Career Paths


Biological Research

Physiologists, Pharmacologists and Toxicologists perform experiments to determine the way drugs interact with various living systems, and to define the mechanism involved in producing those interactions. Some of this work is carried out using experimental animals such as rats and mice. Usually organs, tissues or cells derived from such animals are used although some studies are done with humans.

Some of this experimental work is directed at exploring the way a chemical compound causes its biological effect and in defining the way related compounds behave. Other work involves using the known effects of drugs and chemicals to help in determining the physiological, biochemical or immunological function of various tissues and organs under normal or pathological conditions.

Pharmacologists and toxicologists sometimes function independently, while others are part of multi-disciplinary teams which may include synthetic chemists, cell and molecular biologists, and experts in other related disciplines. Most of this type of experimental work is carried out in universities or research institutes. Those pharmacologists and toxicologists who work in universities are usually also involved in teaching aspects of pharmacology to undergraduate students as well as to medical, dental, pharmacy, nursing and graduate students.

Industrial Research

Some pharmacologists and toxicologists work in the pharmaceutical industry. Much of the research carried out in industry is similar to that referred to above with the additional goal of discovering therapeutically useful molecules that are safe. It is more usual for research pharmacologists and toxicologists in industry to function as part of multi-disciplinary teams, which focus on a particular disease or organ system.

Additional work involves measurement of the biological activity of drug preparations in order to ensure effectiveness and the standardization of such measurements. Screening the activities of families of chemical compounds for biological activity in various systems is also an important aspect of the industrial pharmacologist's work, and characterizing the toxicological properties of candidate drugs is the work of industrial toxicologists.

Human Pharmacology

Pharmacologists who study the therapeutic and toxic actions of drugs in humans are referred to as clinical pharmacologists. These individuals are usually, although not always, physicians who have specialized training in the use of drugs and combinations of drugs in the treatment of disease processes.

Clinical pharmacologists are also concerned with the correct routes of administration of drugs, with assessing their side-effects, with monitoring their levels in patients and with preventing or treating overdoses as well as the consequences of interactions with other drugs. Clinical pharmacologists are also involved in the final stages of new drug development in which trials are carried out in patients and normal volunteers. The necessity of working with patients makes the possession of a medical qualification necessary.

Non-medically trained clinical pharmacologists work in collaboration with clinically trained colleagues in hospitals and pharmaceutical companies and perform necessary laboratory work as well as organizing clinical trials of new drugs.


Some pharmacologists and toxicologists are involved in the administration of the body of laws and regulations relating to the development and use of drugs. They may work in the pharmaceutical industry to ensure that all necessary steps are followed in the testing of a new drug prior to its use in humans.

Alternatively, they may work for government (mostly federal) to help examine the new drug submissions of pharmaceutical companies for compliance with the regulations. Pharmacologists and toxicologists also serve as consultants and expert witnesses.