Skip to Main Content


The Job

Pharmacologists are highly trained scientists who study the effects drugs and other chemical agents have on humans, animals, and plants. If you become a pharmacologist, there are several career paths available. Clinical pharmacologists focus on the effects of medications for treating disease. Veterinary pharmacologists study drugs and their relationship with animals. Behavior pharmacologists examine how drugs affect human behavior. Molecular pharmacologists study how drugs affect cells. The field of pharmacology involves many specialties.

Pharmacologists perform research in laboratories using cultured cells, laboratory animals, plants, human tissues, precision electronic instruments, and computers. They try to answer such questions as: What is a drug's effect on the cellular system of the tissue or other subject being studied? How is the drug absorbed, distributed, and released from the cells or organism? Are the cells or organism developing sensitivity to the drug and how is that happening?

Pharmacology also involves studying therapeutics and toxicology as they relate to drugs and other chemical agents. Therapeutics refers to the drugs or other agents' action or influence on diseases as well as the diseases' influence on the properties of drugs and other agents. Pharmacologists specializing in drug research, for example, may study the therapeutic effects of medical compounds on specific organs or bodily systems. They identify potentially beneficial and potentially harmful side effects and are then able to predict the drug's usefulness against specific diseases. They also use this information to recommend proper dosages and describe circumstances in which a drug should be administered. Toxicology refers to the toxic effects of drugs used to treat diseases as well as the toxic effects of chemical agents in the environment, agriculture, and industry.

Pharmacologists identify hazardous substances in the environment and are often referred to as toxicologists. They may analyze chemicals to determine if dangerous amounts of lead, mercury, or ammonia are in workplaces, pesticides, food preservatives, or even common household items such as paints, aerosol sprays, and cleaning fluids.

Because this work is so complex, requiring knowledge of many aspects of different sciences, mathematics, and statistics is required. Teams of pharmacologists often work together, especially in the development of more complex drugs and compounds capable of treating numerous diseases. Pharmacologists may work for laboratories of pharmaceutical companies or universities. A number also teach at universities or medical schools. Research projects take considerable time to complete. In general, it takes 10 to 15 years for pharmacologists to develop, test, and refine a new drug product before the Food and Drug Administration will approve its use for the public. Throughout this entire process, pharmacologists must pay strict attention to detail and keep accurate documentation. They will often publish findings in research journals and present their research to colleagues.

Related Professions
Featured Companies