Pharmacologists study how drugs and chemicals work, and the effects they have on animals and people. They also research the development of new and existing drugs. They may specialise in areas such as toxicology or neuro, cardio or veterinary pharmacology.
study how effective drugs are in preventing and treating disease and infection
work out why a particular drug has the effect it does and develop new drugs to fight disease and infection
make sure drugs are absorbed and then eliminated from the body without causing side effects
use computers and complex equipment to carry out tests and analyse results
test drugs in the laboratory and on animals, then do clinical trials to work out how effective they are on people
assess the effects of harmful drugs and detect and identify poisons present in animals or people
design and run experiments, collect and analyse data, write reports and make recommendations based on the results
work in a team of scientists and other staff, perhaps leading and planning projects
check the quality of manufactured products to make sure they are safe and effective.
The figures below are only a guide. Actual pay rates may vary, depending on:
where you work
the size of the company or organisation you work for
the demand for the job.
Pay rates in the private sector vary but could range from around £25,000 a year up to £50,000 for very experienced scientists. Pharmacologists with a PhD are likely to earn more than those without one.
You would probably work in a laboratory. This could be in a hospital, a pharmaceutical factory or a university or research institute.
Your hours would be regular but you might have to work some evenings and weekends.
You may have to travel to international conferences.
You would wear protective clothing such as a lab coat, a mask or gloves.
In some work, there may be a risk of infection, but employers train staff to avoid this.
You usually need a degree (SCQF Level 9-10) in pharmacology. Other degrees such as biological sciences, biomedical science, biochemistry, immunology, medicinal chemistry, pharmaceutical science or pharmacy may also be accepted.
For entry to a degree you need 4-5 Highers, usually including at least 2 from Maths, Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Biology and Chemistry may be preferred. You also need English, Maths and a science subject at National 5.
Some entrants have a specialist postgraduate qualification (SCQF Level 11) in pharmacology. This is essential for research posts.
Taking unpaid work or an industrial placement while at university will improve your chances of gaining employment.
You could work in government departments (including the Medical Research Council), pharmaceutical companies, hospitals or universities. The National Health Service (NHS) also employ pharmacologists to work on clinical trials.