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Pharmacology or Pharmacy: Which is the Best Choice to Study?
Do you have a passion for finding out about health and the way the human body functions? If so, you might want to consider pursuing a pharmacology or pharmacy degree at university (Mansell, 2011). But which do you choose? There are pros and cons to both options, and a number of different factors to take into account when making your decision.
Before choosing which subject to opt for, it is important to understand what each one entails. Those embarking upon a pharmacy degree learn the practice and theory behind using medical drugs. The discipline includes a diverse variety of aspects of drug use and preparation, from prescribing medication to discovering new medicines. Pharmacology is the study of the underlying actions of drugs, whether they be medicines, illegal narcotics, or toxins. It focuses upon anything that alters the manner in which the body usually functions (Mansell, 2011). Pharmacy centres on the clinically relevant elements of pharmacology (Gerry, 2011),
Both courses start off with studies that focus upon a more generalised scientific understanding. Pharmacy courses embrace human physiology, microbiology and biochemistry, whereas the initial year of pharmacology degrees focuses upon physiology, microbiology and biochemistry. The beginning of a pharmacology degree can also feature introductions to computer skills and statistics (Mansell, 2011).
One of the main advantages of studying pharmacy is that doing so usually provides clear path to a job in a high-street chemist or hospital (The Guardian, 2012). The range of occupations that a pharmacology degree can lead to is less specific. The obvious career choice is in industry, working in quality checking or as a lab assistant. If these options aren’t appealing, pharmacology graduates can train to become a teacher or undertake further research (The Guardian, 2012). However, a PhD is generally needed in order to attain a pharmacological research position, which means that this option typically requires additional study (Mansell, 2011).
Pharmacy degrees are vocationally-oriented, and geared towards providing students with the skills that it takes to work in pharmacy, whereas pharmacology degrees are not focussed on a single occupation. Those undertaking a pharmacy degree may be required to participate in role-play scenarios in which they simulate the responsibilities of pharmacists (Mansell, 2011). However, that is not to say that pharmacology courses do not equip participants with relevant vocational experiences, as they often provide them with the option of undergoing a year’s placement within the pharmaceutical industry (Mansell, 2011).
In terms of employment opportunities, there are low unemployment rates amongst pharmacists (The Guardian, 2012), and they also tend to have a higher earning potential than pharmacology graduates. Pharmacy graduates can expect to earn between £21,140 and £43,592 per annum (PayScale, 2017a), whereas pharmacology graduates only typically earn a salary of between £18,121 and £38,649 (PayScale, 2017b). The average pharmacist makes £24,528 a year (PayScale, 2017c), with highly experienced pharmacists making up to £83,000. Occupations such as lab assistant and quality checker that are available with a pharmacology degree usually yield lower rates of pay. Lab assistants earn between £15,000 and £40,000 (Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, 2016a), and quality checkers usually earn between £23,000 and £50,000 (Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services, 2016b). Pharmacological researcher jobs earn considerably more. Researchers typically earn a starting wage of between £25,000 and £28,000, and can make up to £80,000 (Education and Skills Funding Agency, 2016).
In addition to differences in earnings and employment options, another major difference between pharmacology and pharmacy degrees is the amount of therapeutics that is included in the curricula. Therapeutics constitutes a significant proportion of the pharmacy curriculum (Gibbs, 2010), whereas it only comprises a small amount of the pharmacology course. This means that the former is more useful if the student intends to continue on to study medicine at graduate level.
There are also differences in the length of the courses. Pharmacy is not available to take as a BSc and therefore has to be studied as a Master’s Degree, whereas pharmacology can be studied as a three-year BSc (Mansell, 2011). Theoretically, this enables pharmacology graduates to enter the job market earlier than pharmacy graduates. However, it is questionable as to whether or not it provides them with a significant advantage given the fact that pharmacy degrees lead to a clearer career path.
Pharmacy and pharmacology are relatively similar in terms of the acceptance requirements for the courses. A-levels in at least two sciences including chemistry are needed for both degrees. The grades that are required to study them at the more popular universities fall within the AAB-ABB range (Mansell, 2011). However, pharmacy students typically require a criminal record check, whereas this is not deemed necessary in order to take a pharmacology degree. This means that pharmacology might be more suitable for those whose record isn’t entirely squeaky clean (Mansell, 2011). However, it is notable that many of the jobs that are attainable with a pharmacology degree might still require a clean criminal record, so anyone who has been on the wrong side of the law may want to think twice before applying to study either of these courses.
It is arguable that pharmacology graduates have an advantage over pharmacy graduates in that pharmacists are required to apply for a license in order to practice. This license needs to be renewed annually (General Pharmaceutical Council, 2017). There is no such requirement for the jobs that are made available by a pharmacology degree. Pharmacy graduates need to engage in a full year of pre-registration training before they can work as pharmacists. They also need to successfully pass the Registration Exam (Gerry, 2011).
So which course should you opt for? That essentially depends upon your own personal set of motivations, strengths, and desires for your career. It also hinges upon your tolerance of uncertainty, as pharmacy leads to a specific career whereas pharmacology leaves it more open. It is advisable to thoroughly research the precise requirements and consequences of taking both of these degrees before making your final decision in order to be as informed as possible prior to starting your course.
Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (2016b). Quality manager. Retrieved from https://www.prospects.ac.uk/job-profiles/quality-manager
Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (2016a). Scientific laboratory technician. Retrieved from https://www.prospects.ac.uk/job%2dprofiles/scientific%2dlaboratory%2dtechnician
Cooper, C. (2015, 17 March). Plan would see pharmacists take control of a GP practice’s medicine stocks. The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health%2dand%2dfamilies/health%2dnews/hidden%2darmy%2dof%2dpharmacists%2dcould%2dsolve%2dlack%2dof-gps-crisis-10112111.html
Education and Skills Funding Agency (2016). Pharmacologist. Retrieved from https://nationalcareersservice.direct.gov.uk/job-profiles/pharmacologist
General Pharmaceutical Council (2017). Looking for a pharmacist. Retrieved from https://www.pharmacyregulation.org/registers/pharmacist
Gerry, M. (2011, 12 September). Pharmacy and pharmacology. Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/student/into-university/az-degrees/pharmacy-and-pharmacology-2353500.html
Gibbs, M. (2010). The contribution of the clinical pharmacist in palliative care. In G. Hanks, N. Cherny, N. Christakis, M. Fallon, S. Kaasa & R. Portenoy (eds.), Oxford Textbook of Palliative Medicine (pp. 265-276). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
The Guardian. Pharmacy and Pharmacology. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/education/2008/may/01/universityguide.pharmacyandpharmacology
Mansell, W. (2011, 14 July). Pharmacy and pharmacology degree course guide. The Telegraph. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/degree%2dcourses/8618586/Pharmacy-and-pharmacology-degree-course-guide.html
PayScale (2017b). Bachelor of Science (BS / BSc), Pharmacology Degree average salary. Retrieved from https://www.payscale.com/research/UK/Degree=Bachelor_of_Science_(BS_%2F_BSc)%2C_Pharmacology/Salary
PayScale (2017a). Master of Science (BS / BSc), Pharmacy Degree average salary. Retrieved from https://www.payscale.com/research/UK/Degree=Master_of_Science_(MS)%2C_Pharmacy/Salary