Training to Become a Pharmacologist: Program Information

Oct 12, 2019

Essential Information

A bachelor's or master's degree in biochemistry, biology or another life science usually is a prerequisite for a Ph.D. program in pharmacology. Aspiring pharmacologists might enroll in a Ph.D. program in pharmacology or a joint program that awards both a doctorate in pharmacology and a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.). A school may also require prospective students to submit letters of recommendation and scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and, in the case of joint Ph.D./M.D. programs, the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

Students will likely be required to develop an original research proposal, as well as prepare and submit a grant proposal. In most cases, they will have to write and defend a dissertation based on the results of their research.

Ph.D. in Pharmacology

These programs typically include a mix of courses and laboratory research. Candidates typically must pass a comprehensive exam before beginning their Ph.D. research.

A doctorate program in pharmacology covers the fundamentals of drugs, including their use and mechanisms of action and their effects on different parts of the body. A program may offer areas of specialization, such as molecular-level pharmacology or neuropharmacology, which is the study of the effect of drugs on the nervous system. Students may also explore the ethics involved in developing and testing new drugs. Other coursework might include:

  • Pharmacodynamics
  • Lab animals, their use and care
  • Cellular pharmacology
  • Scientific ethics
  • Drug screening

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (, medical scientists who worked in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing earned a median annual wage of $131,180 as of May 2018. Jobs in this field were expected to grow about 8% from 2018 to 2028, which faster than average projected growth for all occupations.

Continuing Education

Pharmacologists interested in further training, especially in the area of clinical pharmacology, can choose to enroll in a postdoctoral or fellowship program. These programs are typically research intensive and last anywhere from 2-3 years. Applicants must have a Ph.D. in Pharmacology.

Postdoctoral students often take courses in clinical trial design, ethical issues, biostatistics and pharmacokinetics. Through clinical training, students can gain the knowledge needed to develop new drugs, as well as the ability to evaluate and understand the research of others in the field. Pharmacologists who complete a postdoctoral program could find work in new drug development, drug regulation or academia.

Training to become a pharmacologist requires time in various laboratories performing research and a desire to further explore topics such as cell biology, neuroscience, molecular biology and biochemistry at the doctoral level. Students interested in further training may also consider a postdoctoral or fellowship program.

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