A new frontier in medicine, regenerative medicine or stem cell therapy involves the study of or the application of stem cells as a form of healing. Stem cells are naturally reproduced in the body therefore they are a renewable source of medicine with enormous potential. Still a relatively new area of scientific study, it is unknown just how far and wide reaching the healing capabilities of this type of therapy will be, but the potential seems quite limitless. A medical student choosing to specialize in this field of study will likely witness and participate in many new and exciting developments as this type of medicine evolves.
What is a Regenerative Stem Cell Doctor
A regenerative stem cell doctor is a specialist who uses stem cell therapy to treat patients. As this is still a comparatively new form of medicine, this type of doctor will likely be involved in research or clinical trials, discovering new treatments and their effects as well as preventative approaches based on cellular technology to treat currently unmanageable human diseases.
Stem cells generally fall under three categories:
A stem cell doctor may use this type of medical treatment with patients who suffer from autoimmune deficiencies or genetic blood diseases. It's also typical for stem cell doctors to focus on pharmaceutical product development in areas of systemic diseases, cardiac and vascular diseases, or orthopedic diseases of the spine or bone marrow transplantation outcomes.
A regenerative stem cell doctor may also be involved in cancer research through the use of stem cell medicine as an alternative to damaging treatments such as radiation and chemotherapy. Stem cell therapy is also currently being used to treat bone, skin and corneal diseases and injuries through tissue grafting.
Educational Requirements for Becoming a Regenerative Stem Cell Doctor
A doctoral or professional degree is the educational requirement for a Regenerative or Stem Cell Doctor
Falling under the category of medical scientist, a student wishing to become involved in the exciting field of cell-based regenerative medicine will find themselves at the forefront of the ground breaking evolution of medicine. Of course, the educational path to such an esteemed profession will require lifelong dedication to learning and continued research and may even require dual graduate degrees depending upon the student's individual goals; as well as a commitment to meeting challenges and the fortitude to deal with setbacks as this type of medicine evolves.
Step-by-Step Educational Path to Becoming a Regenerative Stem Cell Doctor
Holding an undergraduate degree from an accredited college is necessary in order to procure a place in medical school or to be accepted into a doctoral program. For those whose sights are set on eventually becoming a medical scientist and working in the field of regenerative stem cell medicine, it is ideal to begin with a strong background in biology, chemistry and biophysics. Majoring in life science, biology, microbiology or pre-med is a good starting point as well as taking writing classes as this field of study will require reporting, journaling and possibly public speaking at some point. Future medical students will need to take The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT).
Volunteering is always a good idea and will make an impressive addition to any resume or application submitted towards attaining the candidate professional goals. Students interested in stem cell therapy may find volunteer opportunities at universities or laboratory environments as research assistants.
Students will gain hands on experience through an internship by working under the supervision of experienced stem cell researchers, assisting with current investigations, writing reports and sharpening other required skills in preparation for entering medical school or a doctoral program. Several internships can be applied toward college credit hours.
A Master of Science Degree or a master's degree with a focus in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine will prepare the way for entry into medical or PhD programs. During this course of study the candidate will acquire an in depth understanding of how the body can naturally repair and restore damaged cells, tissues and organs through courses in cutting-edge biomedical sciences such as molecular, cellular, and developmental biology. These master's programs will also provide hands-on laboratory experience working with stem cells.
Having a PhD in a biological sciences field is perhaps the final stepping stone to qualify for positions at the forefront of the exciting field of cell-based regenerative medicine. One must also obtain a doctorate in medicine if their intention is to administer stem cell treatments. Some schools offer dual degree programs and the candidate may pursue both MD and PhD degrees concurrently.
At this point the candidate learning how to become a stem cell doctor will evolve from education to application through translational science as they study and develop new therapies based on stem cell behavior. Future stem cell doctors will receive specialized training in subjects such as genetics and developmental biology, participate in laboratory-based stem cell courses, take advanced courses in stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, and gain experience through clinical rotations as well as producing original research in the form of a thesis or dissertation.
It is also typical during the doctoral degree program that a future doctor will focus on specialties such as law, business and/or engineering pertaining to stem cell research or focus on areas more relevant to physicians and surgeons.
Medical students are required to pass the United States Medical License Exams (USMLE) and complete residency training as well as acquiring the appropriate state(s) licenses in order to practice medicine.
Post Graduate Residency
After becoming a licensed doctor, in order to practice medicine it is necessary to complete a residency program in the area of their chosen specialty. Doctors who wish to work in stem cell based therapies will most likely complete a residency in internal medicine and may want to focus on developing skills in oncology or hematology. However, research involving stem cell medicine bleeds over into many specialty domains.
Post-doctoral education and training may entail working with researchers and staff on projects involving gene therapy, organ engineering or microbial studies. The American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M) is at the forefront of this area of education by being the world's first school to offer a Stem Cell Fellowship Program. Requirements include 5 modules of training and experience as well as completing the A4M Board Certification. More programs for this type of fellowship are being designed and implemented as awareness rises, advances continue, and more and more doctors and students are in need of resources specific to stem cell education and application.
A select few graduates, post doctoral fellows and clinical fellows may be selected to participate in curriculum intended to develop leadership skills for applicants with the potential to become future independent scientists in stem cell research. The educational requirements for a future in stem cell medicine are never ending as the potential for new therapies continue to grow and evolve and new and exciting discoveries are made.
Practicing physicians and surgeons who specialize in stem cell therapies should become certified by The American Board of Stem Cell Medicine and Surgery (ABSCMS). Visit their website for more information.
Understanding the Career Path
The tentacles of stem cell research are far reaching. There are worldwide opportunities for professionals in this field and as new developments occur and are found to be effective and receive government approval, the doors of opportunity will continue to open. Most regenerative stem cell doctors will work full time in office or laboratory environments working with samples, studying data and creating or studying reports.
The U.S. Department of Labor lists the top industries employing medical scientists including
Many practicing physicians perform stem cell related therapies that have not yet been approved by the FDA. Below are a few scenarios in which a stem cell scientist or stem cell doctor may find employment.
Opportunities in stem cell research and development abound and someone applying for these positions will find many opportunities in universities to include laboratory research as well as academic positions. A typical day may include working on the development of new treatments, working with samples, recording detailed reports involving studies and results, as well as writing and submitting grant proposals to gain additional funding for programs. Academic positions may include classroom instruction through texts, seminars or hands on training with students or writing publications regarding new discoveries as stem cell research uncovers new and exciting possibilities.
Doctors or medical scientists working in hospitals or hospital laboratories may work with individuals or groups of patients, administering treatments and monitoring the results during clinical trials. Surgeons specializing in stem cell therapies may work in hospitals with patients suffering from very specific conditions such as cancer patients and those with blood diseases. They will be involved in procedures such as bone marrow transplantation or the implantation of stem cells into the body to treat blood disorders such as lymphoma, leukemia, or sickle cell anemia. They may also perform surgeries involving tissue grafting for skin or corneal diseases and injuries.
Pharmaceutical companies are becoming more and more involved with stem cells as drug therapies as new experimental avenues are opened. Stem cell specialists may work with these companies combining stem cells with other pharmaceutical compounds in experimentation processes for the development of new therapeutics.
The median annual salary a stem cell doctor (medical scientists, except epidemiologists) can expect to earn, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, was $76,980 as of May 2012 with the highest ranking positions being compensated at over $146,000 and the lower 10% bringing in less than $42,000 annually. O Net reports the median wage (2014) to be equivalent to $38.43 hourly or $79,930 annually. This field of employment is expected to grow by 13% between 2012 and 2022.
Growth is expected to be driven by natural causes such as population growth and the continued spreading of infectious diseases which provide an ever increasing need for development in this field of medicine which can improve overall human health and create new cures for illnesses.
While becoming a regenerative or stem cell doctor isn't specific to any one medical specialty at this point, an interest in this field leaves many options for the beginning medical student. It's due to the relatively new nature of this field of study that candidates have several career options to explore. This profession has the potential to change lives, discover cures and provide higher quality medical care for billions of people living across the globe.