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Clinical Pharmacology Training and Degree Program Information

Clinical pharmacologists are medical scientists who research drug function as it relates to individuals, with the goal of improving benefits and reducing side effects of new and existing pharmaceuticals. They focus both on the chemistry of drugs and their end results, bridging the gap between medication production and real-world effects and usage. This article looks at master's and doctoral degrees in this field of study.

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Essential Information

Clinical pharmacology is the science of drug research. Practitioners examine how drugs work and look for ways to improve benefits and lessen side effects. While a few jobs in this field can be obtained with a master's degree, anyone who wants to become a clinical pharmacologist will need to complete a doctoral program.

Applicants to a master's degree program in clinical pharmacology must have a bachelor's degree in a field related to pharmacy, medicine or biology. These 2-year programs focus on research, giving students a fundamental knowledge of data collection and analysis. A thesis is generally required as is a practicum in a clinical drug trial. Courses may include ethical issues in drug research, biostatistics and public health.

In a doctoral program in clinical pharmacology, students work in clinical trials and engage in intensive lab work, then discuss their results with other students during seminars. They also must compile and publish the results in professional journals. Most programs require six years to complete, and applicants need a master's degree in a relevant field.

Master's Degree in Clinical Pharmacology

Master's programs in clinical pharmacology typically prepare students for advanced graduate work in a Ph.D. program. They offer students a foundation in the fundamentals of drug research and generally take two years to complete. As students progress through these programs, academic focus is placed on monitoring pharmaceutical therapy and observing effects. Students also analyze statistics of drug reactions and research correlations between infectious disease, medication and extraneous factors that may influence drug effectiveness.

Education Prerequisites

Prior to being admitted to a master's program, an interested individual must have completed his or her bachelor's degree, majoring in subject matter that will prepare him or her as a medical scientist. A 4-year bachelor's degree in a pharmacy-related discipline yields better chances for admission into graduate school, but most biological or medicine-related fields satisfy minimum prerequisites. Before applying to a master's program, students should research individual school expectations regarding Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) scores and whether a specific subject test is required.

Course Topics

Master's programs in clinical pharmacology emphasize research, both in studying statistics and analyzing drug effects in patients. In addition to university coursework, most master's degree programs require the completion of a thesis project. Areas of study might include the following:

  • Fundamentals of biostatistics
  • Studies in public health
  • Overview of pharmacology
  • Drug research: Ethics and contemporary issues
  • Clinical trial practicum

Career Options

A master's degree in clinical pharmacology could lead to an entry-level position in pharmacological research, such as employment as a clinical trials associate. However, to pursue a career as a clinical pharmacologist, a Ph.D. typically is needed. With a master's degree, graduates can apply directly to a Ph.D. in Clinical Pharmacology program, pursue a medical degree in conjunction with a Ph.D. in Clinical Pharmacology or apply for a fellowship leading to a Ph.D.

Ph.D. in Clinical Pharmacology

A Ph.D. in Clinical Pharmacology program generally takes six years to complete and involves implementation of clinical trials, intensive lab work and seminar sessions in which students are expected to discuss their findings. Those interested in pursuing a career in this field should have strong analytical skills. Because clinical pharmacologists must explain and publish their findings, they should also be effective written and oral communicators. To complete degree requirements, students will usually be required to write a dissertation.

Education Prerequisites

Admittance to a Ph.D. program in clinical pharmacology typically requires completion of a master's program. Applicants are expected to have strong grades in science coursework, and preference may be given to those who hold degrees related to pharmaceutical medicine. Other master's degree programs that can prepare students for advanced graduate work in clinical pharmacology include biochemistry, molecular biology and pharmaceutical sciences.

Course Topics

While obtaining a Ph.D. in Clinical Pharmacology, students can expect coursework focused on pharmaceutical studies in relation to human patients. Topics might include the following:

  • Theories of pharmacometrics
  • Clinical trials: Development and practice
  • Pharmacokinetic analysis
  • Principles of biostatistics
  • Pharmacoepidemiology: Drug effects and outcomes
  • Contemporary issues related to medication and drug therapy

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Clinical pharmacologists generally work as either academic, government or industry professionals. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), careers for medical scientists are in an upward trend, with an estimated 40% rise in the number of jobs forecast for the period of 2008-2018. In 2010, average annual income for medical scientists ranged from $62,180 for academic professionals in colleges and universities to $92,720 for those working in scientific research and development services and $101,900 for those in the pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry (

Continuing Education

Clinical pharmacologists must work alongside a licensed medical doctor in order to administer medication and perform procedures while conducting clinical trials. Some clinical pharmacologists decide to obtain their medical degree as well, giving them the autonomy to work without a medical doctor's assistance.

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