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How do I Become a Toxicologist?

By Vanessa Harvey
Updated Feb 17, 2024
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To become a toxicologist in many nations, including the United States, you will need to earn a medical degree or earn a bachelor's degree in science and study for a minimum of two years more. The two additional years of study beyond your bachelor's degree, if you do not hold a medical degree, will need to focus as much as possible on toxicology training. Coursework should include classes and training in such disciplines as analytical chemistry, biochemistry, environmental science and pharmacology. You also will need to gain strong skills in written and oral communication as well as basic but solid computer skills, because toxicologists frequently use computer applications to perform their job duties.

If you become a toxicologist, you could have a career in many areas, including forensics or the pharmaceutical, occupational, clinical, industrial and eco-toxicological fields. Toxicologists plan and perform studies and experiments in the laboratory and the field in order to identify and evaluate the impact of toxic substances and radiation on life. Their studies and discoveries reveal how a toxic material affects people, animals, plant life and the environment. They also advise and teach how the use of such substances can be minimized or completely avoided.

Some other things you are advised to consider before you become a toxicologist are the typical duties you might have to perform depending on where and for what organization or company you work. You might be involved in a liaison with regulatory authorities to ensure compliance with the laws of your region governing the safe handling, disposal and avoidance of toxic materials. It would be possible for you to secure employment in a poison control center, a factory or plant, as well as many other industries. If you are a medical doctor or a veterinarian who has undergone training in what is generally considered the coursework of toxicology, you could choose to work in a hospital or a clinic, including animal hospitals and clinics.

Another very important factor to keep in mind when considering if you want to become a toxicologist is whether you have strong convictions against the suffering that you might be asked to inflict on laboratory animals. Even if you do not believe in experimenting on laboratory animals, you still could become a laboratory toxicologist, but you might not have quite as many opportunities available to you as someone without such convictions. High school students interested in a career in toxicology are strongly encouraged to take as many courses as possible in biology, chemistry, the environmental sciences and mathematics.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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