I occasionally take medication.

Last year I had a sinus infection and needed an antibiotic; sometimes I push too hard and need Tylenol to help with my aches and pains; this week I have a cold, so I am alternating between DayQuil and Nyquil.

I don’t often spend time thinking about anything other than “will this medicine help me feel better?” But there is an entire industry devoted to developing and distributing medicine to the public. Pharmacologists play an important role in that process.

The job of a pharmacologist is to study drugs and other substances, and their interaction with living tissue. Working in research laboratories, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, and government-run health-related agencies like the FDA or CDC, pharmacologists:

  • Develop drugs that prevent and treat disease and illness.
  • Conduct experiments to examine the effects of drugs or other chemicals on human and animal health.
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of a drug or how it is absorbed into the body.
  • Study whether substances such as chemicals, gases, food colorings, etc. are harmful.

Areas of specialty include:

  • Clinical pharmacology: testing drugs on human subjects
  • Neuropharmacology: analyzing effects of drugs on the nervous system
  • Chemotherapy: developing and studying drugs that treat cancer
  • Toxicology: studying poisonous drugs, chemicals and air pollutants
  • Veterinary pharmacology: studying drugs and other substances, and how they interact with animals’ bodies

For an in-depth overview of pharmacology careers, check out Career Cruising on Cascade.

Careers in pharmacology exist at all levels of education. If you want to do independent research or teach, you’ll need a Ph.D. With a master’s degree, you can find work as a technologist or research associate. An undergraduate degree will qualify you to assist with lab experiments, or work as a pharmaceutical sales representative.

To get an idea of what a pharmaceutical sales career entails, consider contacting Puget Sound alumni in the ASK Network (on Cascade) who work for GlaxoSmithKline, Eli Lilly, AstraZeneca, ProteoTech (in Kirkland), and Abbott Laboratories (in Fife).

© 2012 Career and Employment Services, University of Puget Sound
Photo: Sherman Geronimo-Tan