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Modern medicines and therapies such as antibiotics, decongestants, cough syrup, insulin, and anti-depressants are products of pharmacology. Pharmacologists investigate the mechanisms underlying the effects of drugs and chemicals on living systems. They use this knowledge to help design and evaluate chemical agents in the body for the prevention and treatment of disease. They may also study other chemical agents like pesticides and poisons, in correlation with the effects of disease prevention drug treatments.

Pharmacologists spend the majority of their time conducting clinical research trials for new drugs. Usually, they will have a number of test patients and study the effects of a medicine over a period of time, using a list of variables to follow. Sometimes, they will conduct double-blind studies, meaning that some test patients will be taking placebos (inactive substances that look the same as, and are administered in the same way as, a drug in a clinical trial) while others take the pharmaceutical drugs without the patients or pharmacologists knowing at the time. This way the studies can be conducted fairly and honestly.

Pharmacologists may specialize in one of three areas of pharmacology: pharmacodynamics, drug metabolism or toxicology. Pharmacodynamics studies the mechanisms of drug action, which may involve conducting experiments to investigate drug actions on biological processes. Drug metabolism focuses on the absorption rate, distribution, and elimination of drugs in animal and human metabolisms, so appropriate dosages for drugs can be developed to maximize therapeutic benefit and minimize unwanted side effects. Toxicology studies poisons, including their mechanisms of action, as well as the detection and treatment of the adverse effects of drugs.

Pharmacologists work closely with other scientists and health professionals to ensure that new products are as safe and effective as possible. Often pharmacologists work in an advisory role in activities related to the development, formulation, production and marketing of new drugs for clinical use. They may also evaluate new drugs for pharmaceutical companies.

Finally, in compliance with government standards, pharmacologists work to standardize procedures for the manufacture of drugs and medicinal compounds. Those who are employed by the government will help set safety standards and may even work as government watchdogs for pharmaceutical companies. There are many new drugs developed each year and it is important that these scientists test them out before bringing them onto the market.
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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
Pharmacologists need a sound scientific research background and aptitude for biological and medical sciences. They have inquiring minds combined with excellent critical thinking abilities. They must possess good communication skills, and maintain high levels of perseverance and patience. Pharmacologists should enjoy synthesizing information to solve problems and developing innovative solutions. This may involve working in teams with other basic and clinical scientists, applying a range of analytical techniques and using sophisticated instrumentation.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Conduct clinical research in laboratories concerning the biological effects of drugs
  • Determine the influence of internal and external environments on medical processes in humans and animals
  • Predict the way drug programs and other influences will affect humans and their interactions in the world
  • Recommend safe dosage levels to the government agencies concerned with the detection, regulation and licensing of drugs and related products
  • Train physicians, pharmacists, and other health care professionals in universities or other postsecondary institutions
  • Assist in the evaluation and marketing of drugs and related products for the pharmaceutical industry
  • Write scientific reports on research and findings of clinical drug studies
  • The majority of pharmacologists work in clinical research laboratories. The generally work standard 40-hour weeks, however longer hours are often required to complete projects on time. Pharmacologists may be required to travel to scientific workshops and conferences to share their research findings with other scientists or health care professionals.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Pharmacologists teach at universities and work for drug and safety departments in the government. They are also employed by pharmaceutical companies, manufacturing companies, research laboratories, hospitals, agricultural chemical companies, private consulting companies and other related organizations. They may specialize within their fields, for example focusing the majority of their research on a particular disease or medication.

  Long Term Career Potential  
As the nature of industrial pharmaceutical research becomes more sophisticated, pharmacologists with PhDs will compete more effectively for management positions. The increasing number of trained pharmacologists now entering the upper levels of management will have an increasingly significant impact on the direction of health related research programs in the future. The demand for outstanding researchers in pharmacology will, therefore, continue to grow.

Graduates who are interested in providing guidance to future researchers, while directing their own research programs, may opt for careers in academia. Pharmacology programs in academic institutions are expanding and are constantly seeking able teaching and research faculty.

  Educational Paths  
The minimum educational requirement for a pharmacologist is a four-year Bachelor of Science degree in pharmacology or a related biomedical science. This degree will allow pharmacologists to work in technical jobs or to become representatives for a pharmaceutical company. Because pharmacology involves the use of principles from many of the biomedical sciences, there is more than one possible educational route. Pharmacologists may train initially in medicine, pharmacy, molecular biology, biochemistry or physiology before specializing in pharmacology.

Pharmacologists with a master's degree may work as technologists or research associates. A PhD is generally required to work as an independent investigator in universities or the pharmaceutical industry. After obtaining a PhD, pharmacologists generally continue training for up to six or more years as post-doctoral fellows before accepting academic research and teaching positions in universities.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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