Research and Development

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Clerical or OrganisingAnalytic or ScientificSkill Level 5Skill Level 6

Pharmacologists evaluate the origin, effects and mechanisms of drugs, and research and test current and new drugs for human and animal use. Pharmacologists research, develop and test drugs (any chemicals that affects the body's functioning) and their effects on biological systems. They are primarily involved in finding new safe and effective medicines, though they may also test the safety of products such as pesticides, cosmetics and food additives. Future Growth Strong

Once drugs have been administered, pharmacologists monitor test subjects, either humans or animals, to determine the drug's effectiveness and to check for side-effects. They are also interested in determining how drugs travel through a biological system, whether they have the potential to breakdown and form toxic chemicals and how long they remain in the system and in what concentration.

ANZSCO ID: 234522


  • Clinical Pharmacologist - a specialist physician involved in direct patient care. They typically manage patients with multiple medical problems, who are often prescribed multiple medications that may or may not be compatible with each other.

  • Non-clinical Pharmacologist - specialises in research and experimental studies for the discovery and development of drugs for diseases. This job's future growth is stable Future Growth Static

Knowledge, skills and attributes

To become a pharmacologist, you would need:

  • an aptitude for science, maths, and statistics
  • an enquiring mind
  • the ability to analyse and interpret large amounts of data
  • able to think logically and analytically
  • able to carry out detailed and accurate work
  • good IT skills
  • a creative and innovative approach
  • good communication skills
  • able to think creatively and good problem solving skills
  • accuracy and attention to detail
  • able to work as part of a team

(Source: Wisegeek)

Duties and Tasks

As a pharmacologist, you would:

  • discover, develop and evaluate substances for use in the treatment of disease
  • design, set up and carry out controlled experiments
  • modify the chemical structure of an effective substance to eliminate undesirable side effects
  • devise and carry out experiments to determine how drug concentrations in the body change over time
  • test newly discovered or manufactured substances for their safety, characteristics and possible use as drugs
  • study what happens to a drug after it has been administered
  • investigate drugs for unwanted or dangerous side effects and, if found, establish why they occur
  • collect, analyse and interpret data using complex equipment and measuring systems
  • testing drugs on cells in laboratories, and through clinical trials on humans
  • write reports and make recommendations based on the results of experiments and research
  • use the results of research to develop new products and manufacturing processes
  • aim to understand unwanted or harmful effects of drugs so they can be used effectively and safely
  • study other substances that affect living organisms, such as pollutants, poisons and insecticides
  • oversee tests of manufactured drugs and medicines, ensuring quality control and securing approval for their use
  • liaise with national and international regulatory authorities
  • write scientific reports on research and investigations, as well as more general information for scientific, managerial, political and general audiences
  • provide policy and clinical advice to managers, politicians, primary producers, healthcare workers and the general public
  • share the results of your findings and work by publishing papers and attending conferences.


Did You Know?


There are different names given to the same drug depending on their stage of development:

1. Research & Development Stage Name

2. International non-proprietary name (INN)
An INN is granted by the World Health Organisation (WHO), who coordinates drug naming worldwide to avoid confusion and create scientific uniformity. In research literature and at conferences, while a commercial name may be mentioned, it is the INN that is used throughout papers and presentations.

3. Commercial Name

(Source: ShareCafe)


Working conditions

Pharmacologists usually work in laboratories at universities, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, factories or in some government departments. Work is often carried out in a sterile and controlled environment, to avoid contamination and to ensure that any effects can be attributed to the drug and not an external factor. Research into new drugs often involves the use of animals, which must follow strict ethical guidelines. Pharmacologists must keep detailed records of all their work to demonstrate that research and testing has been thorough and to ensure that results can be replicated. In a laboratory, protective clothing would be worn.

You would spend much of your time in a laboratory, but you may also travel to carry out fieldwork or attend scientific meetings and conferences.

As a full-time pharmacologist, you will usually work a standard number of hours per week, Monday to Friday. You might also need to be involved in experiments or clinical trials that mean working longer hours. If you are based in a university or work as a researcher in industry, you would regularly work extra hours.

Tools and technologies

Pharmacologists use a range of sophisticated medical and laboratory equipment to collect and analyse samples from test subjects. They may examine blood, urine and tissue samples to determine a drug's effectiveness in treating a disease and to monitor its movement through the body. Pharmacologists may be required to wear protective clothing, including gloves, masks, safety glasses, lab coats and hair nets, both to maintain a sterile work environment and to protect themselves from potentially harmful chemicals. They will also be required to write regular reports on the progress of their research and maintain a current knowledge of scientific developments.

Education and training/entrance requirements

To become a non-clinical pharmacologist you need to complete a degree in science with a major in pharmacology. You may also be able to study a closely related field such as biomedical science or biochemistry.

To become a pharmacologist you usually have to complete a degree in biomedical science, medical science, pharmaceutical science or science at university, with a major in pharmacology. To get into these courses you usually need to gain your senior secondary school certificate or equivalent. English, mathematics, biology, chemistry, earth and environmental science, and physics would be appropriate subjects to study prior to university.

To be accredited to practise as a Clinical Pharmacologist in Australia or New Zealand, you must complete the Clinical Pharmacology Advanced Training Program to become a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians (FRACP).


Pharmacologists are employed across several industries, including the pharmaceutical industry, scientific research, post-school education, government and private sector organisations (including research organisations), hospitals and other health services.

Demand is linked to factors such as the need for medicines, the market for pharmaceutical products and levels of government funding for research.

Employment of pharmacologists is projected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations.

An increased reliance on pharmaceuticals, greater affluence that allows for more spending on medicine — along with a larger and aging population - and a greater understanding of biological processes, are all factors that are expected to increase demand for pharmacologists.


Did You Know?

A pharmacology career gives you an important role in the pharmaceutical industry—helping to ensure medications are both safe and effective to use. You may decide to conduct research in vitro (using just cells or body tissues) or in vivo (using whole animals). And in the pharmacology field, you can choose to specialize in any of the following areas:

Neuropharmacology (impacting the nervous system)

Cardiovascular pharmacology (impacting the heart and circulatory system)

In vivo pharmacology (impacting the whole body)

Psychopharmacology (impacting the mind and human behavi

Veterinary pharmacology (developing medications to treat animals)

Pharmacologist in lab

(Source: Medprostaffing)





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