Pharmacologists study the effect that drugs and others substances have on organs, tissues and the bodily functions of humans and animals, in other words, they undertake scientific investigation and analysis of drugs, chemicals and other substances to discover how they affect biological systems, and to assess how they can be used safely.

Pharmacologists work as part of a scientific research team that is responsible for screening compounds, drug development and undertaking controlled experiments and clinical trials in laboratories.  Specific responsibilities include designing experiments, devising and testing hypotheses and analysing and interpreting data (often using sophisticated computer applications). Other tasks are studying relevant literature and collaborating with and sharing expertise and research findings with associated staff.

Their experiments include establishing the effect drugs have on individual cells; determining how drugs are taken up by the body; how drug concentrations change in the body over a period of time; and testing the safety, activity and possible use of newly discovered or manufactured substances. Other activities of pharmacologists may include the supervision of laboratory technicians and students, the preparation of reports and papers for publication, and teaching students in lecture halls. 

Pharmacologists commonly specialise in a particular field of research, such as toxicology, neuroscience or pharmacokinetics. Some specialise in drugs that relate to specific parts of the human body - neuro- pharmacologists focus on drugs related to the nervous system and cardiovascular pharmacologists specialise in drugs that effect the cardiovascular or circulatory systems. Endocrine pharmacologists study drug effects on hormonal balances.

Pharmacologists are sometimes asked to work with coroners, pathologists or other people involved in solving causes of death.

Important skills for pharmacologists are to have a logical and inquisitive mind, excellent written and oral communication skills, good team-working abilities, accuracy and attention to detail and good analytical skills.

Personal Requirements

  • ethical and honest
  • scientific aptitude
  • keen observation skills
  • very responsible, accurate and methodical
  • logical approach to problem-solving
  • emotionally balanced

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Science
Recommended subjects: Life Sciences

  • Pass matric with a Bachelor's pass
  • Meet the admission requirements (APS) set by the university
  • All applications for admission to MBChB and Medical degrees are subject to selection.
  • Due to the limited number of spaces available, only a small percentage of applicants are admitted.

What to Study

Degree: MBChB - UP, UCT, UFS, UKZN, US, UL, Wits. 

Degree: BSc or related medical qualification.

Specialisation in Pharmacology

To specialise in this area, a number of years of post-graduate study will be required.

There are two routes to a specialization in Pharmacology – MMed (Pharmacology) and MSc (Pharmacology).   Both are post-graduate qualifications and are related to the degree already held by the applicant.

Consult the HPCSA website for the most up-to-date information relating to this area of specialization. This information can be found in the various sections under the Professional Board for Medical and Dental (and medical science) professionals.

Refer to the medical faculty of the relevant university for additional information.


  • pharmaceutical manufacturers
  • hospitals and clinics
  • government departments
  • provincial administrations
  • Department of Health
  • research institutes
  • universities and laboratories
  • self-employment, with enough experience and capital, can start own business, such as manufacturing pharmaceutical products

Further Information

Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA)
(553) of Hamilton and
Madiba Streets,
Arcadia, Pretoria
Tel: (012) 338-9300

South African Pharmacy Council
591 Belvedere Street 
Arcadia Pretoria
Tel: 086 172 7200

Pharmaceutical Society of South Africa
435 Flinders Lane
Tel: (012) 470-9550

Getting Started

  • try to obtain vacation or part-time work in a pharmacy, hospital, nursing home or health care facility or research institute
  • arrange to speak to pharmacologists about this type of career and ask to observe them at work

Programmes by Study Institutions


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