How Do You Become a Pharmacologist?

PharmacologistTaking the steps to become a pharmacologist will place you in an exciting research-oriented profession in today’s in-demand medical industry. Pharmacologists are highly educated medical scientists who devote their research to studying how drugs impact the human body. Unlike pharmacists who dispense medications, pharmacologists spend time in the lab testing chemical compounds to develop effective drug therapies that resolve key clinical issues. Pharmacologists usually specialize in researching the good and bad effects of drug treatments on specific body areas, such as the respiratory, cardiovascular, or reproductive systems. Conducting medical research requires that pharmacologists have strong training in the sciences and math, according to the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics. In this article, we’ve created a step-by-step guide for successfully becoming a pharmacologist.

Earn an Undergraduate Degree

Before jumping into pharmacology, you’ll need to build a scientific-based foundation by earning a bachelor’s degree from an accredited four-year institution. Most aspiring pharmacologists select an undergraduate major in the life sciences, such as biology, microbiology, physiology, or chemistry. If possible, take undergraduate electives that introduce you to basics in pharmacology, toxicology, biochemistry, statistics, and research methods. Gaining hands-on lab experience conducting research projects with faculty supervision will also be good career preparation.

Pursue a Ph.D. in Pharmacology

Although entry-level jobs as research assistants can be found with a bachelor’s, becoming a full-fledged pharmacologist will mandate a doctorate. After scoring high on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), start looking for accredited Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs devoted specifically to pharmacology. Ph.D. programs may offer specializations, such as neuropharmacology or toxicology, so choose accordingly. Doctoral degrees blend advance graduate coursework with laboratory research and a dissertation. Earning your Ph.D. in pharmacology can take anywhere from five to seven years beyond the baccalaureate.

Consider Attending Medical School

Even after investing years in obtaining a Ph.D., you still may want to consider enrolling in medical school to receive a M.D. degree. Pharmacologists often need to become licensed M.D. professionals, especially when administering drugs to humans in clinical trials. Attending an accredited medical school will require passing the MCAT exam, completing coursework, participating in clinical rotations, and taking licensing tests. You can streamline this process by finding a university with a joint Ph.D./M.D. program and majoring in pharmacology.

Complete a Residency or Fellowship

Last, but certainly not least, you’ll need to build real-world experience in conducting clinical pharmacology research through a post-doctoral residency or fellowship program. Most of these heavily research-intensive programs last two to three years. Fellows further develop their expertise in clinical trial design, research ethics, biostatistics, pharmacokinetics, biochemistry, and epidemiology. Upon completion, post-doctoral pharmacologists will likely be qualified for taking the certification board exam from the American Board of Clinical Pharmacology (ABCP).

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Overall, pharmacologists play a prominent role in investigating how the drugs we purchase will interact with our body’s biology. Pharmacologists carry the responsibility of making certain that new and existing medical treatments are effective and safe for human use. Some pharmacologists may even testify as witnesses in lawsuits regarding side effects of certain drugs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the highest percentages of pharmacologists are employed by research institutes, universities, hospitals, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and medical laboratories. Although the process to become a pharmacologist is long, the academic journey pays off with a high average yearly salary of $90,160 and plenty of intrinsic rewards on the cutting-edge of medicine.