After completing your undergraduate studies, the majority of toxicologists will need to enter graduate school at an accredited post-secondary institution to receive a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree specialized in toxicology. In some cases, students interested in medical toxicology decide to enter dual degree programs to earn both a Ph.D. and a Medical Doctor (M.D.) at the same time to build clinical expertise with exceptional research skills. Depending on your future career interests, there are numerous doctoral degrees nationwide that range from forensic toxicology and environmental toxicology to molecular toxicology and immunotoxicology. Completing a Ph.D. program will typically require three to four years of advanced specialized coursework, comprehensive exams, and a doctoral dissertation.
Obtain Board Certification with the Toxicology Field
To further distinguish yourself as a professional, it is highly recommended that you then obtain certification through the American Board of Toxicology (ABT). Candidates will be required to possess a doctoral degree in toxicology or a closely related area and have acquired at least three years of full-time post-doctoral experience within the field. In this case, professional experience consists of designing toxicological experiments, interpreting test results, and identifying or solving human and animal health problems. Applicants who have only earned a master’s degree in toxicology must have at least seven years of full-time post-baccalaureate experience to qualify. After passing all three parts of the certification examination, you will receive a certificate that must be renewed every five years.
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Whether you are interested in conducting research projects that test the effects of pollutants on the environment, evaluate how the immune system responds to new pharmaceuticals, or determining chemicals in a person’s body before death, there are numerous opportunities available in the toxicology field. When you follow these steps to become a toxicologist, you will build a successful career in performing carefully designed studies on the effects of chemicals.