Clinical Pharmacology Careers

Ideas for designer drugs might first originate in the mind of a clinical pharmacologist.
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Pharmacologist and pharmacist sound similar, but, when it comes to careers, they’re different animals -- although a pharmacist can also be a pharmacologist, which can really confuse your friends when you tell them about your career plans. Not to mention that a pharmacologist can also be a medical doctor or research scientist, which gives you three possible career paths into clinical pharmacology.

About Clinical Pharmacology

Clinical pharmacologists study drugs in humans, according to the American Society for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics. Their focus is prescription drugs, such as antibiotics, contraceptives and blood pressure medications. The scientists involved in this work might develop new drugs, find new applications for their use or perform research on the effects of medications in humans. They might work in academia, industry or government, where their duties include developing clinical trials and experimental studies, investigating adverse reactions or implementing regulations to guide the use of medications. There’s even an Office of Clinical Pharmacology in the federal government to assure new drugs are safe and effective.

Hitting the Books

No matter which path you choose in clinical pharmacology, you’ll spend years in school. A bachelor’s degree is the first step. Although either a BS or a BA is acceptable, according to the PhRMA Foundation, which provides grants for aspiring scientists in the field, some educational paths have prerequisites. Physicians, for example, need courses in biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and English, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Pharmacists must also complete chemistry, biology and anatomy. Medical scientists don’t necessarily have specific prerequisites, but the BLS recommends a degree in a biological science.

Advancing Your Education

The next step depends on your career path. If medicine is your goal, you’ll head off to four years of medical school, at least three of residency and possibly several more years in a specialty fellowship. Pharmacists enter a four-year doctorate of pharmacy program. For clinical pharmacology, you’ll probably also need a residency, which can last one to three years. Medical scientists have two options, according to the BLS. The first is a doctorate, a six-year program in a particular field such as genetics, pathology or bioinformatics. The second option is a combined M.D. and Ph.D. program, which typically lasts six to eight years and teaches you principles of both patient care and research. If you’re a physician or a pharmacist, you’ll also need to pass a licensing exam.

Making Choices

Once you get your education out of the way, you’ll need to decide your career path: academia, industry or government. If you love doing research, have no fear, as you’ll probably be able to perform research in any of these areas. In academia, your focus is on teaching students, as well as performing your own research or collaborating with colleagues on combined projects. If you choose the pharmaceutical industry, you could conduct clinical trials, design new drugs and test them to determine the correct dose. In government, you’ll review new drugs and conduct research, develop regulatory guidelines and help protect the public’s health. The BLS notes all three of these careers have good prospects, with estimated growth rates ranging from 20 to 25 percent between 2010 and 2020, faster than the 14 percent average for all occupations.

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