How to Become a Virologist

November 22

Table of Contents

Among all life forms, viruses are among the most varied. Viruses are disease-causing agents that are too small to be seen under a standard microscope. There are several ways that viruses can spread, from human actions to insect bites. 

Virologists are medical researchers who study viral infections like HIV, hepatitis, herpes, and the rubella virus. They concentrate on identifying and classifying infection-causing viruses. They might also be involved in screening particular populations contracting a specific viral disease. 

If you want to pursue a medical career and become a virologist, this article is for you. We have outlined the requirements to become a virologist, their duties and responsibilities, and the steps to become one.

What is a Virologist?

Understanding viruses is the focus of virology, from more widespread infections like chicken pox to newly developing epidemics like Zika and Ebola. Medical professionals, known as virologists, oversee infection management, diagnosis, and prevention.

They are also scientists, and their work may influence studies on numerous facets of viruses. 

A virologist could practice medicine as well as science. They split their time between working on the lab bench and giving personnel guidance about various topics related to the human and animal health service industries.

Diagnosing viral illnesses is the responsibility of virologists, who also look into how viruses react pharmacologically to antiviral medications and how treatment resistance develops. They provide government, veterinarians, and hospital ward coworkers with expert counsel.

Virologists may be asked to guide immunization and vaccine use in their public health and health protection medicine work. 

When there is a viral outbreak in a ward, virologists collaborate with the hospital's infection control team to provide staff with recommendations on stopping future infection and how much transmission has occurred.

What are the Duties and Responsibilities of a Virologist? 

Most virologists spend their time either conducting research or instructing classes. In addition to writing about science, virologists might pursue further education to work in the legal or pharmaceutical industries.

If you want to become a virologist, listed below are their duties and responsibilities for your reference:

  • Gathering samples for analysis
  • Aiding in the creation of vaccines
  • Studying viruses using highly advanced serological and molecular methods
  • Recognizing various viruses and their characteristics via microscopic inspection
  • Figuring out how infectious diseases like HIV, SARS, and hepatitis spread among people
  • Creating presentations and writing technical reports to communicate study findings to relevant parties
  • Supplying expert judgment and guidance on treatment strategies and outbreak management strategies
  • Helping organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) stop and manage viral illness epidemics
  • Performing chemical studies on the acids, enzymes, and alcohol secretions that viruses emit when they interact with organic matter
  • Examining the effects of viral infection on the living tissues of people and animals to observe the influence that viruses have on organic materials
  • Investigating and studying viruses that cause diseases in people, animals, and other living things
  • Examining the development, structure, and treatment of a particular illness to discover a cure or stop a recurrence
  • Utilizing molecular techniques and microscopic examinations to comprehend viruses better and arrive at more precise hypotheses or conclusions
  • Testing to determine how different viruses affect other people to provide warnings, symptoms, and treatments that medical personnel can utilize and explain to patients

What are the Requirements to Become a Virologist?

A bachelor's degree in biology or a field closely connected to virology that covers coursework in cell biology, biochemistry, microbiology, immunology, and molecular biology is required for aspiring virologists. 

Courses in cell biology and biochemistry are particularly crucial. It might also benefit students to take undergraduate courses that give them a foundation in sociology and epidemiology.

You can earn a Ph.D. in immunology or virology if you want to study common viruses and diseases during your career extensively. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE), which assesses your understanding of biology and the sciences, may be necessary. Some colleges provide dual programs that enable you to complete your doctorate and Ph.D. in four to six years.

Before beginning clinical rotations, medical school students spend the first two years concentrating on theoretical coursework. Ph.D. programs in virology are typically completed in 4-6 years and are research-focused. 

Students must complete classes in their first year and participate in lab rotations to determine where they would like to do their thesis research. Specific joint MD/Ph.D. programs enable applicants to gain experience in both clinical and research settings.

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Virologist?

Attending medical school to be a virologist can be costly. Medical school tuition is not only expensive, but it has risen dramatically in recent years. A public university's medical school cost roughly USD 25,000 ten years ago.

These rates were in effect ten years ago. The expense of medical education in Canada and the United States has risen considerably by 2022. 

For one year, public institutions charge more than USD 37,000, and private universities charge more than USD 60,000

Regardless of whether the school is private or public, non-residents must pay at least USD 60,000 annually. 

Furthermore, according to the American Association of Medical Colleges, the average four-year cost of medical school in the United States ranged from USD 255,517 to USD 337,584. It could explain why, in 2023, medical students who borrowed money graduated with a USD 207,500 average debt.

How to Become a Virologist?

Depending on what you want to accomplish as a job, you must decide what to study to become a virologist. A bachelor's degree in a science discipline, such as chemistry, biology, or medical laboratory science, is a suitable place to start.

Then, depending on your job objectives, you might obtain an advanced degree. 

To give you an overview of how to become a virologist, here is a step-by-step rundown of what you must go through:

1. Earn Your Bachelor's Degree

Many virologists begin their academic careers by obtaining a bachelor's degree in a scientific field, such as chemistry or biology. This gives you a fundamental science foundation so that you may quickly learn more complicated subjects as your schooling progresses.

Cell biology, microbiology, mathematics, organic chemistry, and biochemistry are some courses this degree program typically offers. A laboratory setting may be used for many of these science-related classes. 

As a full-time virologist, you will likely operate in a lab environment, so gaining additional experience and familiarity with it can be beneficial.

2. Enroll in Medical School

After receiving your bachelor's degree, you can apply to medical school. The average medical school program lasts four years. Candidates must pass the MCAT to apply to medical schools. You can enroll in medical school to obtain a doctorate if you only want to practice medicine and care for patients.

You can earn a Ph.D. in virology if you want to study common viruses and diseases during your career extensively. The Graduate Record Examination may be necessary to assess your understanding of biology and the sciences. Some colleges provide dual programs that enable you to complete your doctorate and Ph.D. in four to six years.

3. Complete Your Ph.D. Training

You can participate in these programs, which involve in-depth research of numerous viruses, their impacts, and treatments or cures if you are working toward your Ph.D.

You could enroll in foundational courses in your first year, including virology, eukaryotic genetics, and bacterium structure. The second year of this program frequently occurs in the lab, where you rotate through regular investigations on various samples.

You might need to teach specific subjects and pass certification tests in the second and third years. You might use this period between the end of your third year and the start of your fourth year to conduct research for your dissertation on parasitology, vaccine development, environmental virology, or pediatric diseases.

4. Attend Medical School

If you are solely in medical school, you might spend the program's first two years finishing the foundational lectures and labs. Basic scientific disciplines like biochemistry, biology, and anatomy are available for study.

You can often undergo clinical rotations at a medical facility in your final years to determine which section of the medical field, such as family medicine, pediatrics, or surgery, you would like to follow.

5. Train for a Residency or a Research Career

Through residency programs, you can continue learning and gaining experience for about three years after you graduate from medical school. They get the opportunity to work closely with doctors in the medical field of their choice during this program.

Since internal medicine and pediatrics residencies are more closely tied to identifying and treating common viruses, they are the two fields in which most virologists opt to participate.

Three to five years of postdoctoral research training, usually called a fellowship, are frequently completed by those who want to specialize in virology research. To assist you in conducting research in your area of interest more successfully, you can participate in lectures, research retreats, and presentations.

6. Obtain a Medical License

Most businesses need you to obtain a medical license after completing your doctorate or Ph.D. if you want to work as a clinical virologist. 

To get this license, you must pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination, which assesses your advanced knowledge of common ailments, diseases, viruses, and injuries. 

Consider doing more study to determine what is required in your state because certain states may have additional requirements to obtain your license.

7. Continue Learning

Virology is a field that is constantly evolving, and new discoveries might result in significant changes. Therefore, it is crucial to stay current on scientific advancements.

Regarding seminars, symposiums, and networking opportunities, organizations like the Pan American Society for Clinical Virology (PASCV) and the American Society for Virology (ASV) are ideal options to consider.

Important Qualities Needed to Be a Virologist

A prospective virologist has the chance to become familiar with various lab supplies, tools, and techniques. Other tasks virologists perform may include planning, coordinating, and conducting research.

Therefore, it is a must that you possess the following skills needed to be a virologist:

Analytical and Curious

An analytical and curious mind is necessary to analyze the findings of a variety of tests appropriately and to approach all investigations with skepticism.

Composed Under Pressure

Should you aspire to become a virologist, you need to be able to handle shifting priorities, such as resurgent threats or seasonal illness. Employment may become stressful and unpredictable if there are more events in your neighborhood or hospital ward.

Communication Skills 

Excellent communication skills are essential because you will work with many individuals at different levels in hospitals, public health, and other fields. 

Active Listener 

To actively listen, you must pay close attention to what others are saying, take the time to comprehend their arguments, ask questions when appropriate, and resist interrupting when it is not correct.


Virologists frequently collaborate with other medical specialists like bacteriologists, immunologists, and microbiologists. You must be able to collaborate effectively.


When conducting research, virologists frequently face challenges, and occasionally, investigations take several years to provide results. To succeed as a virologist, you must persevere despite setbacks.

How Much Do Virologists Make?

The median annual wage for virologists is USD 131,954

As with many other professions, a virologist's pay is greatly influenced by the industry in which they work. Those who decide to work as professors or lecturers can make less money than those who work in more extensive settings such as hospitals and laboratories. 

In addition, the amount a person will make in their position depends heavily on their education and experience.

Additional FAQs – How to Become a Virologist?

Are Virologists Physicians?

Management, diagnosis, and prevention of infections are the responsibilities of medical specialists called virologists. They are scientists, and the results of their research may have an impact on studies of various aspects of viruses.

A virologist may work in both science and medicine.

What is the Working Environment for Virologists?

To become a virologist, you must know that most of your time is spent in virology or microbiology labs. In the research lab, for instance, they utilize genetic characterization to find novel or emerging agents, allowing them to create diagnostic assays that may be used to characterize the spread of infection in both humans and animals.

Furthermore, a virologist collaborates closely with various medical personnel since many require their expertise. They give telephone medical advice to other doctors, participate in multidisciplinary meetings, and visit staff and patients in wards, clinics, and emergency rooms. They might even engage in global health issues and work worldwide, such as with the World Health Organization.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Virologist?

Expect to spend an extra ten years in training after high school, whether you choose to pursue a Ph.D. or medical school. After completing your bachelor's degree, which usually takes four years, you can anticipate an additional five to six years in a Ph.D. program.

Moreover, suppose you wish to provide medical care. In that case, you must complete at least seven years of training and an MD-PhD curriculum that lasts eight to ten years.

What Distinguishes a Virologist from an Epidemiologist?

Scientists who specialize in viruses also diagnose and treat diseases. Epidemiologists investigate the origins of an illness and those who are susceptible to it. They can also offer advice on how to halt it or stop it from spreading. 

It can include infectious diseases caused by bacteria and viruses, autoimmune disorders, cancer, and even wounds.

Typically, epidemiologists do not create drugs, vaccines, or care for patients.

You're no longer alone on your journey to becoming a physician

Success message!
Warning message!
Error message!