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Pharmacology Degree and Certificate Program Overviews

Pharmacology is the study of how chemicals interact with living organisms. Programs in this field are available at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree levels and can prepare graduates to conduct research in a variety of settings.

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Essential Information

Common courses in pharmacology degree programs include biochemistry, physiology, molecular biology, neurobiology and genetics. In addition, all programs emphasize lab work, though a few master's degree programs have a non-lab focus. Some bachelor's and master's degree programs may prepare students for medical school admission. A Ph.D. in Pharmacology is research-intensive; unlike students in a Doctor of Pharmacy program, Ph.D. students aren't prepared for pharmacist licensure. Online courses and programs are available.


Bachelor's Degree in Pharmacology

Bachelor's programs are designed for aspiring research pharmacologists and may also fulfill many requirements for students pursuing biochemical research studies or medical professions. Classes emphasize chemical and biological science along with advanced mathematics. At some colleges and universities, the bachelor's program blends toxicology with pharmacology to give the student a broader perspective into how drugs and other chemicals work for or against biological entities.

Prior to entering the bachelor's program, the student should have a background in advanced calculus, biology and chemistry. Courses for the bachelor's degree in pharmacology consist of lecture and laboratory work and include topics such as:

  • Biochemistry principles
  • Molecular biology
  • Ethnomedicine
  • Phytomedicinals and herbs
  • Physiology
  • Medical anthropology

Master's Degree in Pharmacology

This degree is designed primarily for those wishing to pursue careers in drug research and development. Some schools have a portion of their program tailored for those going into medical professions, and some of the classes increase a student's chances of acceptance into medical school. There are both laboratory and non-laboratory programs offered for a master's degree. Some schools offer this degree as a stepping-stone towards a Ph.D. in Pharmacology.

Coursework for the master's degree depends on the student's end goal. Some colleges emphasize work in clinical trials while others focus almost exclusively on pharmacological research and development. Courses in common include topics such as:

  • Ethics for beginning scientists
  • Experimental drug design
  • Neurologic pharmacology
  • Delivery of drugs
  • Disease neurobiology

Ph.D. in Pharmacology

Before enrolling in a doctoral program, the prospective student should understand the distinction between a Ph.D. in Pharmacology and a Pharm.D. degree. The Ph.D. in Pharmacology prepares the student for a career in research while the Pharm.D. degree is the professional degree for pharmacists. Study for a Ph.D. in pharmacology requires intensive lab and research studies. Some schools emphasize drugs of abuse while others offer programs focused on pharmaceutical industry research and development training. All pharmacology programs require labwork.

Along with required coursework, the student is expected to focus on a field of specialization. During the first year, students will choose an advisor and prepare to embark on their thesis research project. Required coursework includes topics such as:

  • Molecular medicine
  • Molecular genetics and biology
  • Neurobiology
  • Macromolecular structure analysis
  • Dynamics of cell structure

Popular Careers

A bachelor's degree in pharmacology is considered an entry-level, introductory degree, and those with this degree may have difficulty finding employment in pharmacological research. However, there are some entry-level research positions or drug sales opportunities available for those with this degree, but competition for these positions may be intense. Most students choose this program as an educational basis before pursuing careers in:

  • Dentistry
  • Psychology
  • Medicine
  • Research pharmacology

While a few master's students will choose to earn doctorates in pharmacology and become professors, most use their skills in research fields to develop or analyze the effects of drugs or chemicals. The employment opportunities include:

  • Research and development for pharmaceutical companies
  • Government agencies
  • Independent research studies
  • Hospital drug information specialists
  • Physicians and nurses

Some individuals with doctorates in pharmacology go on to become professors; however, most use their skills in research fields to develop or analyze the effects of drugs or chemicals. Most job opportunities are found with:

  • Research and development for pharmaceutical companies
  • Government agencies
  • Independent research studies
  • Hospital drug information specialists

Employment Outlook

The job market for medical scientists, including pharmacologists, is expected to grow 8% from 2014 through 2024, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov). Salary information from the BLS in 2015 showed that most medical scientists earned wages ranging from $44,510 to $155,180 annually. These professionals are normally required to have a Ph.D. or a medical degree.

Continuing Education

Those wishing to pursue careers in nursing or behavioral sciences may choose to combine their bachelor's degrees in pharmacology with another program. Some may also enroll in graduate-level certificate programs to expand their knowledge of pharmacology and its uses in these fields. One certificate offered by the National Association for Practical Nurse Education & Services, Inc. is recognized nationally. Prospective pharmacology students might also consider a certificate program in behavioral pharmacology focused on psychopharmacology.

Students who earn a degree in pharmacology may become researchers who work for government agencies or pharmaceutical companies as well as hospital drug information specialists. Lab work is common in all programs, as are courses in chemistry, biology and mathematics.

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