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How to Become a Pharmacologist

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Medical student doing experiment in laboratory
Cultura Science/Matt Lincoln/Riser/Getty Images

Pharmacology Overview:

Pharmacologists research and test drugs and chemical compounds for development of drug therapies, prevention of drug interactions, and a variety of other uses. Pharmacology might be a great option for someone who is interested in pharmaceuticals, but doesn't want to be a pharmacist directly interacting with patients.

If you become a pharmacologist, there are several career paths available. Clinical pharmacologists are those who focus on the effects of medications for treating disease. Toxologists are pharmacists who study the effects of various drugs, and combinations of drugs and other substances, on humans. Specifically, pharmacologists study how drugs are broken down, absorbed, and spread throughout the body or organism, in addition to the effects of the drug.

Educational Requirements for Pharmacologists:

Most pharmacologists have a PharmD, from a pharmacy school, which is the same type of degree many pharmacists have. However, unlike pharmacists, pharmacologists are not typically involved in the sale or distribution of drugs to patients. Instead, pharmacologists are often involved in research and development of drugs or medications.

Another optional education track for pharmacologists is a PhD degree in pharmacology. Pharmacology coursework is similar to other science/medicine tracks in that it entails a great deal of biology, chemistry, math, and other sciences.

Many pharmacologists hold both a PharmD and a PhD.

Employment Outlook and Options for Pharmacologists:

Pharmacologists can work on the industry/commercial side of the field, for pharmaceutical manufacturers. Or, they can work for a university in teaching or research. Additionally, pharmacologists can work in labs, such as a research lab or crime lab. Pharmacologists can also work in the dental and veterinary fields, in addition to the medical field.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth is expected to be "favorable," particularly for those with doctorate degrees. Jobs are expected to increase by about 6 percent from 2008-2018, which is fairly solid growth, but not as high as the growth projected in some other in-demand medical careers. (Also, the 6 percent includes all careers in the pharmaceutical and device development field, not just pharmacologists.)

Work Hours and Compensation for Pharmacologists:

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average workweek for pharmacologists is about 40 hours.

According to PayScale.com, the average annual salary for pharmacologists ranges from about $67,000 to $108,000 including bonus pay. Base salary can range from about $66,000 to $102,000 annually.

Professional Resources for Pharmacologists:

If you would like to learn more about how to become a pharmacologist, or about pharmacology careers in general, below are a few additional resources:
  1. About.com
  2. Careers
  3. Health Careers
  4. Health Career Profiles
  5. Medical Industry Jobs
  6. How to Become a Pharmacologist - Career Options

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