Have you ever wondered how aspirin stops a headache, or how antibiotics
work when you are sick, or why sometimes they don't? Pharmacology programs
train students to research and develop everything from painkillers to cancer
Pharmacology programs exist in only a handful of universities and colleges.
Students who don't have access to a specialized pharmacology program at the
undergraduate level can take a related bachelor of science degree in areas
like physiology, biology, biochemistry, chemistry, microbiology, molecular
biology or even zoology.
You will likely need to pursue pharmacology at the graduate level,
which can take two to three years for a master's degree and four to five years
for a PhD. A bachelor's or master's degree may get you an entry-level position,
but to conduct advanced research you'll need the PhD.
"With a BS, a graduate would be a 'doer,' probably in a lab, while with
a MS or PhD, they would be telling the BS person what to do," says Dr.
Joan Tarloff, a professor at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.
Another route involves getting a doctor of medicine degree (MD) and specializing
in clinical pharmacology or performing research to get a PhD. Some schools
offer joint MD/PhD programs.
In the first two years of a pharmacology bachelor's degree, students can expect
to take courses in organic and inorganic chemistry, calculus, biology, pharmacology,
biochemistry, microbiology, physiology and English.
Students who go on to master's and PhD programs take advanced courses
in pharmacology and pursue independent research projects under the supervision
of a senior professor.
Pharmacology students need to be curious about how the body normally works
and how this can be modified, says Dr. Ismail Laher, a professor of pharmacology.
"For this, students will need knowledge in physiology, biochemistry,
anatomy, microbiology, mathematics and even physics," he adds. "Pharmacology
intersects all these disciplines."
Check to see if a school offers co-op or work experience programs.
These programs help students gain valuable lab experience and provide potential
work contacts in the industry.
For high school students, math and sciences are important, but so is
"Obviously, students would want as much math and science as their high
school allows," says Tarloff. "However, it is also important to be able to
put together a coherent sentence and design a clear presentation, so humanities
classes are also important for long-range success."
Activities that can prepare students for science careers include school
and community science fairs.
Besides tuition and books, other expenses might include lab coats and equipment.
Occupational Outlook HandbookFor more information related to this field of study, see: Biological
PharmWebLinks, articles and related topics
Basic Pharmacology Terms Matching GameA fun way to learn some of the basic terms
Want a quick overview of what this program is about? Check out Just the Facts for
a simple description.