Every drug or chemical substance affects the body in one way or another. Toxicologists study how these things affect living organisms in order to better understand their benefits and side effects. The work these individuals perform help make treating certain medical conditions safer and more effective. Here are some things you should know about the work of a toxicologist.
What is Toxicology?
Toxicology is a branch of science that deals with how chemicals, particularly those contained in medications, affect living things. This field of medicine is very closely related to pharmacology, yet is slightly different in that it primarily deals with the effects of various drugs and other substances. Toxicology also deals more closely with doses to determine how higher levels of certain chemicals or medications adversely affect the body. Toxicologists may perform routine testing of different foods, additives, cosmetics or medications on humans or animals. The primary goal of a toxicologist is to identify things that would make substances harmful to use or consume.
How to Become One
Before becoming a toxicologist, one must first earn a Bachelor’s degree, and then pursue a graduate degree. Many toxicologists begin working in this field after earning a Master’s degree; however, many elect to obtain a PhD instead. Ideally, the graduate degree will be in toxicology, pharmacology or another area of science. Performing an internship in a toxicology lab may also be required by some schools prior to graduation. Licensing is required in some areas, which involves passing a certification exam offered by the American Board of Toxicology. You must have the right combination of education and experience to be eligible to sit for the exam.
Toxicology jobs are widely available at a number of institutions, including research and development laboratories, clinical hospitals, universities and even specialty clinics such as cancer care centers. Some toxicologists may also operate their own laboratories, where they will perform toxicology testing as a routine part of autopsies. The results of these tests are sometimes admitted into evidence in court, which means that a toxicologist may also serve as an expert witness during criminal trials. Experienced toxicologists often go on to teach at the university level or write textbooks that are used by toxicology students.
According to Glassdoor, the average salary for a toxicologist nationwide is around $80,000. Toxicologists may actually make anywhere from $59,000 to $133,000 annually, depending upon geographic location. Those who work for government agencies may actually make more. For example, a toxicologist with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can make as much as $110,312 annually, while a professional employed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can earn around $97,417 each year.
Toxicologists play an important role in ensuring that the medicines doctors use to treat illnesses are safe and do not cause unwanted side effects. They also function within our criminal justice system by helping with investigations and providing expert testimony to guide juries in making their decision. Although they work behind the scenes, they are nonetheless very essential to public health and safety.