Master's in Medical Science? Is there use beyond med school?
February 26, 2013 9:54 AM   Subscribe

I'm considering getting a master's in medical science, slow route. I work at a university in publishing, so my classes are free. But I want to know if it's relevant or useful if I don't go to med school after.

About a year ago, I had a part-time job helping a psychiatrist author technical papers on the pathophysiology of various medications. Absolutely loved it. Former English major here who always struggled with sciences but for some reason, ten years post-college, it finally all clicked and I love the stuff.
I am considering getting a master's in medical science, with a possible eye to getting a PhD in pharmacy or physical therapy. But I may not. If so, what does the master's in medical science qualify me to do. I could be happy teaching high-school/community college medical science or becoming a medical writer. Are there other possibilities I'm overlooking? Health informatics, some sort of medical communications job I don't know about because I don't work in a hospital? Anyone earned a medical science master's and then for some reason or another,decided NOT to go to med school. Let me know your stories.
posted by caveatz to Education (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know if you're overlooking anything, but there is a good market for people who understand science and technical issues, and who can write and edit very well. A friend of mine, years ago, made a killing in the Boston area with this skill set, working for professors at Harvard and MIT who wanted to translate their work into articles for generalist publications. You're in a great position in that your employer will likely pay for your degree. I don't think you necessarially need the masters to do this, but if that's work you're interested in and enjoy, and the degree will make you better at it and more employable, go for it. If you decide later on down the line to get a PhD, it's not going to hurt you at all.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 10:14 AM on February 26, 2013

Didn't get a masters, but I worked in some of those and I looked for alternative careers for people with a background in biology (I count a master's in medical science as the same, I'm sure the classes were similar).

Just for some additional ideas for you, I asked a angst-filled askmeta for alternative careers with a background in bio a few yrs ago -- some of the ideas were really interesting and I think would be obtainable to someone with your eventual degree.

During that quest, the book 'Alternative Careers in Science: Leaving the Ivory Tower' was very useful. It was useful to me because in each chapter, people discussed an alternative career (i.e. daily life, how they got there), so you could scan it and say - no way would I do that or looks interesting. Some of the careers would like be accessible to people with grad degrees, not necessarily PhDs.

Some of this info is now dated (several years ago), but I suspect it still applies and I will point you to places to look. I noticed at some of the small colleges/universities in the middle of nowhere, there were lecturer positions for people with Master's degrees (not adjunct, don't do that the pay is very very low and it is not a full time job). Now I'm not sure what the job market is like for that now (this was 8 or so years ago), so double check chronicle for higher education (the printed paper or online)- they list jobs there and desired qualities. As long as you still find jobs open with a master degree, then you should be fine. I found that if you have experience teaching one course on your own at the uni level (not a lab), it will set you ahead of other candidates. Usually you need to TA a lab as a grad student - push it and request to teach your own course.If this is the direction that you want to go, of course....

Medical writing. You don't need a grad degree, but I feel it helps. There are some clients that I have because of this ...but there is more than enough work out there and it is not required. I've noticed from medical communication companies that there are 2 career tracks, 1) english majors who like to do read/write about science or 2) PhDs. You would fall in the middle, but I think it would be useful info.However, having experience (samples) and passing the writing test that requires interpreting science papers will get you in the door.If you want to improve your odds now for a job in this field at the moment, see if your uni does CME material (plus grants) and see if you can write some of this material.

It sounds like you are new to biology/sciences. The degree is free and there are many things (for me) that you can not experience or learn about in any other way (i.e. working on cadavers, seeing how muscles and organs work, learning about neurochemistry in great detail)...I would do it because it's interesting and you are exposed to things that you will not experience in any other way. PhDs in most of the sciences are also free so it may be a good way to get your feet wet and see if you want to do more of it.

posted by Wolfster at 10:34 AM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

A Ph.D degree is not free if you consider opportunity cost, which you probably should.

Also on Googling this degree program, the programs I saw were extremely pricey i.e. equal to the cost of a year of med school. I would think before investing in this program you would want to be pretty certain of your interest in a career that it would most likely lead you into.

Have you considered post-bacc programs instead? Have you considered shadowing or otherwise trying to gain experience in your areas of interest prior to deciding which program to pursue? (i.e. work as a pharmacy tech, shadow in a physical therapy office/medical setting?) If you do this for just a few weeks or months it could allow you to skip the MAMS program and direct your studies towards your degree of interest from the start, i.e. by going to pharmacy school.

Here is a list of schools to which students with an MAMS degree were accepted after finishing the program (they are not all medical schools).
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:18 PM on February 26, 2013

Also considering a PhD program can take 5-7 years to complete, I don't see it as a good way to 'get your feet wet'. Again, you ideally ought to know what you want before entering into such a commitment.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 12:19 PM on February 26, 2013

IANAPhysical Therapist, but my mother is and has run her own sizable private practice for almost 30 years. If you are seriously interested in becoming a practicing physical therapist, I know that she would recommend that you rethink the PhD route and consider pursuing a masters in a well regarded PT program instead. The vast majority of PTs I have known (including my mom) do not have a PhD, and those that do often face the difficulty of appearing overqualified to employers. Pursuing a PhD in PT is usually a much more expensive and slower route, necessary for teaching (most of the time), but not vital or even useful for much else. It's possible you could parlay the master's in medical science into being a PT Assistant, but a lot of this is going to depend heavily on where you are, as rules and regulations vary considerably from state to state.

With a master's in medical science, a completely different avenue that may play more to your English background is working in development. Universities and hospitals are frequently in need of individuals who are both excellent writers and science-savvy for working on grants and proposals. While not always a requirement, it's fairly common for science PhD-wielding folks to show up in development offices, and an English major turned science-lover would make you an appealing job candidate.
posted by Diagonalize at 1:33 PM on February 26, 2013

I wonder if you really mean a PharmD (pharmacy) and a DPT (physical therapy) rather than a PhD. Some schools do award PhDs in the disciplines, but they are usually targeted for those looking for scholarly positions. The professional degrees are far more common for those interested in practicing in those professions. I can't weigh in on the master's vs. doctoral degree for physical therapy, but I think pharmacy is all doctoral degrees now. Something about the way you have worded your question makes me think maybe you don't realize that pharmacists and physical therapists are not trained in medical schools, so just be aware that these are distinct professions from medicine and have their own schools.

My impression of a master's in medical science degree is that it is for people who didn't have the grades/coursework/whatever to get into medical or other professional school and need some extra oomph. If you're not certain you want to enter one of these professions, I'd skip it.

If you do want to head to a professional program in one of the health professions, you will probably need to do some post baccalaureate work and spend some time working with patients. Start volunteering at a hospital or become a NA to get some exposure to the field.

There are programs out there specific to health informatics (although I think they're typically targeted to people who are already in health care).
posted by jeoc at 4:14 PM on February 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

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