Have you ever heard someone incorrectly refer to you as a pharmacologist instead of a pharmacist? No offense to any pharmacologists out there, but I wince when people make that error because, despite the fact that both professions are associated with the pharmaceutical industry, the actual work that we do could not be more dissimilar.
Please indulge me as I veer from the topic of Epic because I’ve recently been referred to as a pharmacologist, and this topic is now on my mind. I’m not upset by the mistake; rather, it made me reflect a little more on the subject and consider how things might have turned out differently if I had chosen to pursue a career as a pharmacologist as opposed to a pharmacist.
In the United States there is a distinct difference between what a pharmacist does and what a pharmacologist does.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, pharmacists – and this includes clinical pharmacists, hospital pharmacists, consultant pharmacists, community pharmacists, etc. – earned a median annual salary of $128,710 in 2021, while pharmacologists earned a median annual wage of $105,280.
Now as a working pharmacist I can say with confidence that these numbers seem awfully low to me. Then again, it could be because I have some years of experience under my belt and see others making significantly more than the US Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers stated. It could also be because in the healthcare tech industry, perhaps we get paid and average base salary that’s a little bit more than the median annual salary above which seems, to me, to be on the low end.
So, even though pharmacologists may need a good amount of education and training to do what they do, they don’t necessarily earn a higher salary than pharmacists. However, the salary range for pharmacologists, which includes clinical pharmacologist, is broader, and those with higher education and more work experience can earn significantly more.
When it comes to careers in the pharmaceutical industry, two of the most popular choices are pharmacologist and pharmacist. Both professions deal with the study and effects of drugs on the human body, but they differ in terms of education, job duties, and, of course, salary as already mentioned. So, let’s take a look at the similarities and differences between these two professions.
Education and Training
First, let’s talk about the educational paths that each of these professions follow. To become a pharmacist in the US, you need a Doctor of Pharmacy degree (PharmD), which usually takes four years of undergraduate study plus an additional four years of studies in graduate programs. Back in the day, a bachelor’s degree used to be sufficient to have a career as a pharmacist but with the growth of the practice of clinical pharmacy, there aren’t many new jobs in the market that will hire someone without a doctorate degree.
Pretty much all pharmacy degree programs in U.S. pharmacy schools offer only a graduate pharmacy program these days so most pharmacy students don’t have a choice but to get a doctorate degree if they plan on pursuing a career in the pharmacy field.
On the other hand, to become a pharmacologist, you typically need a Ph.D. degree, which can take anywhere from 5-7 years of college education. I don’t know much about clinical pharmacology or if the educational requirements for it differ very much from those of a regular pharmacologist, but I assume that at a minimum, a master’s degree or some other level of graduate degree is required.
Next, let’s talk about job duties. Pharmacists are responsible for having a basic general knowledge to an in-depth understanding of various medical conditions (depending on whether or not they are a specialty pharmacist), dispensing prescription medications, advising patients on their use, and monitoring their effects as well as potential side effects. They work in a variety of settings, including drug stores, grocery stores, drug companies, and community pharmacies.
Pharmacists also work closely with physicians, insurance companies, and government agencies to ensure that patients receive the correct medications and doses all in accordance with the proper practice of pharmacy law.
Sidebar: I would be remiss in talking about what pharmacists do without mentioning our invaluable pharmacy technicians. Hardly any hospital or retail pharmacies would be able to operate efficiently without these crucial team members and having them as an integral part of our practice in terms of daily work is one major distinction between these two career paths in the pharmaceutical field.
Pharmacologists, on the other hand, are much deeper entrenched in the drug discovery process. They work primarily in research and development, mainly at academic institutions or for a pharmaceutical company. They study the effects of drugs on the human body, design and conduct clinical trials, and work with pharmaceutical companies to develop new drugs.
Pharmacologists also study the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of drugs, which refers to how drugs are absorbed, distributed, metabolized, and excreted by the body. So, pharmacologists are more focused on the science behind drug development, while pharmacists are more focused on patient care.
Both fields offer a variety of career options. From personal experience I can say that pharmacy careers run a wide gamut. This is great news for current and aspiring pharmacy students. For example, pharmacists can specialize as consultant pharmacists, who work with healthcare facilities to provide medication management services to patients. They can also become clinical pharmacists, who work in hospitals and other healthcare facilities to provide direct patient care.
For those who prefer to focus on administrative tasks there are opportunities in government organizations, research libraries, public health work, and getting involved in a professional association to steer the direction of the profession and more.
Pharmacologists can also specialize in various areas of drug development, such as pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics, drug safety, and the emerging field of pharmacometrics. They can work for pharmaceutical companies, research institutions, private foundations, or government agencies.
So, which career option is right for you? It depends on your interests and goals. If you enjoy patient care and want to work in a more traditional healthcare setting and don’t mind completing at least a two-year residency program, then becoming a pharmacist may be the right choice for you. If you’re more interested in the science behind drug development, enjoy the idea of working with test drugs, and want to work in research and development, then becoming a pharmacologist may be a better fit.
In conclusion, both pharmacologists and pharmacists play an important role in the pharmaceutical industry. While pharmacists focus more on patient care and pharmacologists focus more on drug development, both professions offer a variety of career options and a good salary. So, if you’re interested in pursuing a career in the life sciences, pharmacy may be a great option for you.
Just remember, no matter which profession you choose, you’ll need to work hard, study, and gain some work experience to succeed and grow in your chosen profession.