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Program Information: Training to Become a Pharmacologist

Majors Overview June 20, 2013

Pharmacologists study how drugs and chemical substances, including pollutants and toxins, affect living organisms. The research conducted by pharmacologists may lead to the development of medications. Students who are interested in becoming a pharmacologist are required to obtain a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree. Graduates who want to continue their studies should consider completing a postdoctoral program in clinical pharmacology.

Doctor of Philosophy in Pharmacology

Prospective pharmacologists may want to enroll in a joint program that awards both a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) and a doctorate in pharmacology or enroll in a Ph.D. program in pharmacology. These programs usually include a mix of laboratory research and courses. Typically, candidates are required to pass a comprehensive examination before starting their Ph.D. research. They will likely be required to prepare and submit a grant proposal, as well as create an original research proposal. In most instances, students will have to defend and write a dissertation based on the results of their research.

Education Requirements

A bachelor or master degree in biology, biochemistry, or any other life science generally is the requirement for the Doctor of Philosophy program in pharmacology. Schools may require aspiring students to submit scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), and in some cases where students take joint M.D./Ph.D. programs, the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), as well as letters of recommendation.

Program Course Topics

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

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

Salary Information and Employment Outlook

In 2009, medical scientists who worked in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing earned an average annual salary of $91,720 (source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS – www.bls.gov)). Job growth of twenty percent has been projected for professionals in this field during the period from 2008 to 2018.

Postdoctoral Program in Pharmacology

Pharmacologists who want to further their training, especially in the area of clinical pharmacology, should consider enrolling in a fellowship or postdoctoral program. Typically, these programs are research intensive and usually span for two to three years. Applicants will be required to hold a Ph.D. in Pharmacology.

Generally, postdoctoral students take courses in pharmacokinetics, biostatistics, ethical issues, and clinical trial design. Students will gain the knowledge needed to create new drugs, along with the ability to understand and evaluate the research of others in the field through clinical training. Pharmacologists who have completed the postdoctoral program will find work in academia, drug regulation, or new drug development.

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