Studies & Degrees in Pharmacology
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Pharmacology is a diverse and extremely active field of research that deals with medicinal substances and their effects on the bodies of living organisms. In its most typical form, it involves researching and testing potential new drugs – determining whether they are effective, what side-effects they may have, and the specific manner in which they operate within the body. There are a huge range of sub-fields within pharmacology including neuropharmacology (drugs that affect the brain), pharmacoepidemiology (the effects of drugs on large populations), toxicology (poisons and harmful substances), and many others.
- A genuine interest in the body and its natural functions
- Desire to help others by developing effective medications
- Strong background in chemistry and/or biology
Because of the massive variety of fields that exist under the heading of “pharmacology,” and because of its popularity among students, there are all sorts of options for studying this field. Although any course of study in pharmacology will most likely include some graduate school, schools in some countries offer an undergraduate degree – the Bachelor of Pharmacology - that enable students to specialize in pharmacology early on. In other cases, a student may complete a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in chemistry or medical science, then begin studying pharmacology in graduate school. Before going into the field (especially before choosing a graduate program), it is important to pick a sub-field. Pharmacology is a complex field, and it is helpful to specialize as early as possible in a specific area rather than focusing too broadly.
When considering a career in pharmacology, it is important to understand the difference between a pharmacist and a pharmacologist. Although there is considerable overlap, these fields are in fact distinct. In the simplest terms, a pharmacist usually works at the “patient end,” dispensing medications and discussing their use with patients; a pharmacologist, on the other hand, is usually a researcher rather than a provider. Pharmacologists are more likely to be found in laboratories, universities, and hospitals, rather than clinics and pharmacies. That said, it is also true that the boundaries are somewhat permeable, and the line between a pharmacist and a pharmacologist is not always rigid.
A degree in pharmacology can also lead to interesting careers in research administration and government. Some people with a background in pharmacology, for example, take jobs with government regulatory bodies that set policy for pharmacological research; their knowledge of the field helps them understand what regulations will be necessary and effective, but they do not actually spend their days doing research. This is a good backup option for people who complete degrees in pharmacology and then decide that they would rather not do research on a day-to-day basis.