Learn About Being a Pharmacologist (With Salary Info)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published December 10, 2019

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A workbench in a stark white clinical setting with bright overhead lights shows testing equipment. Supplies or testing materials are displayed in a glass cabinet.


A pharmacologist is a type of medical scientist who researches and performs experiments to develop new medications. If this sounds interesting to you, consider pursuing a role as a pharmacologist. Understanding the various requirements and skills to earn this role may help you develop a plan to achieve your career goals.

In this article, we discuss what a pharmacologist does, how much they make, what their requirements are, what their work environment is like, how to become one, what a job description example may look like and what related careers there are for you to pursue.


What does a pharmacologist do?

Pharmacologists conduct research to develop chemical compounds and substances to develop new medications. They can test the medication by experimenting and observing cell and tissue samples. Additionally, they may hold clinical trials to perform research on volunteer patients who accept the new medication for compensation. Some pharmacologists focus on the effects of harmful chemicals, while others research the effects of chemicals on specific regions of the body, such as the respiratory or cardiovascular system. Pharmacologists can work in applied or clinical fields. Job duties include:

  • Planning and directing pharmacology studies

  • Standardizing drug doses and treatment plans

  • Preparing and writing research grants

  • Following safety procedures

  • Performing research on subjects

The different types of pharmacologists include:

  • Clinical

  • Veterinary

  • Cardiovascular

  • Neuropharmacology

  • Psychopharmacology

Related: What Is Pharmacology?


Average salary and job outlook

Typically, pharmacologists are full-time employees, though some may work temporary or part-time jobs. Experience and the size, type and company location can affect a pharmacologist's salary. Working in applied or clinical pharmacology may also cause variations in salaries for this role. The national average salary for a pharmacologist is $118,128 per year.

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't have information for a pharmacologist specifically, it does for medical scientists, which is a similar position. The BLS predicts medical scientist roles to grow by 17% from 2021 to 2023, which is faster than the average occupation growth.

For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the link provided.

Related: Pharmacy vs. Pharmacology: What's The Difference?


Pharmacologist requirements

Pharmacologists need specific educational requirements to practice. They also undergo training, earn certifications and develop a specialized skill set to excel. Here are the requirements to obtain this role:


Education

The industry requires pharmacologists to have an advanced degree, such as a Ph.D., Pharm.D. or M.D., to find practice in the field. Those interested in practicing clinical pharmacology may find it beneficial to earn an M.D. or Ph.D.. Applied pharmacology students can earn a Ph.D. or Pharm.D. Medical degree programs last about four years, followed by a residency and fellowship. Typically, doctoral programs are five-year programs, and it takes four years to complete a pharmacy program.

During a doctoral or medical program, students complete coursework in a classroom or laboratory setting. In the final years of the program, they complete clinical practice or perform practical research. Before earning a doctoral degree, pharmacologists undergo an undergraduate program. Students interested in entering the field can benefit from taking classes in chemistry, biology and microbiology.

Related: FAQ: What Can You Do With a Pharmacology Degree?


Training

Pharmacologists undergo most of their training during their educational programs. After completing medical school, doctors complete a residency followed by a fellowship. The residency allows a doctor to earn years of practical experience in the medical field. Pharmacologists who earned a Ph.D. or Pharm.D. can skip the residency requirement. Those who wish to practice clinical pharmacology or specialize in a specific field can complete a fellowship.

Clinical and specialized pharmacology fellowships are between two and three years. During this time, pharmacologists learn advanced information on working with subjects and evaluating the results of medications and treatments. Specialized pharmacologists may receive instruction on various medications, like pediatrics or oncology. When a pharmacologist begins work with a company, they learn about the different products the organization offers and how to contribute to the process. They may receive instruction on any machines, tools or computer programs their employer uses.

Related: Learn How To Build a Career in Pharmaceutical Chemistry


Licenses and certifications

Pharmacologists apply to earn a license issued by their state's board to practice. The licensing requirements vary by state, but all pharmacologists take a two-step exam before applying. The first part of the exam focuses on the applicant's ability to apply their knowledge of pharmacology practices, while the second part focuses on industry laws and regulations. A pharmacologist renews their license according to the state board's standards, making it important to know when the license expires to ensure renewal with minimal disruption to their work.

Additionally, pharmacologists can earn certifications from the Board of Pharmacy Specialties (BPS). The BPS offers certifications for different specializations within the field, including emergency care, cardiology, infectious diseases and nuclear pharmacy. Pharmacologists renew any of these certifications every seven years by submitting proof of continuing education and passing an exam. Continuing education can include completing online courses, attending seminars and other programs approved by the BPS.

Related: Certificates, Certifications and Licenses: Differences and Jobs That Require Them


Skills

Pharmacologists may find it helpful to develop certain skills, including:

  • Research: Much of a pharmacologist's day involves research by gathering, analyzing and understanding medical data. Research skills can assist them in selecting the information to get thorough results.


  • Communication: Pharmacologists may work with other pharmacological and medical specialists and, to collaborate effectively, they have excellent communication skills. They may also deliver findings and results to individuals outside their industry, so it's helpful to know how to communicate with others in non-technical terms.


  • Time management: Some tests a pharmacologist conducts can last days, and they may perform several tests simultaneously for research. The ability to manage their time and stay organized can help them ensure they receive the correct results for each process.


  • Mathematical skills: Pharmacologists have a strong background in math and science to analyze information relating to biochemistry and other scientific fields. Much of the data they work with involves interpreting statistics to get the right data.

Related: Time Management Skills: Examples and How To Improve Them


Pharmacologist work environment

Pharmacologists are typically full-time employees with normal business hours, which are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. five days a week. They may work occasional nights and weekends to meet deadlines or to evaluate test results. Pharmacologists can expect the following from their work environments:

  • Sitting for a long time while working with computers or machines

  • Performing tests on subjects

  • Wearing protective gear, such as gloves, masks, goggles and laboratory coats

  • Using specialized tools and machines

  • Working with hazardous materials

  • Communicating with other pharmacologist specialists

  • Preparing documents, such as research grants and test results

Pharmacologists can find employment in various industries, including:

  • Hospitals

  • Clinics

  • Pharmaceutical corporations

  • Education institutions

  • Nonprofits

  • Government agencies

Related: How To Develop a Positive Work Environment in 6 Steps


How to become a pharmacologist

You can follow these steps to become a pharmacologist:

  1. Earn a bachelor's degree. Consider majoring in a field, such as biology or chemistry, to prepare for a doctoral degree. Some pharmacy programs may accept partial undergraduate coursework, so check with your desired program to see if you can enter early.

  2. Complete a doctoral degree. Earn an M.D., Ph.D. or Pharm.D. to become a pharmacologist. It's helpful to research each program to determine which one is right for you and, before applying, determine whether you prefer to practice applied or clinical pharmacology.

  3. Earn a license. To practice officially, obtain a license from your state's board. Each state board has different requirements, though all require you to pass a two-step exam and renew your license based on your state board's guidelines.

  4. Pursue a fellowship. If you wish to practice a pharmacology specialty, undergo a fellowship. Fellowships can last two to three years and prepare you for a career in that specialization.

  5. Earn certifications. Earning certifications in a specialization can show your dedication to the field and some certifications require you to re-certify every so often. Since many employers seek pharmacology certifications, they can also expand your job opportunities and increase your earning potential.

  6. Apply for jobs. After completing all the educational requirements, you can create a resume and apply for pharmacologist roles. Search for open positions using job board sites, professional social media platforms or within your network.

Related: 26 Schools That Offer Online Accredited Ph.D. Programs


Pharmacologist job description example

Here's an example of a pharmacologist job description to serve as a reference when searching for a role:

Prestigious pharmaceutical company seeking a clinical pharmacologist to join our team. The pharmacologist develops plans and protocols, provides support and evaluates clinical drug candidates. They contribute to documents, offering input. This role leads and oversees the analysis of different research projects. The successful candidate has:

  • Ph.D. or Pharm.D.

  • At least five years of experience

  • Excellent verbal and written communication skills

  • Proficiency in standard pharmacology equipment and tools

  • Ability to work some overtime as required


Related careers

If you're interested in learning about professions similar to a pharmacologist, consider the following:

  • Pharmacy technician

  • Pharmacist

  • Pathologist

Please note that the company mentioned in this article is not affiliated with Indeed.


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