Everyone knows about pharmacists, those usually smiley people behind the desk who give us our prescriptions and expert advice. But not as many people have heard of pharmacologists. In many ways pharmacologists are actually more important than pharmacists. Without these scientists, we would have no medicine! But, as with any profession of this type it can be difficult to get into and requires a certain aptitude and love of science. Many people do not know about pharmacology, but hopefully this guide can help illuminate this extremely interesting career.
What do Pharmacologists do
Pharmacologists cover quite a broad range of scientific disciplines, but on a basic level they discover and develop new drugs and therapies. The main areas of pharmaceutical science can be categorized into the following areas and pharmacologists will usually specialise in one area. All of these areas require large teams of scientists, with a broad range of specialities. Typical activities include:
- Develop new drug therapies using natural or synthetic ingredients
- Research new ways for existing drugs to treat different disease
- Investigate how different disease affects different people
- Conduct testing on animals and humans to make sure that the new treatments are safe and effective.
- Determine the most effective formulation and dosage for a specific drug
- Implement plans and systems to enable new treatments to be produced in large quantities.
- Ensure quality assurance is carried out on medications
- Provide expert advice to corporations and government agencies on pharmaceutical development
The pharmaceuticals industry is certainly not an industry which gives people small pay cheques. As well as being extremely interesting, pharmacology is also extremely well paid. Working for one of the large pharmaceutical companies such as Glaxo SmithKline , will earn you a generous pay cheque, with extensive benefits. These could include shares, pension, healthcare, childcare and sports facilities.
£25,000 - £28,000
£35,000 - £80,000 +
Your pay is ultimately dependent on what company you work for, whether you work for the government, in academia and also on your qualifications. It also depends on your geographical location and what your employer is willing, or able to pay you.
What Qualifications Are Needed?
In order to become a pharmacologist, the bare minimum required is a good science degree. The best science degrees of course, would be pharmacology, or pharmaceutical science; but degrees in biochemistry, physiology and microbiology are also fine. In order to get onto one of these science courses, you will need to have good A-Level results in relevant subjects. Chemistry, biology, physics and maths are usually the best A-Levels to take, with chemistry and biology being a necessity. Showing interest in the subject, by getting work experience in a lab or even a pharmacy, would be a great way to impress the interviewers and get you onto a course.
Once you obtain a job you will have to continue your training in order to work effectively. Scientists involved in laboratory work are required to partake in good laboratory practise (GLP) training for health and safety reasons. This may include, control of substances hazardous to health regulations (COSHH). Testing on animals requires a Home Office Licence. Most if not all of this training will be provided by your employer in order to get you up and working as quick as possible. You can also join either the British Pharmacological Society or the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, which both provide continuing professional development programmes. It is a continually developing area and your knowledge has to be kept up to date.
Career Prospects for pharmacologists are extremely good, as the need for pharmaceuticals is never going to die out. Apart from the job opportunities within academia and the extremely lucrative private opportunities, there are opportunities to branch out beyond laboratory work. It is possible to move into desk based jobs, such as medical writing, and regulatory work, or more administrative roles such as management. Pharmacologists are extremely well paid; in fact they get paid as well if not better than doctors, for only 37 – 40 hours per week. However, you certainly have to have a real aptitude for science in order to get into this career. You have to be passionate about chemistry and health care. But if you have the passion, then why not give this career a go.