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The basics
Study abroad : Subject Guides

Why study Pharmacology abroad?

If you're interested in finding a career in the pharmaceutical industry, Pharmacology is for you - find out why

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Pharmacology comes from the Ancient Greek pharmakon, meaning drug: a substance which has an effect on the body when consumed. Put simply, Pharmacology is a field of science concerned with the interactions between living organisms and drugs, or the action of drugs on living organisms. To this end, it combines Biology, Chemistry and Physiology (the science concerned with the operation of the body), and there are even elements of fields including Psychology and Sociology involved.


Despite humans being aware of the existence of drugs – whether medications, remedies or poisons – for thousands of years, the systematic study of their effects on the body in the form of Pharmacology is a relatively recent endeavour, with the first Pharmacology department established in Germany in 1847.


Yet despite being a science that only has a formal history of 170 years, Pharmacology is an incredibly developed field, of central importance to the Pharmaceutical industry, one of the world’s largest and most profitable. Indeed, the contemporary Pharmaceutical industry can also trace their history back to the mid-nineteenth century. This makes Pharmacology an excellent choice for students hoping to graduate into a career in the Pharmaceutical industry.


It’s important here to make a distinction between Pharmacology and Pharmacy, or between being a Pharmacologist and a Pharmacist. While Pharmacology is the studies of the actions of drugs, Pharmacy is a professional field concerned with the dispensing of medicinal drugs; a pharmacologist studies the behaviour of drugs in the living body (which might lead to the development of new medicines), while a pharmacist distributes medicines. This confusion is complicated by the fact that Pharmacy is a common degree programme at many universities, and indeed a possible path of postgraduate study for Pharmacology students.


This video gives a very helpful overview of the differences between Pharmacology and Pharmacy:



What are the different areas of Pharmacology?


As with any other science, there are many different branches of pharmacology, here are just a few:

  • Toxicology: the science of poisons, their nature and effects on living organisms.
  • Neuropharmacology: the study of how drugs effect the nervous system.
  • Dental pharmacology: the study of the medicine used in treating dental cavaties
  • Pharmacokinetics: the study of the movement of drugs within the body.


As your studies progress, you will be able to focus on particular areas that interest you most.


How can Pharmacology get me a job in the Pharmaceutical industry?


The Pharmaceutical industry is one of the world’s biggest, famed for its profits: it’s global revenue is $1072bn, and global spending on medicine by 2020 is predicted to be as high as $1,470bn. The profits made by the Pharmaceutical industry have been the topic of criticism and debate, and understandably, after all if people need medicine to survive, is it fair that other people profit from it? However, while debates over the ethics of so-called ‘Big Pharma’ are necessary, they don’t change the fact that the drugs produced by the Pharmaceutical industry are important for the survival of humanity.


In the UK alone the Pharmaceutical industry employs around 73,000 people, and has a gross value added (GVA) ‘more than three times the national average’. In the USA, through both direct and indirect employment, the industry supports around 4.4 million people. Among the biggest Pharmaceutical companies in the world include GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, and Novartis, all of which operate in these regions. In some respects, the Pharmaceutical industry can also be seen as ‘recession-proof’ – people will always get sick and need medication, even at a time of economic downturn. This means jobs in the industry can be relatively stable and long-lasting.


However, despite the the size of the Pharmaceutical industry in North America and Western Europe, by 2010, healthcare spending in emerging markets had overtaken that of the Western Europe in total.


The growth of emerging markets presents a massive challenge to the pharmaceutical industry, but also an opportunity to a huge amount of growth – with spending on traditional Pharmaceuticals in emerging markets expected to grow by nearly 70% over the next five years. This offers an exciting opportunity to students of Pharmacology who study abroad, as one of the greatest issues faced by Pharmaceutical companies expanding into these emerging markets is marketing drugs in different cultural contexts. Students who have experienced different cultures throughout their studies will excel at being able to approach things with a more cosmopolitan and international outlook.


Where can I study Pharmacology?




You can begin your search for the right Pharmacology course for you here.

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