Though pharmacy and pharmacology might sound the same, they actually point to careers that are different in terms of daily work. Pharmacologists can specialize in many fields, and they use their advanced knowledge of chemistry and biology to evaluate the effect that agents have on the body, and vice versa. Generally, pharmacists use the knowledge gained from pharmacology research to evaluate patient needs and dispense medication. There is some overlap in where the two professions can work, but the tasks are distinct; for example, pharmacologists do not normally interact with patients. Instead, they focus on research about drugs -- rather than giving drugs to patients.
As a pharmacist, you’ll work in a pharmacy, probably like the ones in your town’s convenience or grocery stores. You might also find work at a hospital or clinic. Other pharmacists work for universities or drug companies. Pharmacologists, on the other hand, typically work in research centers, laboratories and academic institutions. Government organizations, private foundations and the drug manufacturing industry all employ pharmacologists to conduct research and development.
As a retail pharmacist, you’ll spend your time filling prescriptions, advising patients and completing insurance forms and other administrative tasks. Though most pharmacists work in stores, you could also work as a consultant or in a clinical role, assisting doctors who work directly with patients. Pharmacologists, however, develop and test drugs for effectiveness and safety. They often specialize in one area, such as endocrine pharmacology, chemotherapy, toxicology or veterinary pharmacology.
To work as a practicing pharmacist, you’ll need to have a doctor of pharmacy degree, which usually takes four years to complete. To prepare for an advanced pharmacy job, you may take on a one to two year residency program after you’ve finished your Pharm.D. Business courses also can be helpful if you want to run your own store. You’ll also need to pass at least two licensing exams in order to work – one testing general knowledge and one on pharmacy law in your state.
Pharmacologists need to have a Ph.D. in pharmacology or a related field. Though programs vary by school, you can expect to complete a significant amount of original research. Since pharmacology is highly related to medical science, some schools may provide the option to earn a joint M.D. and Ph.D. degree. Many pharmacologists also complete two to four years of postdoctoral research. In general, you are not required to have a license to work as a pharmacologist.
2016 Salary Information for Pharmacists
Pharmacists earned a median annual salary of $122,230 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, pharmacists earned a 25th percentile salary of $109,400, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $138,920, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 312,500 people were employed in the U.S. as pharmacists.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Pharmacists
- The Florida Area Health Education Centers: Pharmacologist
- The American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics: Explore Pharmacology – Graduate Studies in Pharmacology
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Pharmacists
- Career Trend: Pharmacists
Samantha Ley writes career and education articles for various online publications. She also works in social media management and creates test materials and other educational content for various companies. Ley holds a B.A. in English and Spanish from Kenyon College and an M.Ed. from the University of Virginia.