Pharmacology brings together physiology, biology and chemistry, typically in research centers, universities and labs. Pharmacologists conduct research and develop drugs for drug companies, government organizations and private foundations. Pharmacologists and pharmacists, while quite different, both have a goal of providing information and safe medications to patients.

What Is Pharmacology?

Clinical pharmacology is the science of drugs and their clinical applications. Pharmacologists narrow the divide between research and hands-on medical practice by promoting safe medications, optimizing a medication's impact on the consumer and identifying side effects. Pharmacology is the science of how drugs affect the body and its systems. Generally, pharmacists use the information gleaned by pharmacologists to assess and provide the best medications for their patients' needs, symptoms, and conditions.

Reasons to See a Pharmacologist

It's not typical to see a pharmacologist in a hospital or drugstore. They are usually working behind the scenes, in labs and research facilities to evaluate the impact chemical agents (medications) have on the body. If you are in a clinical trial, you may meet with a pharmacologist seeking to determine the efficacy and safety of various drugs. It is more likely that you would routinely see a pharmacist to obtain prescriptions and get further information about the medications you take.

If you do meet with a pharmacology provider face-to-face, make sure to bring a current and accurate list of all your medications, over-the-counter drugs, herbal supplements and vitamins to the appointment. Information is power, so bring copies of any medical records and a thorough health history.

What Does a Pharmacologist Do?

Pharmacologists do many things, including research studies and experiments to determine the effectiveness of drugs. This could entail trials, focus groups, and laboratory science. Pharmacologists may specialize in a particular area, such as toxicology, chemotherapy, or veterinary science.

Pharmacists, on the other hand, work in various settings and institutions, and they discuss, dispense and counsel consumers on prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Some places you can find a pharmacist include:

  • Community clinics
  • Hospitals
  • Grocery stores
  • Mental health facilities
  • College campuses
  • Drugstores
  • Long-term care facilities such as nursing homes
  • Veterans' administration facilities
  • Armed services
  • Managed-care facilities

How Is a Pharmacologist Certified?

To be a pharmacologist, you need a doctoral degree in pharmacology. Many graduates then complete 2-4 years of postdoctoral research. There is no particular license needed to be a pharmacologist, though it requires a graduate degree in a rigorous curriculum. Conversely, the pharmacist at your favorite drugstore, the area hospital or at a community clinic must have state licensure, generally granted post-graduation through a comprehensive examination and application process.

Referral and Research

If you plan on meeting with a pharmacologist to discuss medication issues or join a clinical trial, a referral from your primary care provider or another specialist doctor will help expedite your appointment. You may never need to meet with a pharmacologist, though their services are evident and ingrained in the medications and information provided to you. Pharmacists are more accessible and able to answer pertinent questions about a number of medications and often offer free consults with patients and customers. You can check out online reviews and patient feedback for pharmacologists and pharmacists in your area. 

Questions Pharmacologists Attempt to Answer

Pharmacologists provide the information to the pharmacists so they can best guide and serve the consumer. Pharmacologists are constantly testing new and old drugs alike to ensure maximum efficacy, minimize side effects, and to preemptively answer common questions about drugs, for example, by creating the information pamphlets and instructions that come along with all prescribed and over-the counter medications. 

Here are some of the primary questions that pharmacologists attempt to answer through their research into medications: 

  • How safe is the drug?
  • What are the side effects of the drug?
  • How should the patient store the medication?
  • What is the correct dosing of the medication?
  • What, if any, are the potential interactions presented by the drug?

The valuable insight that a pharmacist provides when filling or refilling your prescription medication is due to the pharmacology behind it. Pharmacologists work to fully understand all aspects of these drugs. The questions pharmacologists attempt to answer related to these drugs are the same questions that you should ask the pharmacist when you obtain your medication.

The science of pharmacology goes into every medication that you take. Before those medications ever reach the pharmacy or the patient, pharmacologists are testing, researching, and retesting these drugs to ensure their safety and efficacy. While pharmacologists and pharmacists have two very different, distinctive roles, they also have some similarities, including an interest in chemical agents, and how they affect those taking them.