Updated: Mar 09, 2023
When you get a headache, you take acetaminophen. Or maybe ibuprofen. And, hopefully, a short time later, you feel better. But why? What is it about how these drugs' active ingredients interact with our bodies that makes our pain decrease or our fevers dissipate? Students of pharmacology could explain it to you because that's precisely what they study: the way drugs and chemical agents affect biological systems.
Pharmacology is an interdisciplinary science that involves studying many other fields such as physiology, biochemistry, cellular/molecular biology, microbiology, immunology, genetics, structural biology, psychology, and pathology. Undergraduate pharmacology majors may explore the way drugs work on our bodies and how to develop effective medical therapies as well as the possible dangers for humans and the environment caused by pesticides and other pollutants.
In addition to solid math and science skills, pharmacology majors need to have, or be keen to acquire, strong research skills. They also need to be excited by the prospect of a challenge.
A pharmacology major will give you a good mix of classroom lectures, research work, and labs. Get ready to jump in to advanced chemistry and biology classes during your first year.
Depending on your career path, pharmacology may involve more school after your undergraduate degree. If you are interested in teaching and research, you can pursue a PhD in pharmacology or a related field. If you're interested in becoming a pharmacist, you'll need to go to an accredited pharmacy school and pursue a PharmD degree. Once you have your degree, you must also pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination® (NAPLEX®) to become a practicing pharmacist. Some universities have combined programs where you can earn both a PhD and a PharmD degree concurrently.
A pharmacology degree prepares students to pursue a wide variety of occupations. The most obvious may be to become a pharmacist. Additional jobs—some of which require additional degrees and licensure—include clinical pharmacologist, toxicologist, biomedical scientist, analytical chemist, pharmaceutical sales, dentist, doctor, veterinarian, biotechnology researcher, pharmaceutical researcher, professor, teacher, and more.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the states with the highest employment levels for pharmacists as of May 2021 were:
If your focus on where to live is about where you can earn the most money, then you may want to also consider Alaska, Vermont, Washington, and Oregon, as these, along with California, are the top paying states for pharmacists. As for the metropolitan areas where pharmacists can earn the most, those include San Jose, San Francisco, and Santa Rosa.
As of May 2021, the median annual wage for pharmacists was approximately $129,000, according to the BLS. In 2021, the lowest 10% earned less than about $77,000 and the highest 10% earned more than about $165,000. Note that because many pharmacies are open long past regular business hours, some pharmacists may have to work nights and weekends.
As of May 2021, the number of jobs for pharmacists is projected to grow about 2% between 2021 and 2031, according to the BLS. Demand for pharmacists is expected to grow in some settings, like hospitals and clinics, while it will likely decrease in pharmacies and drug stores. This change is largely because consumers are increasingly getting their medications through the mail and online.
Although such employment prospects may be less than encouraging, remember there is a lot pharmacology majors can do outside of becoming pharmacists. As of May 2021, one of those professions—medical scientist—is expected to grow by 17% between 2021 and 2031, according to the BLS.
North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination® and NAPLEX® are registered trademarks of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy and are not affiliated with Discover® Student Loans.