How to Become a Clinical Research Physician

If you’re ready to transition from practicing traditional medical health care to a more strategic role within the medical field, becoming a clinical research physician may just be the next health care challenge you’re seeking. 

As a clinical research physician, you will meet and discuss basic medical science, examine strategies, and analyze commercial, regulatory, and economic factors that impact local, regional, national, and even international health care.

Pursuing a job as a clinical research physician can mean working in the corporate health care sector, with health insurance policy-creation, with either in-state, local or federal government regulations, or for a global organization like the World Health Organization (WHO). Clinical research physicians typically begin their careers with a traditional four-year bachelor’s degree, medical school, residency, and then an actual hands-on career in the medical specialty of their choice. After a combination of medical certification and academic experience, paired with clinical medical work, a physician can explore transitioning to a clinical research physician role. 

According to Payscale, the median pay for clinical research physicians is about $189,231 and the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics indicates that physicians in practice made a median income of $208,000. The best part? Once you move on to the corporate world, you can make even more.

What Education and Experience Do You Need to Become a Clinical Research Physician?

Any aspiring clinical research physician will typically need a bachelor’s degree in a physical or life science, a four-year degree from a medical school, and, depending on your specialty, three to seven years of an internship and residency program. After residency, years of clinical medical practice as a physician are required before applying for a position as a clinical research physician. 

In addition to working for an international corporation, a global health care organization like the World Health Organization, or a transition into academia, clinical research physicians can transition into the medical writing field, work as a consultant for media outlets, or as a legal consultant for court cases.  

Post-doctoral research work, medical fellowships, and pharmaceutical training or internships are not required but can be helpful in your job search.

Why Do Clinical Research Physicians Need Clinical and Medical Experience?

Whether a clinical research physician transitions into a consulting or laboratory research position, corporate health care, health insurance policy-creation, or moves to a state, local, or federal government regulation position, medical experience is required. Hands-on practice in patient assessment, diagnostics, and treatment provides the basis for success in a non-clinical setting. 

While clinical research is typically part of the coursework and certification process of obtaining a bachelor’s degree or PhD in this field of study, working with and assisting existing clinical research scientists provides an extra level of research experience.

If you enter clinical practice with an idea of what type of clinical research physician position you eventually would like to secure, specializing in a similar field is beneficial. The combination of specialized medical training, building researching skills, and focused study can also elevate your marketability as a clinical research physician.


If you already have hands-on clinical experience as a health care provider and are intrigued by the strategic, planning, and/or regulatory side of medicine, it might be time for you to consider transitioning into a role as a clinical research physician.

While some of these positions are laboratory-based and focus primarily on research, data collection, and results analysis, there are numerous other options in this career path that offer work in the corporate, nonprofit, and governmental arenas.