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.


  • 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

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


Baldwin College, Bimaks College of Business and Health Sciences, College of Intergrated Healthcare, Garden City University College, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology, Makerere University, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University, University for Development Studies, University of Cape Coast, University of Health and Allied Science, University of Johannesburg, University of Nairobi, University of Pretoria, University of Stellenbosch


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