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Program Description

Just the Facts

Pharmacology. A program that focuses on the scientific study of drug interactions on biological systems and organisms and the sources, chemical properties, biological effects, and therapeutic uses of drugs. Includes instruction in pharmacodynamics, pharmacokinetics, toxicology, drug therapeutics, drug action, bodily responses to drug events, biochemical proliferation and differentiation, apoptosis, cell biology, medicinal chemistry, and studies of specific drugs and drug interactions.

This program is available in these options:

  • Certificate / Diploma
  • Associate degree
  • Bachelor's degree
  • Graduate Certificate
  • Master's degree
  • Doctoral degree

High School Courses

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Additional Information

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 drugs.

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 English.

"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 Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see: Biological Scientists

Links, articles and related topics

Basic Pharmacology Terms Matching Game
A fun way to learn some of the basic terms