Nearly everyone will require medicine at some point in order to feel well. Pharmacologists play an important role in ensuring the medications people need to help them feel better or manage chronic diseases are readily available. If you’re considering a career in pharmacology, here are some things you need to know.
What is Pharmacology?
Put simply, pharmacology is the science relating to drugs and medicine. It deals with a number of things, such as the origin of certain drugs, and their chemical make-up, effects, and uses. The pharmacology field covers a very wide area, which is why it is sometimes referred to as a “bridge science”. Scientists who study pharmacology may incorporate knowledge from other areas of science, such as chemistry, physiology and micro-biology. Clinical pharmacology is a specialty area of pharmacology that deals primarily with drugs and their clinical uses in healing.
How to Become a Pharmacologist
To become a pharmacologist, individuals must first earn a Bachelor’s degree in a science-related field such as biochemistry, pharmacology or chemistry. After earning a Bachelor’s degree, it is necessary to pursue a graduate degree in pharmacology. Some people begin by earning a Master’s degree; however, most elect to pursue a doctorate instead. A few will even enter this career field after earning a medical degree (M.D.), but this is actually very rare since becoming a pharmacologist does not entitle one to practice medicine.
Careers in Clinical Pharmacology
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for medical scientists such as pharmacologists is expected to grow by 13 percent by the year 2022. This is about as fast as average for all occupations tracked by the Bureau. The increase is expected to result from more and more people requiring medication to help them control certain diseases. The aging population and an increased understanding of how to treat medical conditions will all contribute to the need for more clinical pharmacologists in the future.
Pharmacologists are considered medical scientists, and therefore spend a great deal of time performing scientific research. Some clinical pharmacologists will provide direct care to patients, while others will simply monitor their results. They are also responsible for compiling the results of their studies into reports that can be used to assess the effectiveness of medications. Many pharmacologists will also publish their reports, or give presentations to the medical community concerning their findings.
Pharmacology for Nurses
Nurses are also involved in the study of various areas of pharmacology, particularly pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics. Pharmacokinetics (PK) is the study of how drugs are absorbed, distributed and moved through the body over a period of time. Pharmacodynamics involves how certain medicines affect bodily functions or microorganisms and parasites within it. The study of these areas of pharmacology allows nurses to better administer medications and help their patients avoid side effects.
Different from Pharmacist
Many people use the terms “pharmacologist” and “pharmacist” interchangeably; however, they are actually two different occupations. Pharmacologists are scientists who are responsible for the development and testing of new drugs. As such, pharmacologists perform the “behind the scenes” work that is necessary in order to bring new drugs to market. Pharmacists on the other hand are primarily responsible for dispensing medications, providing patient education and monitoring dosages.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, pharmacologists who work in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing earned a median annual wage of $92,940 in 2012. The median annual wage is the number at which half of all workers make more and the other half earn less. Those involved in research and development made an average of $87,620, while others working in private physicians’ offices made approximately $77,180. The pay will vary according to geographic location, industry and the reputation of the pharmacologist. Those who have performed ground-breaking research or had studies published in medical journals may be able to command a higher salary.
There are several different job options available within the field of pharmacology. A good number of positions exist in the research and development laboratories of pharmaceutical companies. Clinical pharmacologists may also work in hospitals and medical clinics providing direct care to patients. Those with a great deal of experience may even work as quality assurance officers in the research and development phase, or go on to instruct medical students at a university. A few may work in physicians’ offices or for medical insurance companies. Some pharmacologists could even be used as expert witnesses during criminal trials.
If not for the work of pharmacologists everywhere, a number of people around the world could be without life-saving medications. New diseases are constantly being discovered, meaning there will always be a need for these professionals.