In this weekly feature, the editors of SpringBoard highlight one career in the health care professions–including a basic description, educational requirements, core competencies/key skills needed, and related web sites and professional organizations where you can find more information!

Job Description

The FDA employs doctors as medical officers to help ensure the safety and effectiveness of prescription and over-the-counter medicines. These physicians interpret research and make important decisions about whether drugs should be approved, how they are manufactured, and what precautions should be in place. Some medical officers are involved in reviewing drug studies. Some make sure that drug labels are accurate. Some inspect manufacturing plants to verify that pills, tablets, and other medicines are being made correctly and are not contaminated. Medical officers also evaluate complaints and reports of side effects from drugs, and they have influence over the creation of new warning labels and even the removal of drugs from the market. The FDA hires doctors for other medical officer roles, too, in areas including food safety, vaccine effectiveness, the safety of blood products and medical devices, and radiation control. Medical officers generally work standard hours, except when important projects or emergencies require extra time. They may also need to take time outside of work to read medical journals and keep up with the latest research.

Education and Certification

An FDA medical officer must have an MD or DO degree and, usually, must have completed residency training and be licensed to practice. Some medical officer jobs require only 1 year of residency, and the licensure requirement may be waived if there is no direct patient care. There are opportunities for many different types of doctors, but training relevant to the focus of the job is important. For example, a medical officer who evaluates drugs that affect the digestive system would be expected to have expertise in gastroenterology.

Core Competencies and Skills

  • Ability to work with people from different fields and backgrounds
  • Confidence to make decisions that may be controversial
  • Patience with paperwork and red tape
  • Understanding of research design and data analysis
  • Willingness to read complex and sometimes lengthy documents
  • Strong medical background, with an understanding of how the body works and of what happens in disease
  • Knowledge of basic pharmacology (essentially, how drugs work)


Typical salaries for FDA medical officers are in the range of $85,000 to $130,000 per year, with adjustments for location. Depending on responsibilities and experience, salaries can reach $150,000 or more.


The FDA is the primary federal agency concerned with drug safety and effectiveness. There are also opportunities within industry to help monitor drug safety and ensure compliance with regulations.

Employment Outlook

The work of the FDA is ongoing, and medical officers will continue to play an important role. There are often openings for qualified physicians. Finding a specific job in drug safety may take a while, but there are medical officers in many different areas within the FDA.

For Further Information

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