The average pharmacologist salary often depends on the level of education you earn, your specialty, and where your work. Find out exactly how to become a pharmacologist, with in-depth information on the type of education you need to earn to make the big bucks.
If you’re interested in a career in pharmacology, here is everything you need to know to find out what you need to know. This article is complete with it all, from what a pharmacologist does each day and how the job is different from a pharmacist to the education you need to earn and the pharmacologist salary options that correspond with each role.
What Is a Pharmacologist?
A pharmacologist is a medical scientist who spends their careers creating new drugs and evaluating the safety and effectiveness of drugs already on the market for continued improvement. Lower-level jobs may find roles in toxicology or drug development while a master’s degree will lead to lucrative research positions. With a graduate degree or medical degree, you can earn top wages in the field.
Pharmacologist sounds like a pharmacist, but the two jobs are entirely different. While pharmacy is a health profession that counts out medications for patients as prescribed by their doctors, an American pharmacologist doesn’t practice pharmacy; although, they do both work with medicine.
Instead, they spend most of the work hours studying drug interactions in humans and examining different ways or therapies that help the medicine work in the body. For this job, they work in a lab for either a pharmaceutical company or a university rather than working hands-on with the public in a pharmacy. Their aim is to study:
- How drugs affect people
- Minimizing side effects
- How drug therapies work
- Creating new drug treatments for medical conditions
Some pharmacologists even specialize in specific types of drugs or therapies that affect plant or animal life. Although, most professionals in this position focus on how drugs affect humans. They make sure the drugs that reach the market will work and are safe for people to consume. Pharmacists just fill the prescriptions and talk to patients about the safe use of their medications, including the right dosage.
Another vast difference between the two jobs is the education it takes to achieve a career.
A pharmacist must pass a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) program to dispense meds to the public after four years on an undergraduate degree. The process typically takes eight years, but some universities may offer programs that allow you to complete your degree in six years.
If you choose to follow a “0-6” program, you can complete your first two years as an undergrad then move directly into the graduate-level pharmacy program to graduate with your Pharm.D. much faster. All graduates still need to earn state licensure by passing an exam.
A pharmacologist profession, on the other hand, doesn’t require a doctorate degree or licensing exams. You can begin a career in the field with a bachelor’s degree in:
- Pharmacology (only offered at some universities)
However, you may still need to apply for a graduate program in pharmacology. Some jobs may look for a master’s degree or Ph.D. in pharmacology, so having a graduate degree will open the door to new career aspirations, often with higher salaries as well. While working on a doctorate degree, students have the opportunity to work in research programs at their university and may create their own experiments.
Duties of a Pharmacologist
The day-to-day work duties a pharmacologist performs can vary depending on their field and employer.
If you chose to work with the Food and Drug Administration, for example, you may spend your time evaluating data and clinical trial results from studies conducted by a pharmaceutical company. The pharmaceutical company itself will also hire pharmacologists to create new drugs, run clinical trials, and analyze data based on the results.
They sometimes also testify as expert witnesses during court proceedings, typically lawsuits concerning the side effects of a medication, information on illegal drugs, and how different drugs work. Pharmacologists often spend time writing in-depth grant proposals, publishing articles in esteemed medical journals, and working on prescription data sheets that patients receive with their medications.
How to Become a Pharmacologist
Although there are low-level jobs you can earn with as little as a bachelor’s degree in biological science, graduate and medical degrees allow pharmacologists to perform more duties. Depending on the degree path and specialty you choose, most employers look for at least a Ph.D. in life science.
With only a doctorate degree in biological science or pharmacology, a pharmacologist can assist in university-level research programs and begin creating experiments. However, you need a medical degree to directly work with human subjects in clinical trials.
Some pharmacologists choose to earn their Ph.D. before attending medical school as well. The medical school allows you to become a licensed physician, which in addition to a pharmacology doctorate, allows you to work in programs that administer drugs or gene therapies to real people in clinical trials or complete invasive procedures like drawing blood or removing tissue from a human subject.
There are also joint Ph.D. to M.D. programs offered by some schools that allow students to enroll immediately after earning a bachelor’s degree and complete both degrees in less time. It takes seven or eight years to complete the program on top of the four years a bachelor’s degree takes to complete, but you earn a Ph.D. in either pharmacology or biological science and a medical degree.
How Much Does a Pharmacologist Make?
Pinpointing exactly how much the average pharmacologist makes each year is difficult. A pharmacologist salary differs based on industry and specialty. You may also earn more with a doctorate or medical degree, for example, than starting out with only a bachelor’s degree.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, medical scientists, a category that includes pharmacologists with a doctoral degree, bring home an average salary of $82,090 per year. The job is projected to grow 13% by 2026, which is faster than the BLS national average for all jobs.
Federal Pay.org backs up this claim, showing that pharmacologists with doctorate degrees find popular career options working with the U.S. government. The FDA hired the most pharmacologists in 2017, paying them an average salary of $128,738.
Other popular U.S. government agencies pay similarly high salaries, on average, and they also differ based on the field:
- National Institute of Health – $128,737
- Environmental Protection Agency – $132,836
- Veterans’ Health Administration – $107,537
- Drug Enforcement Administration – $130,632
- Consumer Product Safety Commission – $117,366
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention – $85,816
- Agricultural Research Serve – $111,551
Clinical pharmacologists, or the highly-trained professionals with both a doctorate and medical degrees, made the highest average pharmacologist salary, with numbers in the six figures in 2015. The lower 10% of all medical scientists, as reported by the BLS, earned salaries under $45, 120 per year while the highest 10% brought home $160, 520. Pharmaceutical companies tend to pay the highest wages while colleges and universities pay near the lowest.
Average salaries also differ based on the state you live in. The states that pay medical scientists the highest wages, according to the BLS, include:
- New Jersey – $145,340
- New Hampshire – $124,670
- Connecticut – $120,860
- Maryland – $113,730
- Delaware $110,510
- Pennsylvania – $110,210
- Oklahoma – $107,010
- Nevada – $104,630
- California – $104,070
Why STEM Jobs Are on the Rise
Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) jobs are on the rise, and the pharmacology professional falls under this category.
STEM fields are highly desired and growing at an increasingly fast rate, and those who take STEM jobs tend to advance in their field quicker than other job categories. In fact, according to Federal Pay.org, many people with a STEM job working within the federal government will receive a two-grade promotion each time.
Plus, over 2.4 million STEM jobs are expected to go unfilled because there simply aren’t enough people qualified enough to fill these job openings. Luckily, there are financial aid and scholarship opportunities you can find to help pay for your degree if you want to land one of these lucrative careers.
Similar Career Paths
Alternative career paths you can pursue that are similar to a pharmacologist may include becoming an epidemiologist, who studies the diseases and injuries in humans with a health-related focus. The job only requires a master’s degree to earn a good career, and you can boost public health.
You may also choose to become a biochemist, which is a scientist who specializes in studying the chemical characteristics found in living organisms. This role also works in a lab, conducts research, and writes research papers. You can earn an entry-level position with as little as a bachelor or master’s degree, however, doctorate degrees allow for higher roles in research positions like a pharmacologist.
Finding the right role for you can come down to your personal interests and what degree options are available at the university you choose. It’s important to make sure your school aligns with your career goals and aspirations to ensure you have the right curriculum and financial aid options available. Check out what the schools near you offer and try to find a career you’ll enjoy.