What Are the Top-Paying Biomedical and Laboratory Careers in 2020?

While biomedical and laboratory careers are available at all levels of educational attainment and experience, the top-paying careers are those reserved mostly for those who have shown dedication to the field through years of experience and post-baccalaureate education.

Professionals who are going to land high-paying jobs in the biomedical and laboratory field are those who are interested in life at the molecular level—people who can critically apply emerging technologies to bioscience and are committed to the long pathway involved in advancing one’s career. Top-paying biomedical and laboratory careers can be patient-facing roles, behind-the-scenes roles, or roles that allow for a balance of both. Most of the top-paying roles do require interpersonal interaction in the form of personnel management or collaboration in some form, even if there is no direct patient contact.

This top-paying list was compiled using average salaries, collected from PayScale.com in January 2020. (Please note that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have detailed salary information for a majority of these roles.) Depending upon region of the country, experience level, number of years, or attainment of professional certifications, these salaries could be higher or lower.

Keep reading to learn what responsibilities these careers entail, the future occupational outlook for these careers, the general pathway to these careers, and certifications that either must be earned or could be earned to practice as a professional in these top-paying careers.

Become a Genetic Counselor

  • PayScale (2020): $70,601 average annual salary

Genetic counselors are biomedical professionals with a blend of advanced knowledge of genetically inherited diseases, and skills in counseling. In addition to assessing patients for inherited conditions, genetic counselors are trained to assist patients in understanding the impact of inherited diseases, the likelihood of the expression of inherited diseases, diagnosis for genetic disease, and how to prevent, cope, and/or adapt the presence of a genetic disease.

Genetic counselors can work in patient-facing roles with adults, teens, and children; can focus on research; or can have a career that blends both worlds. In addition, some genetic counselors are generalists, while others become specialists.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019), there is an expected 27 percent growth in job opportunities nationally between 2018 and 2028 for genetic counselors—a growth rate more than five times the national average for all occupations during the same period.

To become a genetic counselor, an accredited master’s degree is required—one recognized by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC). Upon completion of the degree program, professionals can seek professional certification through the American Board of Genetic Counseling, Inc. (ABGC).

Become a Blood Bank Technology Specialist

  • PayScale (2020): $71,353 average annual salary

Specialists in blood bank technology (SBBs) are laboratory professionals who have the capacity to carry out all blood bank operations at all scales of complexity. SBBs have expertise in blood products, blood group systems, immunology, laboratory operations, physiology and pathophysiology, serologic and molecular testing, and transfusion practice.

In addition to the ability to perform diagnostic blood testing from the level of routine to advanced and specialized, a BBS may also have responsibilities related to management, research, and teaching. A BBS’s career can be patient-facing or administrative, with opportunities in consulting, program management, clinical work, research and development, and education.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019), the general field of clinical laboratory technologists and technicians is predicted to grow by 11 percent between 2018 and 2028, more than double the expected average job growth among all fields.

Although graduating from an academic program specifically geared toward SBB is not required to become an SBB, there are programs recognized by the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Education Programs (CAAHEP) that either focus directly on SBB or prepare graduates to sit for SBB certification exams. Working as an official SBB requires certification from the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) Board of Certification.

Become a Biotechnology or Biomedical Engineer

  • PayScale (2020): $73,751 average annual salary

Biotechnology engineers use the principles of biology and the problem-solving capacity of technology to create improvements for the health of our planet, the health of people, and the health of all life on earth.

Biotechnology engineers can work in a wide range of industries including food and agriculture, public health, diagnostic technology, pharmaceuticals, healthcare services, environmental repair, and more. Most biotechnology engineers are involved in research and development, working in laboratories. Depending on the position, fieldwork may also be included in a biotechnology engineer’s career.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for engineering occupations between 2018 and 2028 will grow at a rate of 4 percent, which is about equal to the rate of growth for all occupations.

Because biotechnology is a relatively new field of study, there aren’t a large number of biotechnology-specific engineering programs. Those interested in the field should begin by earning related degrees in engineering from an accredited bachelor’s and/or master’s program. Although not required for and not applicable to some biotech engineering careers, experienced biotech engineers can pursue a professional engineering certification in agricultural and biological engineering through the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES).

Become a Health Systems Engineer

  • PayScale (2020): $77,875 average annual salary

Health systems engineers can work in two major realms of healthcare delivery: the human realm and the data-driven realm. Health systems engineers working in the human realm examine how to create systems within the physical and psychological limitations of humans that create interpersonal harmony; technological solutions that improve efficiency and performance; and environments that facilitate quality delivery of care. Health systems engineers working in the data realm focus on using what can be quantified to deliver data-driven solutions for operations, management, and institutional decision-making.

Pursuing an undergraduate degree in industrial and/or systems engineering can be the first step to becoming a health systems engineer. At the post-baccalaureate level, there are also programs available that offer specific training the health systems engineering (e.g., the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering master of science in healthcare systems engineering). While certification is not required to work as a health systems engineer, experienced engineers looking for professional distinction can earn a professional engineering certification in industrial and systems engineering from the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES).

Become an Immunohematologist

  • PayScale (2020): $80,250 average annual salary

Immunohematologists deeply understand the complex reactions that take place between antigens on blood cells and antibodies in plasma, as well as the way in which this impacts blood transfusions. Immunohematologists are the professionals responsible for ensuring that there are systems in place to ensure that when a patient receives a blood transfusion, the blood type has been properly identified, labeled, and packed. These professionals can work in blood banks, hospitals, organ banks, surgical centers, or can be involved in research.

Job growth for clinical laboratory technologists and technicians is predicted to rise by 11 percent between 2018 and 2028, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Becoming an immunohematologist can be the next step in the career of a certified medical technologist (MT), clinical laboratory scientist (CLS), or medical laboratory scientist (MLS).

For those who wish to advance into this career, post-bachelor’s degree programs in immunohematology are available (e.g., George Washington University master of science in health sciences in immunohematology and biotechnology). Please note that some states such as California require licensure for professionals to serve in immunohematology positions.

Become a Pathology Assistant

  • PayScale (2020): $83,093 average annual salary

A pathology assistant is a highly skilled professional trained in surgical and autopsy pathology who can complete all the job functions of a pathologist with the exception of diagnosis, thereby extending the pathologist’s capacities.

Pathology assistants are trained to prepare and procure surgical specimens, prepare autopsies, process laboratory specimens, complete macroscopic examinations, record findings, and render provisional diagnoses to be reviewed by the supervising pathologist. Pathology assistants may also engage in personnel management and supervision, documentation, staff training, compliance, quality control, budgeting, and other high-level administrative tasks that free the pathologist to practice.

From 2018 to 2028, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the demand for pathology assistants will grow by 31 percent—a rate that is more than six times the national average for all occupations.

To become a pathology assistant, professionals must complete an accredited post-bachelor’s program. The National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Science (NAACLS) provides accreditation specifically for pathology assistant programs. After completing an accredited program, graduates must earn a certification from the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) Board of Certification.

Become a Biotechnology Scientist

  • PayScale (2020): $83,273 average annual salary

Biotechnology scientists are the engine behind the research that aims to improve health, often through studying biological interactions on the cellular level. Biotechnology scientists’ role depends greatly upon the type of research being implemented but may include experimental design and implementation; data collection and analysis; supervision of research assistants and/or research teams; reporting on findings within a company, at conferences, or in peer-reviewed journals; securing and managing funding; and teaching.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that between 2018 and 2028, the demand for medical scientists will grow by 8 percent, which is faster than the average predicted rate of job growth in the US.

Because biotechnology is a relatively new and highly interdisciplinary field, the pathway to becoming a biotechnology scientist can include studying biological sciences related to any of the applications of biotechnology (food science, agricultural science, medical science, etc). There is also an emerging number of biotechnology-specific programs at all levels of post-secondary education (i.e Johns Hopkins master of science in biotechnology).

Biotechnology scientists do not require certification to perform their job duties. Membership in a professional organization like the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO) can be useful in terms of career development.

Become a Bioinformatics Scientist

  • PayScale (2020): $95,994 average annual salary

Bioinformatics scientists are the researchers who figure out how to effectively apply computer science to the analysis of complex biological data. To this end, bioinformatics scientists may be responsible for researching and recommending leading-edge technologies, techniques, and equipment; managing, coordinating or collaborating with software developers and research teams; gathering, analyzing, and presenting research findings; developing data models and databases; evaluating, implementing, and improving research processes and/or analytical tools; analyzing large data sets; and creating new computational tools specific to moving research forward.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that demand for computer and research information scientists will grow 16 percent between 2018 and 2028, more than three times the rate of the average growth for all occupations.

Those interested in bioinformatics science can begin a course of study in the discipline at any postsecondary level (e.g., George Washington University bachelor of science in health science or master’s of science in health science in biomedical informatics). Certification is not a requirement to work as a bioinformatics scientist, but professionals can find career development opportunities in professional organizations such as the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA).

Become a Pathologist

  • PayScale (2020): $206,100 average annual salary

Pathologists are medical professionals that specialize in determining the cause and the impact of disease or injury on the body. Pathologists can specialize in clinical or anatomical pathology. Anatomical pathologists diagnose the cause and effect of disease based on physical analysis of tissue, organs, or bodies, while clinical pathologists do the same through the analysis of bodily fluids or cells.

Although one must be an MD to be a pathologist, the role is not patient-facing and much work is done in the laboratory. In addition to diagnosis, pathologists may have responsibilities including supervising and working closely with pathology assistants, engaging in and presenting research, or presenting diagnostic findings to the patient-facing physician.

There will be a growing need for pathologists in upcoming years. A journal article published in Academic Pathology on trends in pathology positions predicts an impending gap between supply and demand of pathologists that may grow through 2030. Pathology is generally a pathway pursued in residency, after completion of a four year MD or DO degree. To practice as a pathologist, those who have graduated from medical school must earn a certification through The American Board of Pathology (ABP).

Become a Hematologist or Oncologist

  • PayScale (2020): $257,605 average annual salary

A hematologist or oncologist is a highly specialized MD trained in the diagnosis and treatment of cancers related to the blood, bone marrow, immune, and vascular systems. The responsibilities of hematologists or oncologists may include recommending and ordering diagnostic testing for patients, consulting with patients regarding course of treatment, staying updated on the research regarding diagnosis and treatment of blood-related disorders, managing a physician support team, and engaging in and presenting research. Hematologists and oncologists generally choose a focus in pediatric or adult oncology.

To become a hematologist or oncologist is a long road through medical school, a residency in internal medicine (for those who wish to treat adults), or pediatrics (for those who wish to treat children/teens), followed by a fellowship in hematology/oncology (e.g., the Atrium Health Center for Advanced Practice Fellowship in hematology and oncology). To practice, hematologist/oncologist must earn board certification from the American Board of Internal Medicine (ABIM).

Becca Brewer

Becca Brewer

Writer

Becca Brewer is building a better future on a thriving earth by fostering healing, human wholeness, and next-world building through storytelling help, one-on-one self-awareness workshops, and customized team-alignment sessions. She offers these services at a rate of $0.00 to anyone interested (contact her at rkbrewer@gmail.com for more information). Previously to her journey as an adventurer for a just, meaningful, and regenerative world, Becca was a formally trained sexuality educator with a master of education.

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