Pharmacologist? Pharmacist? If there is a word “pharma” it must be related to medicines, right? Perhaps you are a student looking for a program for admission, an ordinary person confused by concepts, or just someone who wants to increase their general knowledge. Today, we interviewed a professional pharmacologist to shed some light on this confusing and yet not so confusing and exciting job.
Beth is a clinical pharmacologist at AstraZeneca, multinational pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company that focuses on the discovery, development, and commercialization of prescription medicines. AstraZeneca operates in over 100 countries with over 70 thousand employees worldwide. Its medicines are used by millions of patients. Beth holds a MS in Pharmacology and Toxicology from the University of Minnesota and is currently working on her PhD.
“Could you describe your job in one word?”
(smiles, then starts laughing) “Drugs? I mean, I’m kidding. It is the word though. Maybe science as well.”
“We’ve asked some people on the street what they know about your job, and what’s a pharmacologist. I’m going to read some of that to you, and see how you react, okay?”
“Sure. I pretty much know what they’re going to say anyway.”
“Want to try to guess the most popular one?”
“I guess that’d be something like ‘that guy in the drugstore.’”
“Some people said that. Some were serious. Some said they know that pharmacists and pharmacologists are different things, but admitted they hardly realize what you do.”
(smiles) “I know people know it’s different. I’m grateful for that.”
“You face that a lot?”
“Not a lot. But sometimes.” (laughs) “I even almost started dating one who said that.”
“Okay, so let’s clear it out once and for all. What’s the difference between a pharmacologist and a pharmacist?”
“Basically, a pharmacist is a person who runs a pharmacy. An independent one or in a hospital, doesn’t matter. That’s a different degree, different qualification. Pharmacists ensure prescription safety and make sure people get the right medicine and the right amount of it. A pharmacologist is a doctor, a chemist, a scientist. We study how the drugs pharmacists sell affect people.”
Beth’s responsibilities as any pharmacologist’s may vary a lot. According to her, the job of a clinical pharmacologist provides a lot of room for freedom, and depending on a company, your job can be totally different here and there. Together we tried to compile a list of possible responsibilities a pharmacologist may face.
- Create and test new pharmaceutical products. Chemistry is an integral part of being a pharmacologist. They analyze the interactions of drugs with other medicine and the human body. A pharmacologist conducts tests to ensure a new drug is safe to use and that they fit the regulatory standards and procedures.
- Analyze and interpret data of other scientists. The work includes a lot of communication with other pharmacologists, chemists, toxicologists. A pharmacologist works closely and shares expertise and research findings with associated staff and team members.
- Analyze the behavior of the substances and drug elements. Before a medicine ends up the way we know it, every part of it has to be thoroughly researched. Drugs and components may be tested on cells or through clinical trials on animals and consenting humans. Every project must be done according to regulatory measures.
- Oversee and manage the work of team members and associated staff. As in any other job, a leading pharmacologist has to manage the team and ensure the proper communication processes within.
- Reports, documentation, and publication. Beth says that writing reports takes a decent amount of her time. Pharmacologists keep the records of every research, write down every finding, make presentations, and publish the results of their work.
- Staying up to date with government standards and regulations.
- Clinical pharmacology. Specialists involved in working with governmental structures and hospitals may include a totally different part of the job. Clinical part of the job might mean being involved in drug and therapeutics committees. Pharmacologists influence the decisions which drugs a hospital uses and why and visit the patients.
“What do pharmacologists study?”
“You mean like college courses?”
“Apart from the general ones, there can be a lot of things. Medicine, Chemistry, Biology, Physiology, Microbiology, Immunology, Neuroscience, Anesthesiology, Molecular Virology and Biology, Obstetrics, Gynecology. There’s much. It’s just what came to mind.”
“How much do pharmacologists earn?”
“You don’t need to tell yours. Just average.”
“It really depends. I don’t know. A fine pharmacologist can earn around $100k I guess.”
Pharmacologists must have a BS degree and preferably a graduate degree in Pharmacology, Pharmaceutical Sciences, Chemistry, or any other related field as well. PhD and a high-research value can lead even to higher salaries. Together with Beth we tried to put together the list of skills and requirements needed to be a successful pharmacologist.
- Background in math or IT
- Good analytical skills
- Problem-solving, and critical-thinking skills
- Being open to new information
- Knowledge of lab equipment
“What makes a good pharmacologist?”
“What makes a good anyone? What makes a good journalist?”
(smile) “I’m not a journalist.”
“I know. But still.”
“Gut, intuition, persistence, charm.”
“See, you said gut, intuition. You sort of intuitively know how to do your job. You should feel it’s yours. That’s what I always tell my students. If you take the course and don’t feel that’s you or don’t see yourself in it, maybe you should consider changing a major.”
“We’ve asked medical and pharmacology students how they imagine their workday. I’ll read the answers, and you tell us how close to reality they are like with the previous ones.”
“Jay, a junior at Wright State University. We’ve asked him what’s that he thinks he’s going to do all day and what his responsibilities will be. Here’s the answer, ‘I know exactly what I’m gonna do. At first, it’ll be days in some lab. Cells, tissues, that sort of things. Analyze someone’s research, conduct tests, help with it, write tons of papers probably. Individual research later on.”
(shrugs) “Yeah, that’s pretty much it. Can be different depending on the job, but that sounds pretty much real.”
Beth says it’s hard to describe a typical pharmacologists day. She wakes up early, at 7 a.m. but what happens next depends on the stage of the project she’s working on. One day she may be recruiting patients to her study or spend the whole day in a lab. One day she can be writing reports, reviews, reading books or conducting a lecture at a local university.
As Beth is currently working on her PhD she spends a lot of time in the lab working on her own project. She digs through big data and analyzes studies that can be applied to her work. It takes at least 4 hrs. of her day but does not affect her main job duties.
“What makes pharmacology so versatile as you say?”
“Well, imagine the amount of diseases there are. Let’s take COVID for example.”
“By the way, about COVID, how do pharmacologists work during the quarantine?”
“You cannot take the whole lab home, but you surely can do the paperwork at home per se. Safety measures apart from that.”
“I see, sorry for interrupting. So COVID…”
“Right. It changed it all for us. I mean not the work conditions, but it requires some new treatment, and basically every pharma company is interested in getting it first. Just imagine the amount of money. So, what I’m saying is that every case is unique and requires its own approach. This is one part. Secondly, we’re talking not only drug tests. For one pharmacologist your illness can be a drug test. For another one it’s drug safety or a personal research or recruiting patients, I don’t know. That’s the thing. And even if you work for one company your entire life your whole job can be different every year. Not entirely, the base is the same but still.”
Today Beth spends her day at the lab. She cannot disclose what she’s working on , but she laughs when I ask if that means sitting at her lab table alone the whole day. Beth claims that the lab may look a bit emptier than it looked but still her work involves a lot of teamwork and collaboration. Technicians, scientists, chemists all work together to achieve the common goal.
(laughs) “And even if I am the only one here some night, I still got a lot of cells and algae around.”
It’s around 4 p.m. for Beth when we finish the interview, and soon she’ll have to go to prepare for the lecture she’s doing tomorrow in the local university. I’d lie if I said that all her attention was on me during the interview. Spending only a tiny bit of personal resources on a friendly interviewer, she seemed distant and focused on some more important issues.
“How much do you work?”
“It’s really hard to tell. One day I can be done in five hours and another day sit here for fourteen.”
“But in general, on average?”
“I’d say like everyone. 40-45 hours.”
“Got any final words for our readers?”
“Yeah. Don’t go for pharmacology for the money. To any Medical field actually. If you don’t like or don’t need it, there are plenty of ways to earn more.”
Today with Beth’s help we tried to make the job of a pharmacologist at least a bit clearer. Not the drug store owners but true scientists they are our vanguard at the fight with illnesses. A diversified job for people with an aspiration for the greater good and discoveries, true wanderers and magicians in the world of medicine.