Pharmacology is the science that underpins how medicines drugs work in health and disease and how they are processed by our bodies.
What is Medical Pharmacology?
Pharmacology has been identified as a critical undergraduate degree required to develop new medicines, improve current therapies and to treat patients.
Our Pharmacology degree will cover a broad range of topics that underpin medicine including; toxicology, personalised medicine, drug development, genetics, physiology, immunology & neuroscience.
What skills do you need to be a Pharmacologist?
The key skill for pharmacologists is a genuine interest in understanding how things go wrong in disease and how we can use drugs and develop new drugs in an attempt to correct it.
Pharmacologists have an understanding of chemistry and biology, are able to communicate their work effectively in both verbal and written mediums to a variety of audiences, and able to work independently and as part of a wider research/clinical team.
What do Pharmacologists do?
Pharmacologists study the effect of drugs on living things, and the effect living things and their environment have on those drugs. Our three employability strands, as part of our Medical Pharmacology will enable you to develop the skills and understanding of drugs and their use and give you access to a range of exciting careers that Pharmacologists do:
- Train as clinicians - by following our Pathway to Medicine and moving on to Graduate Entry Medicine you can use your knowledge of how drugs work to give the right drug to the right patient at the right time
- Research new drugs or improve how we use current medications
- Develop new technologies and innovations to improve patient therapies
Additional roles include careers in academia, pharmaceutical industry or drug regulation.
Want to find out more information about Pharmacology? Watch this video from the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics.
What is the difference between Pharmacy and Pharmacology?
Pharmacy and Pharmacology are two distinct disciplines – with similar goals of ensuring medicines are safe and effective for patients.
Pharmacology is the biomedical discipline concerned with the development of drugs and the study of the effects they have on the function of living organisms. Pharmacology today has a number of subfamilies including but not limited to:
- Cancer pharmacology
Pharmacology is integral within many biomedical disciplines. You can find pharmacology present everywhere. In medicine cabinets, when you visit the dentists and when you take any type of medication. Pharmacologists may have specialised understanding on the impact of drugs on the body of living organism within certain therapeutic areas; such as cardiovascular pharmacology or gastrointestinal pharmacology. They may work as part of a multidisciplinary team including pharmacists in the drug design and development process. They may also be involved in research related to how drugs work and how they affect the body. Pharmacologists help improve current therapies as well as discover and develop new medicines for use in healthcare.
Pharmacy, on the other hand, is the vocational biomedical discipline that involves aspects of pharmacology, pharmaceutics, pharmaceutical chemistry, biochemistry, human physiology, pharmacy practice, clinical pharmacy.
Historically, pharmacy was seen as the science of preparing, preserving, compounding, and dispensing medicines. However, Pharmacy today involves drug discovery, design and development. It is a registered profession that has shifted from the dispensing of medicines to medicines’ management and the management of patients with complex needs. Pharmacists help develop and improve the use of current and new medicines in healthcare.
Pharmacists are expert in medicines, they are able to evaluate the clinical appropriateness of prescribed medicines, review and monitor patients, and signpost appropriately to ensure patient safety. Pharmacists today are involved in the development and utilisation of personalised medicines, CAR-T therapies and vaccines.
The study of pharmacy is like having a global passport degree, which enables you to work in community, hospital, industry, general practice (GP) academia, research, care home, regulatory affairs, prison, veterinary and military pharmacy. Many pharmacists today are independent prescribers and key members of multidisciplinary teams ensuring the provision of a seamless care.
What careers could be open to me when I graduate?
Our Student Stories
"I chose Swansea University mainly because of their pathways to medicine, which would give me another chance to get on a graduate entry medicine course. I had also been to Swansea before and really enjoyed my time in the city and at the beach. The staff were so nice, helpful and ready to answer any questions I had."
Find out more about Rose's Student Story
Through our three employability strands, Medical Pharmacology will give you access to a range of exciting careers, including academia, industrial research, pharmaceuticals, patent law, medical writing and the food and beverage industries.
Is Pharmacology a good career?
Pharmacologists focus on developing treatments and drugs to treat disease. This career is varied and offers a breadth of opportunities around the UK and world in sectors such as academia and the pharmaceutical industry. Pharmacology is a very varied career, allowing you to investigate the effects of drugs at a genetic and molecular level all the way up to the effects of drugs on patients.
Training in pharmacology opens the door to careers in cancer research, cardiovascular pharmacology, neuropharmacology, veterinary pharmacology and clinical medicine.
What is the starting salary for a Pharmacologist?
For a research career, pharmacologists may undertake a PhD. The national minimum doctoral stipend for 2020/2021 is £15,285.
Careers within academia or industry have a starting salary of around £35,000 following completion of a PhD. Salaries in industry are often higher than academia but a pharmacologist with a PhD will likely earn more than without a PhD.
Senior level pharmacologists can expect to earn >£65,000.
*Income figures are indicative and given as a guide only.
Is a Pharmacologist a Doctor?
Pharmacologists do not directly treat patients. Instead, pharmacologists develop the medicines used by clinicians to treat patients. Pharmacologists work to find new mechanisms to treat disease and develop those medicines from lab bench to bedside.
An Undergraduate Pharmacology degree will equip you with skills in how drugs effect the body and how the body effects the drug, which can help prepare you for a career in clinical medicine. Some clinicians even specialise as Clinical Pharmacologists.
Recommended Reading List
The Anatomy Coloring Book by Wynn Kapit and Lawrence M. Elson
Best-selling human anatomy colouring book! A useful tool for anyone with an interest in learning anatomical structures, this concisely written text features precise, extraordinary hand-drawn figures that were crafted especially for easy colouring and interactive study. Organized according to body systems, each of the 162 two-page spreads featured in this book includes an ingenious colour-key system where anatomical terminology is linked to detailed illustrations of the structures of the body. When you colour to learn with The Anatomy Coloring Book, you make visual associations with key terminology, and assimilate information while engaging in kinesthetic learning. Studying anatomy is made easy and fun!
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
This is an accessible and essential read for all scientists and clinicians which looks at the story behind Henrietta Lacks and her cancer which would give rise to the first immortal human cell line, which became a multi-million dollar industry, and one of the most important tools in medical history. This text highlights who really owns our body and the pathway to scientific discovery.
The Beautiful Cure: The New Science of Human Health by Daniel M Davis.
This thrilling book charts the ground-breaking scientific quest to understand how it fights disease and enables the body to heal itself. It explains how the body is affected by stress, sleep, age and our state of mind, and reveals how all of this knowledge is now unlocking a revolutionary approach to medicine and well-being. The Beautiful Cure tells a dramatic story of detective work and discovery, of puzzles solved and of the mysteries that remain, and of lives sacrificed and saved.
Bad Science by Ben Goldacre
This eye-opening book looks at the MMR hoax and misleading cosmetics ads, acupuncture and homeopathy, vitamins and mankind’s vexed relationship with all manner of ‘toxins’. Along the way, the self-confessed ‘Johnny Ball cum Witchfinder General’ performs a successful detox on a Barbie doll, sees his dead cat become a certified nutritionist and probes the supposed medical qualifications of ‘Dr’ Gillian McKeith. Ben Goldacre takes us on a hilarious, invigorating and ultimately alarming journey through the bad science we are fed daily by hacks and quacks.
The Drugs Don't Work: A Global Threat by Professor Dame Sally Davies
Written in an informal style for wider debate beyond scientists, this short book provides a brief history of the rise of antimicrobials, from Fleming's chance discovery through the work of Chain and Florey in Oxford to the production of penicillin and other medicines against infectious disease, before discussing current and future difficulties. Resistance to antibiotics is the new inconvenient truth. If we don't act now, we risk the health of our parents, children and grandchildren.
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
The Selfish Gene is a classic exposition of evolutionary thought. Professor Dawkins articulates a gene's eye view of evolution - a view giving centre stage to these persistent units of information, and in which organisms can be seen as vehicles for their replication. This imaginative, powerful, and stylistically brilliant work not only brought the insights of Neo-Darwinism to a wide audience, but galvanized the biology community, generating much debate and stimulating whole new areas of research. Forty years later, its insights remain as relevant today as on the day it was published.
Oxygen: The molecule that made the world by Nick Lane
The strange and profound effects that oxygen has had on the evolution of life pose a riddle, which this book sets out to answer. Oxygen takes the reader on an enthralling journey, as gripping as a thriller, as it unravels the unexpected ways in which oxygen spurred the evolution of life and death. The book explains far more than the size of ancient insects: it shows how oxygen underpins the origin of biological complexity, the birth of photosynthesis, the sudden evolution of animals, the need for two sexes, the accelerated ageing of cloned animals like Dolly the sheep, and the surprisingly long lives of bats and birds. This remarkable book might just redefine the way we think about the world.
Darwin's Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution by Michael Behe
Ten years ago, Darwin's Black Box launched the Intelligent Design movement: the argument that nature exhibits evidence of design, beyond Darwinian randomness. Darwin's Black Box has established itself as the key text in the intelligent design movement, the one argument that must be addressed in order to determine whether Darwinian evolution is sufficient to explain life as we know it, or not.
The Epigenetics Revolution by Nessa Carey
This book traces the thrilling path this discipline has taken over the last twenty years. Biologist Nessa Carey deftly explains such diverse phenomena as how queen bees and ants control their colonies, why tortoiseshell cats are always female, why some plants need a period of cold before they can flower, why we age, develop disease and become addicted to drugs, and much more. Most excitingly, Carey reveals the amazing possibilities for humankind that epigenetics offers for us all - and in the surprisingly near future.
Ten Drugs: How Plants, Powders, and Pills Have Shaped the History of Medicine by Thomas Hager
Behind every landmark drug is a story. It could be an oddball researcher’s genius insight, a catalyzing moment in geopolitical history, a new breakthrough technology, or an unexpected but welcome side effect discovered during clinical trials. Piece together these stories, as Thomas Hager does in this remarkable, century-spanning history, and you can trace the evolution of our culture and the practice of medicine. Beginning with opium, the “joy plant,” which has been used for 10,000 years, Hager tells a captivating story of medicine. His subjects include the largely forgotten female pioneer who introduced smallpox inoculation to Britain, the infamous knockout drops, the first antibiotic, which saved countless lives, the first antipsychotic, which helped empty public mental hospitals, statins, and the new frontier of monoclonal antibodies.
The Drug Discovery and Development Cycle: A concise overview of the key steps from concept by Kabir Hussain
The pharmaceutical drug discovery and development cycle is long and complex. This book provides a concise overview of the whole process and offers insights into working in the pharmaceutical industry. It is ideal for individuals who are thinking about a career in this industry, as well as those who want to gain a general understanding of pharmaceutical drug discovery and development.
The Nature of Drugs: History, Pharmacology, and Social Impact by Alexander Shulgin
The Nature of Drugs presents Sasha Shulgin’s popular San Francisco State University course on what drugs are, how they work, how they are processed by the body, and how they affect our society. The course also delves into social issues and reactions involving drugs, and discussions of governmental attempts at controlling them and features Sasha's engaging lecture style peppered with illuminating anecdotes and amusing asides.
Club Drugs and Novel Psychoactive Substances: The Clinician's Handbook by Owen Bowden-Jones and Dima Abdulrahim
Over the last decade many hundreds of new psychoactive drugs have emerged onto illicit markets. This flood of new drugs has led to clinicians being unsure of the rapidly emerging changing evidence base and uncertain of the best approaches to assessment and clinical management. This book provides a concise, accessible summary of these emerging drugs. Written for clinicians from across the frontline, from A&E staff to drug treatment professionals, the authors draw on numerous clinical examples from their own clinical experiences to illustrate aspects of assessment and management. Club drugs and novel psychoactive substances will continue to challenge clinicians and this handbook provides readers with an invaluable introduction to this complex area.
Napoleon's Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History by Penny Le Couteur, Jay Burreson
Though many factors have been proposed to explain the failure of Napoleon's 1812 Russian campaign, it has also been linked to something as small as a tin button, the kind that fastened everything from the greatcoats of Napoleon's officers to the trousers of his foot soldiers. When temperatures drop below 56°F, tin crumbles into powder. Were the soldiers of the Grande Armée fatally weakened by cold because the buttons of their uniforms fell apart? These molecules provided the impetus for early exploration and made possible the ensuing voyages of discovery. They resulted in grand feats of engineering and spurred advances in medicine; lie behind changes in gender roles, in law, and in the environment; and have determined what we today eat, drink, and wear.
Bad Pharma: How Medicine is Broken, and How We Can Fix It by Ben Goldacre.
An excellent addition to the ‘Bad Science’ text by Ben Goldacre, this text takes a look at the pharmaceutical industry and examines some of the flaws in the system. This is an essential read for anyone interest in the drug-discovery process and for those interested in the use of medicines within the clinic.
The Drug Users Bible: Harm Reduction, Risk Mitigation, Personal Safety by Dominic Milton Trott.
In this book, Dominic self-administered over 150 psychoactive substances, both chemical and plants, and documented the effects. This is a unique look into drugs of abuse from a human ‘guinea pig’ experiment and highlights the importance of understanding drugs of abuse and their potential use in aspects of medical science.
Pathways to Medicine makes a great 5th choice for your UCAS Application giving you the opportunity to secure a guaranteed interview for our Medicine Programme by the time you graduate.Learn More - Pathways to Medicine
What is it like studying Medical Pharmacology?
During your studies you will focus on one of three Employability Strands: Medical Science Research, Medical Science Enterprise and Innovation, and Medical Science in Practice (our Pathway to Medicine). By tailoring your studies, you can work towards the career you want and make your final year research project really count.
Watch this video by the British Pharmacological Society on 'Studying Pharmacology at University'.
Explore Your Course Options ...
Find out more information about each of our courses. On the course page you will find information on modules, entry requirements, teaching staff, tuition fees and how our Pathways to Medicine work.