He began his journalism career in television in 1982, working as a health producer for the CBS affiliate in Washington, DC. In 1986, he left television for a seven-year stint as a print journalist, first as the Washington news editor for Nature, and then as a senior correspondent for Science magazine.
Palca received his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of California, Santa. In 1999, he took a one-year leave from NPR to become a Kaiser Family Foundation Media Fellow where he spent the year studying human clinical trials. In 2009, he took a six-month leave to be the Science Writer In Residence at the Huntington Library and Gardens in California.
Palca has won numerous awards, including the Victor Cohn Prize for Excellence in Medical Science Reporting, the National Academies Communications Award, the Science-in-Society Award of the National Association of Science Writers, the American Chemical Society James T. Grady-James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public, the American Association for the Advancement of Science Journalism Prize, and the Ohio State Award. Palca was president of the National Association of Science Writers from 1999-2000.
Dr. Palca joined the Society's Board of Trustees in 2010.