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Summary of occupation

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. 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 description: Pharmacologists research, develop and test  drugs and their effects on biological systems.
Alternative names:
Specialisations: Clinical Pharmacologist, Non-Clinical Pharmacologist
Job prospects: Average
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Knowledge, skills and attributes

A pharmacologist needs:

  • to work methodically with a close attention to details
  • the ability to analyse and solve problems
  • good communication skills
  • a high level of perseverance and patience
  • the ability to work as part of a team
  • to enjoy and have an aptitude for science and research
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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. They usually work standard business hours, however evening and weekend work may be required, particularly when working to a deadline.

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Salary details

On average, non-clinical pharmacologists, classified under life scientists, can expect to earn between $1 500 and $1 999 per week ($78 000 and $103 999 per year), depending on the organisation they work for, and their level of experience. As a non-clinical pharmacologist develops their skills, their earning potential will generally increase.

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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.

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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.

Most universities in Western Australia offer relevant courses. Contact the universities that you are interested in for more information.

Related courses

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Apprenticeships and traineeships

As an apprentice or trainee, you enter into a formal training contract with an employer. You spend most of your time working and learning practical skills on the job and you spend some time undertaking structured training with a registered training provider of your choice. They will assess your skills and when you are competent in all areas, you will be awarded a nationally recognised qualification.

If you are still at school you can access an apprenticeship through your school. You generally start your school based apprenticeship by attending school three days a week, spending one day at a registered training organisation and one day at work. Talk to your school's VET Co-ordinator to start your training now through VET in Schools. If you get a full-time apprenticeship you can apply to leave school before reaching the school leaving age.

If you are no longer at school you can apply for an apprenticeship or traineeship and get paid while you learn and work.

Related apprenticeships

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Recognition of prior learning

If you think you already have some of the skills or competencies, obtained either through non-formal or informal learning, you may be able to gain credit through recognition of prior learning.

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