A Day in the Life of a Pharmacologist

Pharmacology is a broad discipline with a variety of career opportunities.
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Pharmacologists are medical researchers who work with doctors and patients to develop and test the safety and efficacy of new drugs. They are employed in a variety of positions in academia, industry and government. Some pharmacologists work with biochemists and materials scientists to develop new therapeutic compounds, but most are involved in designing and carrying out clinical trials or work in public health and regulatory affairs. According to assistant professor of medicine Bridgette L. Jones, M.D., University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine, “Clinical pharmacology is so vast and widely applied that a lifetime of learning is required to fully grasp the breadth and depth of the field.”

Educational Background

    Pharmacology is highly interdisciplinary, with practitioners coming from academic backgrounds as diverse as biochemistry, botany and the social sciences. Graduate school is where a pharmacologist decides on her specialty. Someone interested in public health might decide on a master's in public health, but anyone interested in pursuing research or working in a supervisory capacity in clinical pharmacology typically earns a Ph.D. or an M.D. In either case she is taking on at least a six- or seven-year commitment to complete her professional training. According to the British Pharmacological Society, a growing number of women are studying pharmacology, and 35 percent of the membership of BPS are women as of 2013.

Academic Pharmacologist

    Academic pharmacologists usually have a doctorate in pharmacology or biochemistry, or an M.D., or both. Most academic pharmacologists have teaching and research responsibilities. A typical day might involve teaching one or two classes, meeting with your teaching assistant to discuss preparing or grading exams, appointments with students or administrators, grant writing, and with luck, some time left to pursue your research or research-related record-keeping.

Industry Pharmacologist

    Most pharmacologists that work in the pharmaceutical industry are involved in drug development at some level. Some are early-stage researchers who work to identify chemical compounds that might have useful therapeutic properties, but most are involved in planning or carrying out clinical trials of promising compounds further along in the pipeline. New drugs have to undergo animal and human trials to determine dosage, safety and efficacy. A typical day for an industry pharmacologist involves meeting with doctors and hospital administrators to discuss ongoing and future trials, as well as analyzing trial data and preparing results for sponsors and publication.

Government Pharmacologist

    Most pharmacologists employed in government work for the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA hires pharmacologists as regulatory specialists and as consulting scientists to verify the research and clinical trial designs submitted by pharmaceutical companies. Pharmacologists employed by regulatory agencies spend most of their day in meetings, on the telephone or reviewing documents. A few consulting scientists might actually spend some time in the lab verifying results, but a regulatory pharmacologist will likely spend most of her time in administration and management.

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