Pharmacist vs. Pharmacologist: What Is the Difference?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated December 2, 2022 | Published September 7, 2021

Updated December 2, 2022

Published September 7, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

For those who wish to work in the medical industry and have a passion for studying chemical compounds and the human body, a career as a pharmacist or pharmacologist might be an excellent option. Both careers are academically engaging and allow you to make important contributions to the health care field. Learning about the differences between these professions can help you choose which career to pursue. In this article, we describe what a pharmacist vs. pharmacologist is, and compare the similarities and differences between these two professions to help you decide which career is right for you.

Related: 25 Top Health Care Jobs in Canada

What is a pharmacist?

A pharmacist works at a commercial pharmacy or hospital to dispense medications to clients and patients. They communicate between clients, medical professionals, and insurance representatives to ensure customers get the medications they need and know how to use them safely. In addition to distributing medications, pharmacists can help their clients by administering vaccines, educating them about their prescriptions, and advising them on using over-the-counter medications. Some pharmacists can perform health and wellness screenings and work as managers who oversee pharmacy employees.

Some other responsibilities of pharmacists include:

  • Using electronic databases to store, process, and maintain patient records

  • Monitoring patient compliance with prescriptions to help identify and prevent medication misuse

  • Educating patients on how to use medications safely

  • Managing pharmacy inventory and overseeing other pharmacy employees

Related: What Does a Pharmacist Do? (With Salaries and FAQs)

What is a pharmacologist?

A pharmacologist is a medical scientist who researches pharmaceuticals and their effects on the human body. They typically work in laboratories or other research facilities to conduct experiments and study the efficacy of certain chemical compounds. For example, a pharmacologist might study a new chemical compound to determine whether it's effective for treating a certain medical condition. Another pharmacologist might specialize in studying the long-term side effects of a compound and work to minimize these effects. Some other responsibilities of pharmacologists include:

  • Conducting clinical trials for new medications

  • Creating new research methods for studying chemical compounds

  • Reviewing research from other scientists for accuracy

  • Develop safety standards for dosages and medication use

Related: How to Become a Pharmacologist in 6 Steps

Pharmacist vs. pharmacologist

Here are some key similarities and differences between these professions:

Educational requirements

Pharmacists and pharmacologists have similar requirements for training and education. Both careers require a Doctor of Pharmacy degree. Students looking for a career in the pharmaceutical industry can either begin their pharmacy education at the undergraduate level or as a postgraduate degree. For students looking to start pharmacy school as undergraduates, you need to complete two years of undergraduate education before becoming eligible for admission. Taking courses in chemistry, biology, and physics at the undergraduate level can help prepare you for advanced classes in these subjects.

If you've already completed a bachelor's degree, you can apply to a pharmacy program at the postgraduate level. These programs take four years on average to complete, and graduates earn a Doctor of Pharmacy degree after finishing their studies. After graduating, students in most provinces take the national board examination to qualify to work.

Related: How To Become a Pharmacist

Training requirements

Graduates who have completed their education and passed their exam need additional practical experience in their field of choice. The training requirements for pharmacists and pharmacologists are similar, but those in these fields learn different skills depending on their area of study. Pharmacists and pharmacologists need at least one year of practical training through an internship or apprenticeship. Pharmacists complete their internship in a pharmacy, being supervised by an experienced pharmacist. A pharmacologist is more likely to complete their internship by working in a laboratory environment as a research assistant.

These training requirements help emerging professionals gain the skills they need to work independently in the industry. Completing a training period is also an excellent opportunity to network with those already working in your industry. When you develop good working relationships with established professionals, they may offer advice on your career path and help you in your job search.

Related: Definitive Guide To Internships

Work environment

The work environments of pharmacists and pharmacologists differ. Many pharmacists work in patient-serving establishments that include:

  • Hospitals

  • Retail pharmacies

  • Specialty clinics

Depending on the environment, pharmacists can work various schedules. For example, those who work in hospitals or 24-hour pharmacies might work nights, weekends, and holidays to accommodate their clients. Hospital pharmacists often work in a fast-paced setting and collaborate with other health care professionals like doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators.

By comparison, pharmacologists often work in laboratories and private or public research facilities. They might work as consultants for the government or pharmaceutical manufacturers. Pharmacologists employed in these settings are more likely to work standard business hours.

Specialties

Pharmacists and pharmacologists practice in different areas of specialty. Pharmacists can specialize in many fields, including:

  • Ambulatory care pharmacy: These pharmacists work with independent, mobile patients in community settings.

  • Cardiology pharmacy: This kind of pharmacist focuses on cardiac disease prevention and treatment.

  • Compounded sterile preparations pharmacy: These are pharmacists who ensure that the processes of drug preparation, storage, transportation, and administration adhere to all safety and environmental regulations.

  • Critical care pharmacy: These pharmacists work with critically ill and injured patients to assess urgent needs and offer specialized treatment plans.

  • Geriatric pharmacy: These pharmacists treat older adults in care settings, such as assisted living facilities and long-term care centres.

  • Infectious disease pharmacy: Pharmacists who specialize in infectious disease pharmacy study and recommend antimicrobial drugs and treatments.

  • Nuclear pharmacy: These pharmacists use radioactive drugs to diagnose and treat patients.

Pharmacologists may choose to specialize in the following fields:

  • Toxicology: Toxicology pharmacologists specialize in studying the characteristics and effects of poisons.

  • Biotechnology: Pharmacologists can specialize in the study of biological processes to aid in developing treatments such as antibiotics.

  • Medicinal chemistry: This kind of pharmacologist specializes in creating medicines through research and the application of chemistry.

  • Drug delivery systems: Systems pharmacologists specialize in where and how the body uses chemical compounds.

  • Molecular cell biology: Pharmacologists may also focus on the study of the molecular interactions between cell components, such as DNA, RNA, and proteins and how drugs may affect these processes.

  • Biometrics: These pharmacologists study unique identifying characteristics (biometrics) and how these features can create safer, more controlled systems and processes in the pharmaceutical industry.

  • Pathophysiology: These pharmacologists focus on the specific processes of diseases in the body and how drugs affect these processes.

Typical responsibilities

Pharmacists and pharmacologists have different daily responsibilities. A pharmacist spends more time working with clients and other pharmacy employees than pharmacologists do. Pharmacologists might work as part of a research team, but they rarely interact directly with patients. While a pharmacist may spend most of their day answering patient questions, communicating between patients and their doctors, filling prescriptions, and managing pharmacy inventories, pharmacologists spend most of their time conducting lab work. They design new studies, use lab equipment to test medications, collect and analyze data, and report their findings.

Related: 15 Careers in Pharmacy (With Job Duties and Salaries)

Skills

Pharmacists and pharmacologists use similar skills in their work. Some skills that these professionals use include:

Critical thinking

Critical thinking is the ability to gather, assess, and use information to solve problems. As scientists and health care practitioners, pharmacists and pharmacologists both use critical thinking skills to assess problems and devise solutions. Pharmacists use critical thinking when patients make requests or ask questions to help them resolve challenges. A pharmacologist uses these skills to design effective experiments, ask important scientific questions, and respond to problems that arise during a study.

Data analysis

Professionals in both these careers collect and analyze data. Pharmacists collect information from their patients and use it to give them the right amount of medication with the correct dosage. When pharmacologists conduct research, they gather and analyze data as evidence to support or refute a hypothesis.

Communication

Communication is another important skill for both careers. A pharmacist uses their communication skills when educating patients, consulting with physicians, and interacting with members of their pharmacy team. Communication is important for pharmacologists who work as part of a research team, consult with clients, or present their research at conferences. Pharmacologists also use written communication skills to publish academic articles based on their studies.

Related: Communication Skills: Definitions and Examples

Attention to detail

Paying careful attention to detail can help pharmacists and pharmacologists produce accurate work and ensure the safety of those who depend on them. Pharmacists need to be accurate with the medications they dispense so that patients get the right amount to treat their health conditions. When pharmacologists conduct research, attention to detail allows them to assess the evidence they collect and come to well-reasoned conclusions.

Average salary

The average salary for pharmacists is $101,304 per year, while the average salary for pharmacologists is $59,470 per year. Salary averages can vary by your geographic location, setting of employment, level of education, and years of experience. For example, a pharmacologist with many years of experience who owns a private research firm may earn a higher average salary than a newly graduated pharmacologist working as a clinical researcher in a community hospital.

Read more: What Is the Average Salary for Pharmacists in Canada?

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organization and a candidate's experience, academic background, and location.

Explore more articles