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Pharmacologist

Pharmacologists are biomedical scientists who research the mechanisms underlying the effects of drugs and chemicals on living systems. They use this knowledge to help design and evaluate drugs to prevent and treat disease.

Also Known As

Biological Scientist, Medical Scientist, Research Scientist

NOC Codes

In Canada, the federal government groups and organizes occupations based on a National Occupational Classification (NOC) system. This alis occupation may not reflect the entire NOC group it is part of. Data for the NOC group can apply across multiple occupations.

The NOC system is updated every 5 years to reflect changes in the labour market. Government forms and labour market data may group and refer to an occupation differently, depending on the system used. Here is how this occupation has been classified over time:

  • 2006 NOC: Microbiologists and Cell and Molecular Biologists (2121.2) 
  • 2006 NOC-S: Biologists and Related Scientists (C021) 
  • 2011 NOC: Biologists and related scientists (2121) 
  • 2016 NOC: Biologists and related scientists (2121) 
Interests & Abilities

In Alberta, this occupation is part of 1 or more 2006 National Occupational Classification (NOC) groups. If there are multiple related NOC groups, select a NOC heading to learn about each one.

Microbiologists and Cell and Molecular Biologists

2006 NOC: 2121.2

Interest Codes

Interest Codes for This NOC Group
INNOVATIVE

Interest in synthesizing information to study the effects and control of human, plant and animal pathogens and toxins

OBJECTIVE

Interest in precision working with instruments to conduct clinical and laboratory studies to test, evaluate and screen drugs and pharmaceuticals, and to conduct molecular and biochemical studies and experiments into genetic expression, gene manipulation and recombinant DNA technology

DIRECTIVE

Interest in consulting to advise on issues related to the development of new practices and products at the cellular and molecular level; may supervise biological technologists and technicians and other scientists

Your Interest Codes

To identify or change your interest codes, complete the Interests Exercise in CAREERinsite.

Reading Interest Codes
A Quick Guide

The interest code helps you figure out if you’d like to work in a particular occupation. 

It’s based on the Canadian Work Preference Inventory (CWPI), which measures 5 occupational interests: Directive, Innovative, Methodical, Objective, and Social.

Each set of 3 interest codes for this NOC group is listed in order of importance.

A code in capital letters means it’s a strong fit for the occupation.

A code in all lowercase letters means the fit is weaker.

Learn About Interests

Abilities

Typical ability expectations for this NOC group
Your abilities

To fill in or change the values for your abilities, complete the Abilities Exercise in CAREERinsite.

Mental Abilities

General Learning Ability

Verbal Ability

Numerical Ability

Visual Abilities

Spatial Perception

Form Perception

Clerical Perception

Physical Abilities

Motor Coordination

Finger Dexterity

Manual Dexterity

Understanding Abilities

A Quick Guide

You are born with abilities that help you process certain types of information and turn it into action. These abilities influence which skills you can learn more easily.

The abilities or aptitudes shown for this NOC group come from the General Aptitude Test Battery (GATB). The GATB measures 9 aptitudes. It groups them into 3 categories: mental, visual, and physical.

The abilities scores range from 1 to 5, with 5 being stronger.

Learn About Abilities

Duties
Updated Mar 31, 2020

A pharmacologist’s duties and responsibilities vary from one position to another. In general, pharmacologists conduct basic, clinical, or translational research. They work in laboratories in universities, hospitals, research institutions, or the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. They:

  • Take part in training physicians, pharmacists, dentists, future pharmacologists, and other health-care professionals in post-secondary institutions
  • Conduct basic, clinical, or translational research in laboratories in academia, hospitals, or commercial organizations
  • Help to evaluate and market drugs and related products for the pharmaceutical industry
  • Provide expert opinions to health-care professionals, lawmakers, law enforcement, and the public on emerging drug use issues, such as opioid abuse and cannabis legislation
  • Provide expertise to government agencies in detecting, regulating, and licensing drugs and related products

Pharmacology is multidisciplinary, combining principles from biomedical and other sciences. For example, it may incorporate principles from physiology, biochemistry, molecular and cell biology, pathology, microbiology, chemistry, nutrition, and psychiatry. Pharmacologists develop and evaluate drugs to treat a wide range of conditions. Conditions can include bacterial or viral infections or psychiatric, neurological, endocrinological, or cardiovascular diseases. Pharmacologists also may use drugs and chemicals as tools to help research physiological and pathophysiological processes. Increasingly, biopharmaceuticals produced by genetic engineering are being used as new therapeutic agents.

Pharmacologists may specialize in one or more of the following areas:

  • Pharmacodynamics - the study of the mechanisms of drug action. This may involve experiments to learn how drugs affect biological processes in purified proteins or cellular organelles (such as mitochondria), and in isolated cells or organs and whole organisms, including humans. Examples may include studying gene regulation, structure and function of proteins, cell biology, or tissue and organ responses to physiological and pathological stimuli.
  • Pharmacogenomics - the study of how genetic variations affect drug responses. This research pursues the hope that drug therapy (the choice of drug and its dosage) can be tailored to the genotype of each patient (an example of personalized medicine).
  • Pharmacokinetics and drug metabolism - the study of the time-dependent processes of absorption, distribution, biotransformation, and elimination of drugs in animals and humans, and how these vary between individuals. The goal is to develop dosage regimens that maximize therapeutic benefit, minimize unwanted side effects, and circumvent drug resistance.
  • Toxicology - the study of noxious substances, including their mechanisms of action, as well as the detection and treatment of the adverse effects of drugs. For related information, see the Toxicologist occupational profile.

Basic pharmacologists study drug and chemical responses in biological systems using in vitro cell and tissue models, and sometimes experimental animals.

Clinical pharmacologists usually are physicians who specialize in the study of therapeutic and pharmacokinetic (movement of drugs within the body) properties of drugs in humans. For more information, see the Family Physician occupational profile.

Working Conditions
Updated Mar 31, 2020
  • Strength Required Lift up to 5 kg

Junior pharmacologists usually work in research laboratories. Senior or more experienced scientists spend more time planning and analyzing experiments, writing reports or manuscripts for publication, and applying for funding. Overtime may be needed to complete projects on time. Travel may be required to attend scientific workshops or present research findings at conferences.

Traits & Skills
Updated Mar 31, 2020

Pharmacologists need:

  • An inquiring mind
  • Critical-thinking, organizational, and communication skills
  • Perseverance and patience

They should enjoy synthesizing information to solve problems and develop innovative solutions. This may involve working in teams with other basic and clinical scientists, applying a range of analytical techniques, and using sophisticated instrumentation.

In Alberta, this occupation is part of 1 or more 2016 National Occupational Classification (NOC) groups. If there are multiple related NOC groups, select a NOC heading to learn about each one.

Top 10 Skills Employers Are Looking For

Biologists and related scientists

2016 NOC: 2121

This chart shows which job skills are currently in highest demand for this occupational group. It was created using this occupation's 11 most recent Alberta job postings, collected between Oct 29, 2021 and Nov 03, 2022.

Review these skills to learn:

  • Whether or not this occupation matches your skill set
  • What training you may need to get these skills
  • What skills to highlight in your resumé, cover letter, and interview.
Personal Suitability: Team player
Teleworking Information: Remote work available
Personal Suitability: Effective interpersonal skills
Personal Suitability: Excellent oral communication
Personal Suitability: Excellent written communication
Personal Suitability: Client focus
Business Equipment and Computer Applications: MS Excel
Business Equipment and Computer Applications: MS PowerPoint
Business Equipment and Computer Applications: MS Word
Business Equipment and Computer Applications: MS Outlook
Educational Requirements
Updated Mar 31, 2020
  • Minimum Education 6 years post-secondary

A bachelor of science (B.Sc.) degree in pharmacology or a related biomedical science is required to work in a technical job. Because pharmacology involves the use of principles from many biomedical sciences, there is more than one possible education route. Pharmacologists may train initially in medicine, pharmacy, molecular biology, biochemistry, or physiology before specializing in pharmacology.

A bachelor’s degree may help in pursuing a career as a representative for a pharmaceutical company. For more information, see the Technical Sales Representative profile. Pharmacologists who have a master of science (M.Sc.) degree may work as technologists or research associates. Those who wish to work as independent investigators in academia or industry most often require a doctoral (PhD) degree. After obtaining this, pharmacologists generally go on for two or more years as post-doctoral fellows. This improves their ability to compete for research and teaching positions in universities.


To expand or narrow your search for programs related to this occupation, visit Post-Secondary Programs.

Completing a program does not guarantee entrance into an occupation. Before enrolling in an education program, prospective students should look into various sources for education options and employment possibilities. For example, contact associations and employers in this field.

Certification Requirements
Updated Mar 31, 2020
  • Certification Not Regulated

There is currently no provincial legislation regulating this occupation in Alberta.

Employment & Advancement
Updated Mar 31, 2020

Pharmacologists work for:

  • Agricultural chemical companies
  • Commercial cannabis producers
  • Food processing companies
  • Forensics firms
  • Health authorities
  • Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies
  • Provincial and federal governments
  • Universities
  • Research institutes

Pharmacologists who have just earned their B.Sc. often working at a technical level. With a PhD and several years of experience, they become qualified to work in universities or large pharmaceutical firms.

Pharmacologists work closely with other science and health professionals to ensure new products are safe and effective. Pharmacologists often work in advisory roles. They may work in activities related to developing, formulating, producing, and marketing new drugs for clinical use.

Pharmacologists are part of the larger 2011 National Occupational Classification 2121: Biologists and Related Scientists. In Alberta, 80% of people employed in this classification work in the following industries:

The employment outlook [pdf] in this occupation is influenced by a wide variety of factors including:

  • Trends and events affecting overall employment, especially in the industries listed above
  • Location in Alberta
  • Employment turnover (when people leave existing positions)
  • Occupational growth (when new positions are created)
  • Size of the occupation

In Alberta, the 2121: Biologists and related scientists occupational group is expected to have an above-average annual growth of 2.1% from 2019 to 2023. In addition to job openings created by employment turnover, 58 new positions are forecasted to be created within this occupational group each year.

Note
NOC groups often include several related occupations. Although there is labour market data for the larger NOC group, this occupation makes up only a part of that group. It means data for this occupation may be different than the data shown. For example, only some of the new positions to be created will be for this occupation. It also applies to other data for the NOC group such as number of people employed.

Source: 2019-2023 Alberta Regional Occupational Demand Outlook

Suitably qualified integrative pharmacologists at the M.Sc. and PhD levels are in high demand in the pharmaceutical industry. The ability to study drugs in vivo (for example, conduct pharmacokinetic and toxicology analyses) is a definite asset.

Competence in the field of bioinformatics is likely to become an increasingly valuable asset for pharmacologists over the next decade.

Wage & Salary
Updated Mar 31, 2020

Salaries for pharmacologists range widely depending on their level of education, experience, and type of employment.

In Alberta, this occupation is part of 1 or more 2016 National Occupational Classification (NOC) groups. If there are multiple related NOC groups, select a NOC heading to learn about each one.

Biologists and related scientists

2016 NOC: 2121
Average Wage
$46.17
Per Hour
Average Salary
$91,023.00
Per Year
Average Hours
38.1
Per Week
Average Months on Payroll
12
Survey Methodology Survey Analysis

Source
2021 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey

NOC 2121 Wage Profile

Unless otherwise noted, the data shown here is for all industries and all regions in Alberta.

All wage estimates are hourly except where otherwise indicated. Wages and salaries do not include overtime hours, tips, benefits, profit shares, bonuses (unrelated to production), and other forms of compensation.

To see the full survey data for this NOC group, visit the wage profile.

Other wage sources
To make an informed wage and salary decision, research other wage sources [pdf] to supplement this data.

A: High Reliability
Data Reliability Code Definition

High Reliability, represents a CV of less than or equal to 6.00% and 30 survey observations and/or represents 50% or more of all estimated employment for the occupation.


Hourly Wage

For full-time and part-time employees
  • Low
  • High
  • Average
  • Median
Starting
Overall
Top

Hourly Wage

For full-time and part-time employees
Wages* Low (5th percentile) High (95th percentile) Average Median
Starting $22.00 $55.00 $34.71 $33.00
Overall $24.00 $70.91 $46.17 $46.86
Top $26.00 $101.09 $60.62 $58.00

Swipe left and right to view all data. Scroll left and right to view all data.

* All wage estimates are hourly except where otherwise indicated. Wages and salaries do not include overtime hours, tips, benefits, profit shares, bonuses (unrelated to production) and other forms of compensation.

Pay brackets for hourly wages

  • Starting pay: average pay offered for entry-level positions
  • Overall pay: average pay across all employees in this occupation
  • Top pay: average pay offered to top-paid employees

Industry Information

Health Care & Social Assistance
Public Administration
ALL INDUSTRIES
Professional, Scientific & Technical Services

Skills Shortage

Employers that Recruited in the Last 2 Years
32%
32%)
Recruiting Employers that Experienced Hiring Difficulties
47%
47%
Employers with Unfilled Vacancies of over 4 Months
19%
19%
Vacancy Rate
N/A
Related Post-Secondary Field of Study
  • Health Care and Medical Sciences
  • Sciences
Other Sources of Information
Updated Mar 31, 2020

Canadian Society of Pharmacology and Therapeutics (CSPT) website: www.pharmacologycanada.org

Get information and referrals about career, education, and employment options from Alberta Supports.

Updated Mar 31, 2020. The information contained in this profile is current as of the dates shown. Salary, employment outlook, and educational program information may change without notice. It is advised that you confirm this information before making any career decisions.

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