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Pharmacologists are biomedical scientists who investigate the mechanisms underlying the effects of drugs and chemicals on living systems. They use this knowledge to help design and evaluate drugs for the prevention and treatment of disease.

  • Avg. Salary $92,613.00
  • Avg. Wage $48.26
  • Minimum Education 6 years post-secondary
  • Outlook N/A
  • Employed 2,700
  • In Demand High
Also Known As

Biological 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) 
Skills Shortage

Employers that Recruited in the Last 2 Years

Average Wage
  • Certification Not Regulated
  • Strength Required Lift up to 5 kg
Interest Codes
The Pharmacologist is part of the following larger National Occupational Classification (NOC).
Microbiologists and Cell and Molecular Biologists

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


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


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

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 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 More

Updated Oct 20, 2014

Duties and responsibilities vary from one position to another but, in general, pharmacologists:

  • conduct basic, clinical or translational research in laboratories in universities, hospitals, research institutions or the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries
  • participate in training physicians, pharmacists, dentists, future pharmacologists and other health care professionals in universities or other post-secondary institutions
  • assist in the evaluation and marketing of drugs and related products for the pharmaceutical industry
  • work in government agencies concerned with the detection, regulation and licensing of drugs and related products.

Their work is multidisciplinary, combining principles from biomedical and other sciences including physiology, biochemistry, molecular and cell biology, pathology, microbiology, chemistry, nutrition and psychiatry. They develop and evaluate drugs for the treatment of a wide variety of conditions (for example, bacterial infections or psychiatric, neurological or cardiovascular diseases) and may use drugs and chemicals to help investigate physiological and pathophysiological processes. Increasingly biopharmaceuticals produced by genetic engineering are being used as new therapy agents.

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

  • pharmacodynamics- the study of the mechanisms of drug action. This may involve conducting experiments to investigate drug actions on biological processes (for example, gene regulation, structure and function of proteins, cell biology, tissue and organ responses to physiological and pathological stimuli) in isolated cells or organs and whole organisms (including humans).
  • pharmacogenomics - the study of how genetic variations affect drug responses in the hope that drug therapy 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 so appropriate dosage regimens for drugs can be developed to maximize therapeutic benefit, minimize unwanted side effects and circumvent drug resistence. 
  • toxicology - the study of poisons, 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 generally study drug and chemical responses in biological systems using experimental animals and in vitro cell and tissue models. 

Clinical pharmacologists usually are physicians (for more information, see the Physician occupational profile) who specialize in the study of pharmacodynamic and pharmacokinetic properties of drugs in humans.

Translational pharmacologists are those who facilitate the clinical application of new discoveries in basic pharmacological research.

Working Conditions
Updated Oct 20, 2014

Pharmacologists usually work in research laboratories. Overtime often is required to complete projects on time. Travel may be required to attend scientific workshops or present research findings at conferences.

  • Strength Required Lift up to 5 kg
Skills & Abilities
Updated Oct 20, 2014

Pharmacologists need the following characteristics:

  • an inquiring mind combined with excellent critical thinking abilities
  • excellent oral and written communication skills
  • good organizational 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.

Educational Requirements
Updated Oct 20, 2014

A four year Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) degree in pharmacology or a related biomedical science (for example, biochemistry or physiology) is required to work in a technical job or to become 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. A Doctoral (PhD) degree generally is required to work as an independent investigator in universities or industry. After obtaining a Doctoral degree, pharmacologists generally continue training for two or more years as post-doctoral fellows to qualify for academic research and teaching positions in universities.

Because pharmacology involves the use of principles from many of the 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.

Related Education

The following schools offer programs or courses that are related to this occupation but are not required to enter the field.

University of Calgary

For a broad list of programs and courses that may be related to this occupation try searching using keywords.

Certification Requirements
Updated Oct 20, 2014

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

Employment & Advancement
Updated Oct 20, 2014

Pharmacologists are employed by:

  • provincial and federal governments
  • universities
  • research institutes
  • pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies
  • health authorities
  • food processing companies
  • agricultural chemical companies.

Pharmacologists work closely with other science and health professionals to ensure that new products are as safe and effective as possible. Often pharmacologists work in an advisory role in activities related to the development, formulation, production and marketing of 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 in this occupation will be 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 (work opportunities generated by people leaving existing positions)
  • occupational growth (work opportunities resulting from the creation of new positions that never existed before)
  • size of the occupation.

Employment turnover is expected to increase as members of the baby boom generation retire over the next few years.

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.

Wage & Salary
Updated Oct 20, 2014

Biologists and related scientists

Survey Methodology

Survey Analysis

Overall Wage Details
Average Wage
Average Salary
Hours Per Week

Hourly Wage
For full-time and part-time employees
  • Low
  • High
  • Average
  • Median
Wages* Low (5th percentile) High (95th percentile) Average Median
Starting $23.08 $53.84 $35.12 $32.21
Overall $32.45 $67.40 $48.26 $50.11
Top $36.06 $110.04 $65.88 $62.26

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.

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.

Industry Information
Health Care & Social Assistance
Public Administration
Professional, Scientific & Technical Services

Skills Shortage

Employers that Recruited in the Last 2 Years


Recruiting Employers that Experienced Hiring Difficulties


Employers with Unfilled Vacancies of over 4 Months


Vacancy Rate

Related Post-Secondary Field of Study
  • Health Care and Medical Sciences
  • Sciences
Other Sources of Information
Updated Oct 20, 2014

Canadian Society of Pharmacology and Therapeutics (CSPT) website:

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

Updated Apr 11, 2014. 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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