Toxicologist

Toxicology dates back to the age of Enlightenment. Matthieu Orfila was responsible for classifying toxic substances during the nineteenth century. The word’s etymology derives from toxicon, a Greek term for poison, and logos, a scientific study. 

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for medical scientists is predicted to grow 17 percent from 2021 to 2031. In this period, 20,800 new positions will be created, paying median salaries of $95,310 annually and $45.82 per hour. The role of a toxicologist requires research, analysis, and viable treatment options, and specific areas of toxicology include forensic and toxicokinetics.

Toxicologists’ research, analysis, and treatments provide a network of safety for society members. The work sheds light on the necessary hazards and safety. Toxicologists provide research based on the negative and positive ways chemicals affect human lives. Testing for efficacy, safety, and the direct impact of chemicals on human, animal, and environmental vitality. 

The educational background of a toxicologist includes completing a high school or GED diploma and a bachelor’s degree focused on science. Specifically, aspiring toxicologists should concentrate their undergraduate studies on criminal justice, biology, and chemistry. A bachelor’s degree provides the necessary education and experience for many jobs in toxicology. However, more advanced education beyond the undergraduate level furthers job prospects and prepares individuals for PhDs. After completing an undergraduate degree and gaining the necessary experience, candidates may choose to complete an examination by the American Board of Toxicology (ABT) or the American Board of Forensic Toxicologists (ABFT). 

Continue reading to learn more about specializations, degree types, admissions requirements, accreditation organizations, educational programs, and certifications for toxicologists.

Toxicology Specializations & Degree Types

Specializations

Individuals seeking a career in toxicology can begin the process as early as high school by completing coursework in science, mathematics, and criminal justice. After high school or completing a GED diploma, interested parties must pursue a bachelor’s degree. Advanced degrees are required to become a toxicologist, especially in specialized areas outside laboratory research and assistant work. The following list provides areas of specialization in toxicology:

  • Causation evaluation
  • Toxic exposure
  • Risk assessment
  • Environmental testing
  • Forensic toxicology

Degrees

Toxicologists can enter the profession with undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees, such as: 

  • BS: bachelor of science 
  • MS: master of science in toxicology
  • MSPS: master of science in pharmaceutical sciences
  • PSMTOX: professional master in toxicology
  • PhD: doctor of philosophy in science
  • MD: medical doctor
  • DDS: doctor of dental surgery
  • DMD: doctor of dental medicine
  • DO: doctor of osteopathic medicine

Admissions Requirements for Toxicology Programs

Aspiring toxicology students must graduate with a high school diploma or from a GED program. Secondly, aspiring toxicology students must complete a bachelor’s degree program in criminal justice, biology, or chemistry. Finally, after earning a BS degree, students can choose a professional work pathway to gain work experience or continued education in a master’s or doctoral degree. Graduate studies allow aspiring toxicologists to forge their paths and research in a specialized field.

Toxicology Program Accreditation

The American Board of Toxicology (ABT) provides certification for the evaluation and competency of toxicology applicants. The exam consists of 160 questions, of which 140 are scored. The exam is completed in a four-hour time frame, and the fee is $400. The ABT website extensively explains examination specifics, yearly changes, the handbook, sample questions, and practice analysis.

On-Campus Toxicology Degree Programs

University of Buffalo – BS in pharmacology & toxicology

The Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology at the University of Buffalo offers a bachelor of science program that prepares students to understand the interaction of toxins and drugs with living cells, tissues, and living organisms. The program combines the essentials of toxicology and pharmacology and teaches students laboratory and evaluation techniques applicable to the field. 

The coursework incorporates hands-on practice, novel compound models, testing and synthesizing compounds, and studying the biology process involving such compounds and drugs. Students are encouraged to pursue research alongside faculty to combine the ideology of hands-on learning with in-house opportunities to expand an understanding of the field. Many students complete the program to continue educational pursuits in medical or dental studies, biochemical sciences, or pharmacology. Other students go into the field working in sales, technical or analytical work, government or research laboratories and hospitals, or as drug information specialists.

Admissions to the University of Buffalo program are based on a complete view of the student’s educational background. This concept includes reviewing courses completed in high school and SAT or ACT scores, although standardized testing requirements are on hold through Spring 2024. Also included in the admissions review are letters of recommendation, a personal essay, leadership involvement, creative talents documented in writing, particular circumstances explained, and community service involvement.

  • Location: Buffalo, NY
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) 
  • Tuition: $5,391 per semester (residents) 

The University of Toledo – MSPS in pharmaceutical sciences

The master of science in pharmaceutical sciences (MSPS) at the University of Toledo meets the needs of prospective toxicologists. The two-year program provides a sound foundational understanding of both toxicology and pharmacology. The program was founded with the evaluation of literature, acting with ethics, and giving research while incorporating the work with the testing of new therapies of drugs. 

The course load includes pharmacology and toxicology courses incorporating 28 semester hours and a six-credit hour thesis for the graduate degree. Seven specific undergraduate courses are required or equivalents to qualify for the graduate program coursework. A sample of the graduate courses includes toxicology I, toxicokinetics, pharmacology I, II, III, and IV, and an interpretation of pharmaceutical data. The elective courses include toxicology II, biochemistry, biochemical techniques, problems in pharmacology, and advanced immunology. 

Admissions for the program involve an online application with outlined components for each requirement. Firstly, a four-year degree from a regionally accredited university is a requirement for the pharmacology and toxicology program. In addition, applicants must have a minimum GPA of 2.7 for admissions to be considered. Entries also require transcripts, three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and a resume. A GRE is not required; however, it is strongly recommended, especially for international student applicants.

  • Location: Toledo, OH
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $1,156 per credit 

St. John’s University – MS in toxicology

St. John’s University’s master of science in toxicology program prepares students for various careers. Master’s students will be prepared for work in research facilities, agencies of regulation, and industry, as well as academia. 

Some courses include environmental toxicology, mechanistic toxicology, regulatory toxicology, analytical toxicology, and assessment of safety which are covered in both bachelor and master-level coursework. In addition, graduate coursework engrosses students in research on specific content areas alongside faculty members. Graduate studies include neurotoxicology, pulmonary toxicology, environmental toxicology, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, renal, analytical, and molecular toxicology. 

Admissions for the program begin with an online application easily managed through the university’s website. Standard application materials are required, including a resume, two letters of recommendation from instructors within the program, a personalized essay, three letters of recommendation, and GRE scores.  

  • Location: Staten Island, NY
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Tuition: $1,610 per credit

Columbia University – MS in toxicology

The Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University offers a master of science in toxicology. Students in this program glean expertise and training alongside analysis through critical thinking in toxicology to prepare them for laboratory-based careers. The program length can be between 12 to 36 months, depending upon the needs of the graduate student. 

The course work includes 36 credits along with a three-month practice experience comprised of 150 to 300 hours and concluding with a research master’s thesis. A few examples of courses included in the program are environmental health sciences core, molecular epidemiology, toxicokinetics, computational toxicology, and applied environmental public health science. The program’s requirements in terms of coursework are broken down by semesters on the website for prospective students to get an idea of what the load will be per term. 

Admissions requirements include an eight-step entry process outlined on the application process website. The application components required for the department include GRE scores, college transcripts, three letters of reference, and a personal statement.  

  • Location: New York, NY
  • Duration: 12 to 36 months
  • Accreditation: Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH)
  • Tuition: $43,476 total

Oregon State University – PSMTOX: professional masters in toxicology

Recent toxicology undergraduates will find this capstone and job-focused program the perfect fit for their graduate educational needs. The non-research-based program instead gears to meet the needs of job-seeking professionals through content and an internship-focused plan. Students can complete the 45-credit program in two years.

The coursework for the program includes, but is not limited to, the fundamentals of toxicology, ecological human health risk assessment, scientific skills and ethics, data analysis methods, six credit capstone, and nineteen credits of additional requirements that can incorporate general electives. Graduate students are also expected to organize and run a program of study meeting by the time the Fall term of year two begins. The capstone course is also required for completion by the spring term of year two. 

Early admission for the master’s program must be completed by December 31st. Students interested in the program must hold a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, chemistry, pharmacy, biology, or fields therein to toxicology. Prospective students must also have a GPA of 3.25 or higher for program consideration. GRE scores are optional for entry into the program. Other requirements for the application include three letters of recommendation, a statement of objective, a resume, and an application fee of $35 for domestic students and $85 for international students. 

  • Location: Corvallis, OR
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Tuition: $1,015 per credit

Online or Hybrid Toxicology Degree Programs

University of Florida – Online MS & graduate certificate in clinical toxicology

The University of Florida offers a fully online, asynchronous clinical toxicology program. The master’s program seeks professionals in positions that may include pharmacists, physicians, and first responders, including EMTs, nurses, and poison control center workers. By completing the master’s program in toxicology, career advancement within the same field can be made possible through the focused lens of education. A 15-credit graduate certificate program is also available. 

The 32-credit program comprises core-required courses in epidemiology and biostatistics in clinical toxicology, general toxicology, and toxic substances. Some required courses include biosecurity and microbial forensics, herbal and dietary supplements, and a literature survey of clinical toxicology. Special topics and literature surveys are required in the final semester. Four other elective courses include two pathophysiologies of disease I and II, evidence-based applications of clinical toxicology, and occupationally toxicology. A non-degree program is available to prospective students to try out graduate-level work before enrolling in the master’s or graduate certificate program. 

The admissions process requires a natural science degree from an accredited university with a GPA of 3.0 or higher. The GRE is not required, and students can transfer up to fifteen credits once accepted. 

  • Location: Gainesville, Florida
  • Duration: One to three years
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Tuition: $575 per credit

Michigan State University – Online MS in pharmacology & toxicology

Michigan State University offers a fully online master of science degree in pharmacology and toxicology geared toward students interested in career advancement. 

The required courses include ten credits, including the following classes: principles of drug-tissue interaction, experimental design and data analysis, communications for scientists, and academic and research integrity. In addition, eight elective courses are required, including neurotoxicology, cellular and molecular toxicology, and environmental health factors. Finally, a list of professional electives includes the drug development process course and leadership and team building for scientists. 

The admissions process for this pharmacology and toxicology program at Michigan State involves four steps that must be completed to be considered for review, which is explained thoroughly on the university’s website. First, applicants must have completed a bachelor’s degree in chemistry or biology.

  • Location: East Lansing, MI
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $1,850 per credit 

Johns Hopkins University – Online MS in toxicology for human risk assessment

The Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University offers an online master of science in toxicology for human risk assessment. The course comprises nine months focused on coursework followed by 7-12 months of internship at a non-governmental organization, industry, government agency, or private sector group. Graduates from this program are prepared for work in government and private sectors of public health.

The coursework involves eight weeks, with courses being offered from September through the middle of May. Some of the 23 courses provided in the program include principles of environmental health; risk policy, management, and communication; molecular toxicology, and alternative methods in animal testing. The internship portion of the program is the length of four months or two academic terms, along with 32 credits of research and special studies. The final component of the program involves a master’s essay and presentation of the project. 

All applicants to Johns Hopkins University must hold a bachelor’s degree from a U.S. institution. The admissions process begins with two online application services: SOPHAS and SOPHAS Express. The deadline for the program is December 1st. 

  • Location:  Baltimore, MD
  • Duration: 2.5 years
  • Accreditation: Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH)
  • Tuition: $15,240 per term 

University of Kansas – Online MS in pharmacology & toxicology

The School of Pharmacy at the University of Kansas offers an online master of science degree in pharmacology and toxicology. This program supplies students with advanced training in cellular, molecular, and organ systems in conjunction with scientific writing. The online portion of the program follows a rolling admissions option.

The online master of science course offerings includes both required and elective-based courses. The 30-credit program includes core coursework such as an introduction to pharmacology and biotechnology, pharmacology II, III, IV, and V, and molecular toxicology. The elective course offered is pharmacogenomics, which comprises four credits. 

The admissions process for the University of Kansas requires candidates to hold a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in chemistry, biology, toxicology, or pharmacology, among other topics from a similar department. 

  • Location: Lawrence, KS
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $1,016 per credit 

University of South Florida – Online graduate certificate in toxicology

The University of South Florida offers an online graduate certificate of toxicology that can be completed in two years. The fully online program allows students to immerse themselves in the foundational courses of toxicology. It gives working professionals the knowledge to understand occupational and environmental health factors associated with toxicology practice. It combines knowledge of the field, coursework, and current training to issues within toxicology and applies them to health regulations. 

The coursework involved in the certificate program includes 14 credit hours and five-course topics. The course covers environmental and occupational toxicology, ecological laboratory principles, industrial toxicology, exposure assessment and control principles, and the pathobiology of human diseases. Each class is three credit hours, except for industrial toxicology, which is two credit hours. 

The University of South Florida admissions process involves submitting an online application and uploading required documentation through the program. The university requires applicants to have a bachelor’s degree or equivalent with a minimum GPA of 3.0 or a bachelor’s degree with a B average. Other application requirements include transcripts, GRE test scores, letters of recommendation, and a $30 application fee. 

  • Location: Tampa, FL
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Tuition: $431 per credit (residents); $877 per credit (non-residents)

How Long Does it Take to Become a Toxicologist?

It can take anywhere from eight to 12 years to become a toxicologist, including high school. However, according to Career One Stop (2023), which is affiliated with the US Department of Labor, the majority of medical scientists (a similar title to toxicologists) hold doctoral or professional degrees (49 percent), master’s degrees (25 percent), and bachelor’s degrees (23 percent).

How To Become a Toxicologist – Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School or Complete a GED (Four Years)

Graduating from high school or completing a GED is a fundamental requirement for admission to an accredited university and earning a bachelor’s degree. Students in high school can further their knowledge for their future career pathway by completing courses in criminology science, specifically in chemistry and biology, and mathematics.

Step 2: Complete a Bachelor of Science in Biology, Chemistry, or Criminal Justice (Four Years)

Earning a BS in biology, chemistry, or criminal justice is recommended for aspiring toxicologists. 

Step 3: Gain Work Experience (Three to Ten Years)

Professionals may complete work experience in toxicology after a BS degree. However, individuals pursuing a graduate degree need ten years of work experience with a BS degree, seven years with a master’s degree, and three years with a doctoral degree.

Step 4: Complete a Graduate Degree in Toxicology (Two to Four Years)

An advanced degree is required for work as a toxicologist. A master’s or doctoral degree in toxicology provides an individual with an educational edge and the ability to earn ABT certification. 

Step 6: Obtain National Certification for Specializations (Timelines Vary)

To earn ABT certification, candidates must hold advanced educational degrees and have at least three years of experience in the post-doctoral sector, seven years of experience with a master’s degree, ten years of experience, and a bachelor’s degree.  

Step 7: Obtain State Licensure (Timelines Varies)

Requirements for licensure may vary by individual state and employer. However, national certification through the American Board of Toxicology (ABT) or the American Board of Forensic Toxicology (ABFT) is recognized as complete certification, depending on the educational and professional experience a candidate holds after passing the exam.

Step 8: Maintain All Certifications and Local Licensure (Every One to Five Years).

Maintaining certification and local licensure refers to the certification through ABFT, which is required every five years.

What Do Toxicologists Do?

Toxicologists have many responsibilities that fall under the umbrella topics of research, sample collection, analyzing the effects of chemicals, and creating recommended guidelines for safety around chemicals. Here are a few examples of what toxicologists do:

  • Guide public health policymakers 
  • Protect the environment 
  • Make recommendations for occupational safety
  • Understand multiple scientific disciplines, including biology, chemistry, and environmental science
  • Help create safer products, drugs, and work environments
  • Provide information for consumer knowledge based on safety guidelines 
  • Utilize scientific evidence and expertise for ecological regulations
  • Evaluate substances and risks associated with usage
  • Collect samples for research purposes
  • Perform experiments for diagnostic or research purposes
  • Conduct research for the analysis of biochemical or cellular reactions

Specializations within the field of toxicology have overlapping and job-specific requirements that individuals perform within the positions. Some of these specializations include forensic toxicology and toxicokinetics.

Toxicology Certifications & Licensure

Certification and licensure in toxicology require a BS in science and a master’s degree. Specific certification requirements may exist depending on the state of residence for work performed in the field. However, two of the most nationally recognized organizations for toxicologists are: 

To obtain ABT certification, candidates must hold advanced educational degrees and three years of experience in the post-doctoral sector, seven years of experience with a master’s degree, ten years of experience, and a bachelor’s degree. 

In contrast, ABFT certification has become a benchmark of excellence and experience in forensic toxicology. Attainment of this certification is an impressive feat, achieved only by 484 individuals with documented records of education and training, formal achievement recognition, proficient skill sets, and passing a comprehensive written examination. ABFT certification is open to any individual actively engaging in forensic toxicology.

How Much Do Toxicologists Make?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2021), medical scientists, a similar occupational title to toxicologists, earn average annual salaries of $104,050. Salaries range by experience, education, and cost of living. Here are the salary percentiles for medical scientists:

  • 10th percentile: $50,100 
  • 25th percentile: $62,800 
  • 50th percentile (median): $95,310
  • 75th percentile: $130,090
  • 90th percentile: $166,980

Toxicology Career Alternatives

Toxicology career alternatives may include the following options detailed below. 

Become an Agricultural and Food Scientist

An agricultural and food scientist performs research to improve food quality. In addition, these scientists’ work helps to enhance the safety and efficiency of farming resources. 

  • Typical Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Dependent upon individual state requirements.

Become an Epidemiologist

An epidemiologist is a medical health researcher who tracks the prevalence or absence of diseases. This public health work involves evaluating patterns and preventing disease transmission on a local, state, federal, and global scale.  

  • Typical Education: Master’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: Certification Board of Infection Control and Epidemiology 

Become a Microbiologist

A microbiologist focuses on research and the function of microorganisms. Microbiologists research all elements of microorganisms, including fungi, algae, viruses, bacteria, and parasites, as they relate to research or public health initiatives. 

  • Typical Education: Bachelor’s degree
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: The American Board of Medical Microbiology (ABMM)
Rachel Becker

Rachel Becker

Writer

Rachel Becker is a freelance writer who enjoys life in the PNW. She holds a master’s degree in education and taught in elementary classrooms for twelve years. When she is not running around after two toddlers, she makes time for daily movement, running two blogs, and reading.

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