How do we know which pills will cure our headache? Or which drugs will quell the common cold or stamp out strep throat? And how do we ascertain which medications can be taken together and which combinations should be avoided at all costs? These questions are all the provenance of pharmacologists. If you’re fascinated by biology and the implications of (legal) drug use, then pharmacology could be a great major for you!
Not to be confused with pharmacy studies (which is concerned with the preparation, dispensing and use of medications), pharmacology is the study of chemical agents and how they react and interact with our bodies. As a pharmacology major, you will learn about the composition and effects of different drugs, how dosage is determined and which drugs are used for various treatments. Of course, you’ll gain a solid foundation in biology and chemistry and you’ll likely take classes in immunology, physiology, microbiology and psychology as well. And you can certainly anticipate a combination of classroom, laboratory and research work.
To be a successful pharmacology student, you’ll need stellar quantitative and analytical skills. It’s also extremely important to be detail-oriented and a strong problem solver. And you should be passionate about conducting research. Finally, it’s imperative that you’re able to pull off a lab coat with panache.
Nuts and Bolts
You’re certain to gain a strong foundation in pharmacology with classes such as: Chemistry of Drug Action, Toxicology Fundamentals, Calculus, Experimental Pharmacology, Principles of Pharmacology, General Chemistry, Advanced Pharmacology Laboratory, Organic Chemistry, Fundamentals of Biology: Molecular and Cellular Biology, Biochemistry, Fundamentals of Scientific Inquiry, Anatomy and Physiology, and Medicinal Chemistry.
A pharmacology student’s interest in drugs and the human body might also lead him/her to study biology, biochemistry, chemistry, neuroscience, pre-pharmacy, public health, pre-medicine, pre-dentistry, pre-veterinary studies, physician’s assistant, nursing or chemical engineering.
Pharmacology majors will be delighted to discover that they’ll likely have a myriad of career opportunities upon graduation. To begin with, graduate study is quite common for those with sights set on this field and many majors pursue PhDs. Additionally, a large number attend medical, dental, nursing or pharmacy school, ultimately establishing fulfilling careers in the medical field. Law school is another popular option and many majors use their scientific background to work in medical patent law. Of course, grad school isn’t the only option. Indeed, many majors also directly enter into the pharmaceuticals industry, working as research scientists and biochemists. A handful also land positions in marketing and sales. Lastly, biotechnology, toxicology and education are all popular fields for pharmacology majors as well.