Pharmaceutical is a board field and many students while choosing this to build a career often don’t know that it has several branches. Each branch or specialization requires specific education and training. So before choosing any speciality of the field, be prepared and do your research to have a clear understanding about different (confusing) concepts. You surely don’t want to shoot in the blind.
Pharmacy and pharmacology are amongst many career options that are often confused with each other. Even though these two terms sound very similar, the duties and responsibilities associated with them vary significantly. In order to help students make the right decision, we will be highlighting the difference between these two professions and discussing the prerequisites for enrolling in both the programs.
Pharmacy vs. pharmacology
The basic difference between these two fields is that a pharmacist is entrusted with dispensing the drugs accurately whereas a pharmacologist is responsible for developing them. Just like medical billing services and medical coding services are two different but connected fields, same is the case with pharmacy and pharmacology.
Basically, a pharmacist is the person you interact with upon entering any pharmacy; be it an independent drug store, a national chain, or a separate unit within a hospital/clinic building. Pharmacists are responsible for preparing the correct mix of medication as per the instructions on the prescription. They are also responsible for handing over the physician-recommended drugs to their customers in a careful manner. It is a part of their duty to ensure that wrong medicine or dosage is not delivered to anyone.
Furthermore, they are responsible for educating customers about the proper use of medication being dispensed. This involves specifying how many times in a day, and at what intervals, it should be taken. Also, they have to clearly communicate to the customer if use of any other drug along with the one prescribed can prove to be harmful to their health. Pharmacists must warn the purchasers about the side effects that may follow the use of a particular medicine and brief them in advance about the action plan to be followed if one of the prescribed doses is missed.
Naturally, pharmacists must possess in-depth knowledge about the human body and its immune system along with an understanding of disease management. Their job is not easy and there is no room for mistakes.
Contrary to what is commonly assumed by most people, pharmacologist is not another name for a pharmacist. In fact, a pharmacologist does not even work at a pharmacy. The job of a pharmacologist is more research-based. Pharmacologists are scientists who strive to find out what would be the impact of a certain drug on the human body. Their workplace is a laboratory where they try to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of different drugs. They help prepare and discover new medicines by investigating how certain drugs may combat various diseases. They conduct experiments to find out what would be the safe dosage of a particular drug, and how it would react if administered along with other drugs. Thus, pharmacologists are the ones who determine what food products or medicines should be avoided when following a particular prescription.
A pharmacologist must possess an understanding of disease processes and drug mechanisms, an in-depth knowledge of biochemistry, and awareness of the latest techniques and processes being used for testing drugs and diagnosing diseases.
To sum up the differences, it would be appropriate to say that pharmacy vs. pharmacology is analogous to product distribution vs. product development. Consequently, a pharmacist would need excellent people’s skills because the job requires interacting with customers on a daily basis. On the other hand, a pharmacologist’s interaction will be limited to fellow colleagues and laboratory staff but his/her job demands excellent research skills and the patience associated with waiting for the results.
Qualifications required for each profession
Just like the responsibilities associated with each role, the qualifications required for pursuing both these career paths are also different.
In order to be officially eligible for starting practice as a pharmacist, one must obtain a Pharm.D or doctorate in pharmacy which is a professional post-graduate degree. However, it must be kept in mind that this qualification requires an investment of almost 4 years. Prerequisite to getting admitted in any Pharm.D program is an undergraduate degree of at least 2 years.
Additionally, completion of a residency or internship may be required following the Pharm.D. The duration for this is usually 1-2 years. This is subject to the rules/demands of the school issuing the degree.
Those wishing to pursue a career in pharmacology must make up their mind a few years in advance. Reason being that prior to obtaining specialized degrees relevant to the profession, the individuals will need to develop a thorough understanding of the basics of chemistry, biology and toxicology. Hence, a strong academic background in these subjects followed by bachelor’s and doctorate degrees in pharmacology will be required to become a pharmacologist.
Even though the relevant qualification is absolutely essential, completing the degrees alone does not give the individuals a right to start practicing as professionals. In order to do so, both pharmacists and pharmacologists need to obtain a license. Obtaining the license for both these professions requires taking two exams; one of which focuses on testing the applicant’s knowledge regarding the specific subject whereas the second assesses his/her awareness of industry laws.
Which profession to choose?
This is a difficult question to answer because the responsibilities associated with each role are very different. Therefore, it depends on the interest and preference of an individual which of the two s/he chooses. Though, it is a fact that a career in pharmacy promises greater job stability because numerous drug stores are present in every large city and small town of the country. However, the idea of on-going interaction and customer care activities may not appeal to those who are more interested in careful observation, scientific study, and research.
Pharmacology is a much-needed profession for the development of new medicines and testing of drugs before they can be deemed fit for human consumption. Therefore, it is greatly respected. The only challenge a pharmacologist may have to face when finding job opportunities is having to relocate to areas where laboratories and research-oriented pharmaceutical companies are present.
If the dilemma of pharmacy vs. pharmacology has left you confused with respect to making a career choice, we would recommend doing your own research regarding the remuneration, benefits, opportunity cost, and job availability in your preferred location. It may also be helpful to seek guidance from a person who is already working in the industry as s/he may be able to provide a detailed overview of the pros and cons which may help you make the right choice.
To conclude, you must gather all the necessary information before enrolling in a degree to ensure you do not rush into making a decision that does not align with your preferences.