What Is a Career in Pharmacology?

Petri dishes with various pills

Are you thinking about a career in medicine, yet unsure that you want to provide direct patient care? You might consider becoming a pharmacologist.

Pharmacologists play an integral role in the medical field, although many of them do not work directly with patients. Instead, they develop and evaluate the safety and effectiveness of new drugs. To begin working toward this career, you will first need to earn a relevant undergraduate degree, then follow up with extensive graduate work.

Overview of the Pharmacologist’s Role

From medications to treat insomnia and sickle cell disease to medical-grade dye used during ophthalmic surgeries, innovative substances used in medicine have a team of pharmacologists behind them. Pharmacologists are responsible for researching and studying the chemical compounds that comprise medications and other medical products. They evaluate their effectiveness and ensure that drugs are reasonably safe for patients. Without pharmacologists driving the pharmaceuticals industry, doctors and nurses would have far fewer treatment options available.

Specific Job Responsibilities of Pharmacologists

This field affords the opportunity to specialize in subfields. A pharmacologist’s subfield can significantly influence what a normal day looks like. In general, however, a pharmacologist may expect to perform some of the following tasks:

  • Researching chemical compounds and other substances to evaluate them for potential use in new drug therapies
  • Developing new drug therapies and studying how the body’s systems first break down and absorb the chemical compounds, then transfer them throughout the body
  • Studying the potential for side effects and complications, including interactions between drugs
  • Developing treatment plans, including standardized drug doses
  • Writing proposals for new developmental tests and clinical trials

Pharmacologists also write scientific papers describing their research and findings. To maintain and share their expertise, they may attend scientific conferences, sometimes presenting their own original research. In this career field, it is particularly important to stay on top of the latest developments and research.

These professionals may work both individually and collaboratively. They typically work in labs and office settings.

Specialized Career Paths for Pharmacologists

There are different kinds of pharmacologists. The two principal specialties are clinical and experimental pharmacology. Experimental pharmacologists are purely research scientists. They work on developing new drugs and studying the effects of chemical compounds on the human body.

Clinical pharmacology is the bridge between pharmaceutical research and applied pharmaceutical science. This field also involves researching and developing new drugs, but typically through clinical trials involving patients. Some professionals may work directly with patients enrolled in clinical trials.

Within these two subfields, there are opportunities to specialize further. For example, you might consider becoming any of the following:

  • Toxicologist: This position focuses on the effects of drugs and drug combinations.
  • Veterinary pharmacologist: A veterinary pharmacologist specializes in the development of drugs for the field of animal medical science
  • Psychopharmacology: Individuals in this field work with drug development for psychiatric disorders.
  • Cardiovascular pharmacologist: This position focuses on medications for the cardiovascular system.
  • Neuropharmacology: This specialization explores the effects of chemical compounds on the nervous system, including the brain.

Employment Opportunities for a New Pharmacologist

Pharmacologists are highly qualified, sought-after professionals who may find work in a variety of settings. Some are employed by universities, where they direct laboratory research and teach. Others work directly for pharmaceutical manufacturers. Still others work in independent laboratories.

Some pharmacology professionals work in forensic science/crime labs. For example, toxicologists are often called upon to analyze body fluid samples from crime scenes, suspects and victims. The purpose is to establish whether any drugs are present in the samples.

Educational and Other Career Requirements

A pharmacologist is a highly-educated professional. If you are thinking about joining this specialized field, you will first need to earn a relevant undergraduate degree. There are a few options to choose from. You might choose to major in biology with a specialization in pre-pharmacy, for example. Biochemistry and molecular biology are other degree possibilities. In short, any degree that combines biology with chemistry, or that focuses on pharmaceuticals, is a smart choice for aspiring pharmacologists.

After you graduate with a bachelor of science, you will need to earn one or two graduate degrees. A pharmacologist may earn either a doctorate (PhD) in pharmacology or a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) from a pharmacy school. Some pharmacologists earn both degrees.

You can begin working toward a rewarding career as a pharmacologist by earning an appropriate undergraduate degree at Grand Canyon University. Combine classroom instruction with hands-on experience when you enroll in the Bachelor of Science in Biology with an Emphasis in Pre-Pharmacy program or work toward a Bachelor of Science in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Click on Request Info above to find out more about applying to our Christian learning community. 

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

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