If poisons interest you, medical toxicology may be your career choice. As glamorous as it sounds, a job as a medical toxicologist isn’t all about solving high-profile murders or trying to contain rogue viruses that escape from top-secret labs. Most medical toxicologists live a more sedate life in front of the microscope. Don’t count on a fast track to become a clinical toxicologist, since this career choice requires a medical degree.
Because medical toxicologists are medical doctors, many see their own patients or consult on cases for other physicians. It’s valuable to become a member of the American College of Medical Toxicology, which sponsors medical conferences and seminars so you can keep up with the latest advances in your field. The ACMT also publishes a peer-reviewed journal, the “Journal of Medical Toxicology.” Because this field is small, keeping in touch with colleagues is an essential part of staying up to date with advances and new techniques.
Medical toxicology offers a number of job options. You may choose to work in the laboratory, overseeing the development of new drugs and making sure any new products won’t have toxic effects. Or you could work in a laboratory devoted to creating antidotes for dangerous chemical that could be used in terrorist attacks. Medical toxicologists can also testify on interesting court cases related to toxicology.
Toxicologists need a thorough understanding of what substances are poisonous, where poisonous substances are found, the effects that poisons have on the body and the types of antidotes that can counteract them. Many toxic products can have far-reaching effects on the environment as well as the citizens exposed to them. Some doctors who specialize in toxicology specialize in a single area, such as nerve toxins, reproductive toxins that prevent pregnancy or cause birth defects or immunological toxins.
If you become a medical toxicologist, you’ll be a member of a small and elite group. Because many facilities don’t have a specialist in medical toxicology on staff, you may conduct telephone consultations with people around the country and possibly around the world. You may get to travel to other parts of the country on interesting cases.
If you don’t want to go through medical school just to become a medical toxicologist, you may be able to find a toxicology job with just an undergraduate degree, although you’ll find more job opportunities with a master’s degree or doctorate. Most toxicologists work in industry, especially the pharmaceutical or chemical industries. Many others teach or conduct research on various aspects of toxicology. Fair warning, though– very few end up working for CSI.
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