Pharmacologists research the effects that chemicals have on living organisms and figure out how and why we could use them as drugs. They might use their knowledge and discoveries to place their findings in a social context – working within a hospital or in connection to the government and other regulatory bodies. Or they might stick to the lab, drawing connections between (bio)chemistry, physiology, neuroscience, and medicine. To work in pharmacology is to improve and even save the lives of humans and animals. It can be very rewarding work. But it is also an area of high responsibility, with multiple economic, social, and legal pressures to juggle. Here’s a close-up look at six reasons you might choose to study pharmacology.

1. It’s an innovative and exciting field

There will always be something new to discover in pharmacology. This is the field that pushes healthcare forward, driven by our fundamental need to reduce suffering and extend the length and quality of our lives.

But while pharmacologists may be pioneers, they do not work in a vacuum. Advances in pharmacology are themselves driven by discoveries in other science fields, as we learn more about the world and build better tools for research and production. For example, great leaps in genetic profiling over recent decades are fueling a new future of bespoke diagnoses and treatments.

At the testing stage, simultaneous testing of different body systems within the same subject is now possible. More accurate data collection, modeling, and analysis are helping pharmacologists to create safer, more effective pharmaceuticals, faster.

Beyond developing new pharmaceuticals, innovative researchers are also investigating the effects of environmental pollutants and using drugs to probe cell and organ functions – all under the umbrella of pharmacology.

2. You will be making a difference in people’s lives

Good health is arguably the single-most-important factor to quality of life. Health is also one of society's big class divides, with poorer people suffering worse health and paying more for pharmaceuticals. But pharmacology has the potential to treat or prevent disease, reduce the hazardous effects of pesticides, and to discover and distribute information to help people (and animals) lead longer, better lives.

The most vulnerable people in our society are also those most at risk of medication problems. Seniors and pregnant women take more medication and are more likely to suffer harm or reduced effects when their drugs interfere with each other. Medicines for children have been seen to lack adequate testing and labeling. Different ethnic groups can also respond differently to particular medications, which is problematic if they have been excluded from the testing process. 

Smart, responsible, and driven scientists can improve the lives of these people (and everybody else). Good pharmacology leads to a sum reduction of pain, suffering, and the economic woe that comes with sickness even in many developed countries.

3. There’s significant diversity within the field

If you already have a BSc in another scientific field, there’s a pretty good chance it is relevant to further study in pharmacology. And if you are interested in a particular area of health or physiology, again, there is a niche for you in pharmacology. 

For example, behavioral pharmacologists look at how drugs affect behavior and how behavior can influence the effects of drugs. Biochemical pharmacologists look at how the chemicals in medicines operate on the level of biosynthetic pathways.

You can specialize in pharmacology related to just about any organ or body system, to key illnesses and treatments, and on the ways pharmacology is applied in a clinical setting. You can work on the relationship between genes and pharmacology, or research the efficacy and function of ‘traditional’ medicines and cures. Pharmacology is, in short, an endlessly fascinating field.

4. You’ll get to work alone and as part of a team 

There’s a place for you in pharmacology, whatever level of human interaction you prefer to have each day. Pharmacists are available to see customers and colleagues around the clock in a variety of settings from the home to the clinic. Researchers work as part of a team. They may spend different degrees of their time alone in the lab or collaborating, sharing ideas, and advising colleagues and clients.

If you have a favorite way to work, you’ll be able to find a good balance somewhere in the wide world of pharmacology – and be able to meet plenty of fascinating people along the way.

5. You’ll enjoy many career opportunities and job security, too

When you're qualified to work in pharmacology, your opportunities are boundless. Jobs are plentiful in a wide variety of settings and niches. The job security factor is high, as people will always need drugs and push for better, more affordable medicines.

With a master's in pharmacology, you might:

  • Work in a pharmacy or hospital

  • continue to research or teach in academia

  • research, consult, or project-manage in the industry

  • become a policy advisor or analyst, do regulatory work, or specialize in public affairs and public relations for the government

  • work as a patent lawyer or technology transfer specialist

  • project manage, advise, or issue grants while working for a non-profit foundation

  • write or edit books and articles about pharmacology.

With so many scientific areas in which to specialize, your pharmacology career could be long and varied or deep and focused.

6. The perfect pharmacology program is out there

The Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences at University of California, Irvine offers a two-year Master of Science in Pharmacology (MSP) program – and it’s all done online. This means working professionals can get the skills they need without relocating or quitting their current job. 

The MSP program produces expert, rounded pharmacologists who are ready to adapt to the demands of the sector as they carve out a rewarding career for themselves. You’ll learn the fundamental principles of pharmacology, how drugs function, and what is happening in drug discovery today (and tomorrow!). Vitally, you will discover not just the facts and skills of pharmacology, but ways to think critically about your work and your industry.

The curriculum begins with a fundamental Principles of Pharmacology module and leads on through courses that cover the way drugs work, research techniques, and analysis. An entire module is dedicated to ethics in scientific research. And the program also includes individual courses on a number of specialist areas, such as Behavioral Pharmacology, Neuropharmacology, and Endocrine, Respiratory and Gastrointestinal Pharmacology. Throughout these classes, and in a dedicated module called Special Topics in Pharmacology, the emphasis is on recent discoveries and future trends.

The pharmacology faculty are recognized for their research and papers around the world. Between them, they boast several drug-related patents in connection with their discoveries, and they have valuable experience as founders and employees of pharmaceutical companies. They retain close ties with local and international industry.

The school itself, University of California, Irvine (UCI), is the 9th-ranked public university in the USA, according to the U.S. News & World Report. Three UCI researchers (including two chemists) have won Nobel Prizes, and the school is known for its research into stem cells, global warming, and the fight against breast cancer. The student population is ethnically and economically diverse, and UCI has won accolades for its eco-friendly measures. 

Wherever you are in the world, you are welcome to apply to the MSP program at UCI. Flexible learning makes it simple to keep your current life on track while you expand the potential of your future opportunities.

The field of pharmacology is rich in opportunities, and the Two-Year Online Master of Science in Pharmacology program can help you lay the groundwork for an exciting and rewarding healthcare career…

Article written in association with University of California, Irvine