What Is Pharmacology?

Updated July 21, 2022

Pharmacology is a field that is well-suited for those who are detail-oriented and enjoy helping others. Pharmacologists work in a variety of organizations, such as medical research facilities, academic institutions, government research facilities and privately funded research organizations. If you are interested in working in pharmacology, learning the various aspects of the field can help you make the best decisions for moving forward. In this article, we discuss the definition of pharmacology, the difference between a pharmacologist and a pharmacist, the average salary of a pharmacologist and the steps to take to become one.

What is pharmacology?

Pharmacology is the study of drugs and how they affect humans and how drugs interact with each other. This field of science aims to better understand the various uses of medications to find the most effective treatments for illnesses of all kinds. Additionally, pharmacology is necessary to know which medications have negative interactions to avoid overdose and adverse side effects.

Pharmacology is also used to determine the appropriate and maximum dosage of each drug for various ailments. Also, by studying the many ways in which drugs can affect humans, pharmacology can reveal which medications must be eaten with food or need to be taken with milk instead of water. This field also provides details on how often each drug should be taken to be most effective.

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Differences between pharmacologists and pharmacists

Both pharmacists and pharmacologists study medications and how they affect the human body. However, pharmacists are much more involved with those who will be using the medications, while pharmacologists typically work more behind the scenes. Pharmacists help to treat their patients on a more personal level, but pharmacologists do the research necessary to make it possible for pharmacists to provide their patients with new, cutting-edge and reliable medications.

Pharmacists are tasked with ensuring their patients receive the correct medications in the right dosages as well as making sure each patient understands the purpose of the medication, how they interact with other medications, how often they should be taken and their potential side effects. Pharmacists are also responsible for ensuring that the medications have not been compromised in any way and that they are up-to-date, rather than expired.

Average salary of a pharmacologist

The average salary of a pharmacologist is $135,305. However, they can make as little as $68,000 or as much as $207,000 annually, depending on their level of experience and specialties.

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How to become a pharmacologist

If you are considering becoming a pharmacologist, you should complete the following steps:

  1. Earn an undergraduate degree.

  2. Earn a Pharm.D.

  3. Complete a residency or fellowship.

1. Earn an undergraduate degree

The first step to becoming a pharmacologist is to earn an undergraduate degree. This will build a much-needed scientific foundation to move forward. While there is no specific undergraduate degree for this career path, some of the most common include:

  • Biology

  • Physiology

  • Life sciences

  • Microbiology

  • Chemistry

Either way, be advised that the basic principles of pharmacology are present within an array of biomedical science degree programs. Therefore, you should take the time to find the one that is most closely aligned with your personal goals and interests.

Additionally, one way to get ahead is by taking pharmacology-related electives, such as:

  • Pharmacology

  • Biochemistry

  • Statistics

  • Chemistry

  • Research methods

By taking these courses, you will gain more hands-on experience via projects and experiments, which will help you prepare for your journey moving forward.

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2. Earn a Pharm.D. or a Ph.D

Once they complete undergraduate degrees, most pharmacologists earn a Pharm.D., also known as a Doctor of Pharmacy. This degree can be obtained by attending a pharmacy school. However, this will only make you eligible to work in certain positions. If you are looking to pursue job options that involve prescribing medications or direct interaction with patients, you may also need to attend medical school as well. Here are a few different job requirements in this field:

  • Clinic pharmacy practice: Having a Pharm.D. makes you eligible to become an essential member of a healthcare team; you will collaborate with physicians to create medical treatment plans for those suffering from chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and asthma.

  • Community pharmacy: This career track will allow you to work directly with the public to administer medications and monitor patients for adverse reactions involving interactions with other medications.

  • Geriatric pharmacy: Choosing this career path will allow you to work with and cater to the medicinal needs of mature adults.

  • Governmental agencies: This career path will allow you to work with local, state and federal government agencies, such as the Armed Forces or the Food and Drug Administration.

  • Home healthcare: Choosing this career path will allow you to work in home healthcare settings administering medications, intravenous antibiotics, chemotherapy and nutritional supplements.

  • Hospital pharmacy: This career track will allow you to be directly involved in patient care and work closely with nurses and doctors to determine the best medications for each patient.

  • Managed care: Managed care is essentially the optimization of medications as well as methods of preventative care.

Alternately, you can pursue a Ph.D. in pharmacology. This will allow you to work in the following fields:

  • Medical science: This field allows you to conduct clinical trials and conduct other research to study diseases and treatment methods.

  • Biochemistry/ biophysics: This will allow you to conduct complex studies to examine molecules and write scientific papers on your findings.

  • Natural sciences managers: Working in this field will allow you to use your lab experience to assess the work of scientists and provide assistance as needed.

  • Postsecondary teaching: Choosing this career path will allow you to become a professor in fields like pharmacology, biology, chemistry, toxicology and others.

  • Chemist jobs: Choosing this field will allow you to test and develop new pharmaceutical drugs.

3. Complete a residency or fellowship

Before you can work as a professional in the pharmacology field, you will need to have real-world experience. You could obtain this by completing a post-doctoral residency or fellowship program. Most of these programs can be completed in a two- to three-year time span. In particular, completing a fellowship will allow you to gain expertise in the following fields:

  • Clinical trial design

  • Pharmacokinetics

  • Research ethics

  • Biochemistry

  • Biostatistics

  • Epidemiology

Additionally, keep in mind that most residencies require you to complete an in-person interview. Be sure to start the process as quickly as possible, as the application process can be lengthy and it may take some time to schedule your interview if there is an abundance of applicants.

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