Pharmaceutical Chemist: Education Requirements and Career Info

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a pharmaceutical chemist. Get a quick view of the requirements, as well as details about career options and job outlook.

Although pharmaceutical chemists must have at least a bachelor's degree in chemistry or related field, many hold a graduate degree as well, with a specialization in pharmaceutical chemistry. There are two main types of pharmaceutical chemists: synthetic and analytical.

Essential Information

Pharmaceutical chemists design, develop, analyze and evaluate new and better drugs for the healthcare industry. Many of these chemists begin by earning an undergraduate degree and then complete a master's degree in which they may specialize in pharmaceutical chemistry. Many of these professionals go on to earn a doctoral degree, which some employers may require.

Required Education Bachelor's degree in chemistry or a related field; research positions often require a master's or doctoral degree
Projected Job Growth* (2014-2024) 3% for chemists
Average Salary* (2015) $76,610 annually for chemists working in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Education Requirements

A career in pharmaceutical chemistry requires a bachelor's degree at the very least. Most professionals have earned a master's or doctoral degree. Earning a Bachelor of Science in chemistry or chemical engineering is usually the first step. Some schools offer undergraduate programs devoted specifically to pharmaceutical chemistry, but for the most part, that specialization is reserved for higher levels of education.

Typical coursework in an undergraduate chemistry program includes classes in physics, biology, advanced mathematics and computer science, as well as organic, inorganic, biomolecular, physical and analytical chemistry. Students planning to specialize in the pharmaceutical field should place particular emphasis on analytical chemistry and biology.

Graduate degree programs in pharmaceutical chemistry introduce advanced hands-on training in research and analysis, along with courses in medical chemistry, biochemistry, pharmacology and pharmaceutical engineering.

Career Information

Pharmaceutical chemists design and synthesize new drugs for the pharmaceutical industry, as well as evaluate drugs already on the market. There are two primary types of pharmaceutical chemists.

Synthetic pharmaceutical chemists, also known as medicinal chemists, devote their work to the creation of new drugs. They work to create products that provide the greatest possible benefits with the fewest negative side effects, while simultaneously keeping the production process cost effective.

Analytical pharmaceutical chemists, develop and apply stringent methods of chemical analysis to the product before it goes on the market, ensuring that the drug is pure and that the molecular elements of its structure are easy to determine for toxicological and pharmacological purposes.

Pharmaceutical drug development is a major part of the evolving field of medical technology, and chemists are greatly sought by the pharmaceutical industry for their skills in analyzing and manipulating the properties of medicine. It is possible to use a career in pharmaceutical chemistry as a stepping stone to a senior management position in a biotech firm, though additional education in business fundamentals may be required.

Salary Statistics and Employment Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), chemists working in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing earned a mean annual income of $76,610 as of 2015. An increase of only 3% in job openings for chemists is expected from 2014-2024, per the BLS. This is largely due to an increasing desire to minimize risks and manage expenses by working with smaller research universities and development services, as well as outsourcing some manufacturing labor to other countries.

Research positions for pharmaceutical chemists typically require a master's or doctoral degree. Some of the tasks a pharmaceutical chemist may perform include creating or synthesizing new drugs and conducting chemical analyses of medicinal products.

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