Pharmacologist vs. Pharmacist: Definitions and Key Differences

Updated 10 May 2023

Pharmacologists and pharmacists are interrelated occupations within the medical field, but each profession has its own distinct responsibilities. Understanding the differences in the day-to-day tasks undertaken within each role can help you assess which position is more aligned with your career goals and interests. Your passions may lie in directly dealing with patients, or instead, you may yearn to help research new treatments for their illnesses. In this article, we explore the similarities and differences between pharmacists vs. pharmacologists and identify related career paths you may wish to consider.

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What is a pharmacologist?

Pharmacologists research and investigate the effects of various drugs and medicines on different biological systems. This includes identifying how the drug affects living things and their interactions with various chemicals within the body. As well as determining how the drugs may interact with each other, pharmacologists also determine the appropriate dosage for patients and what levels of the drug are safe. Typical day-to-day responsibilities can include:

  • Devising of experiments that can be used for testing

  • Formulation of hypotheses to be tested

  • Conduction of clinical drug trials

  • Analyses and interpretation of data from test results

  • Curation of recommendations based on research

  • Collaboration with other medical professionals to share findings

  • Management of staff and specialist laboratory equipment

Pharmacologists often go on to specialise in their preferred field of research, such as:

  • Toxicology: Exploring how toxic substances can impact living organisms.

  • Pharmacokinetics: Studying the movement of drugs within the body.

  • Neuroscience: Focusing on the brain and the nervous system.

Or they can also choose to concentrate solely on animal medicine and provide essential research into safe and practical drug usage for animal treatment.

Related: How To Become a Pharmacologist

What is a pharmacist?

Pharmacists are also experts in drugs and medicines. Instead of undertaking vital research into the effects of drugs, pharmacists use this knowledge to work directly with patients to either prescribe where qualified or supply the necessary medicine to support good patient health.

Pharmacists typically work as part of a wider healthcare team to manage patient conditions while also helping to support people in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Some of the day to day tasks pharmacists may be expected to carry out include:

  • Preparation of patient prescriptions

  • Storing and dispensing medications

  • Communication to patients regarding how to safely and effectively take their medicines

  • Assessment of patients for minor ailments such as coughs and colds

  • Provision of medical advice and signposting patients when necessary

  • Assistance in managing long-term health conditions such as high blood pressure

  • Provision of smoking cessation and other healthy lifestyle advice

  • Collaboration with other healthcare professionals to ensure the appropriate provision of medicines

Pharmacists typically work as part of a pharmacy team to provide a smooth service to patients. Other roles within the pharmacy include pharmacy technician and pharmacy assistant. The pharmacist, however, has a similar education to the pharmacologist and often has a superior knowledge of the effects of drugs and their interaction with each other. This knowledge allows the pharmacist to provide patient advice on dosages, toxicity and the side-effects of over-the-counter medication.

Related: Writing a Pharmacist CV: Steps and Tips

Pharmacologist vs. pharmacist: similarities and differences

Pharmacists and pharmacologists are both experts in an area of medicine, specialising in medication and drug use. Although they both require similar education and can expect comparable salaries, the demands of their role and the working environment are quite different. Let's explore these similarities and differences in more detail:


To become a pharmacist, you typically need to complete a five-year pharmacy degree programme at university. During the programme, the university gives you the opportunity to experience both academic and clinical-based training. After completion of your fourth year, you can achieve your master's degree in pharmacy. The fifth year of your training, also known as your foundation year, is spent carrying out essential work experience through a one-year work placement. Once you've completed your education, you must register with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) to work as a pharmacist.

Pharmacologists require a similar level of education and must first complete an undergraduate degree in pharmacology or a related scientific field such as biochemistry, molecular biology or toxicology. In some instances, you may be able to find work as a pharmacologist with just an undergraduate degree. It is, however, more advantageous to complete a masters degree and many universities offer a four-year integrated masters programme in pharmacology. Highly competitive jobs may even require a PhD in pharmacology, which you can either study for while working in university research or an industry-sponsored position.

Related: How to become a pharmaceutical scientist


Both pharmacologists and pharmacists can earn a respectable salary, although various factors can impact earning potential. These factors include:

  • Geographic location: Jobs situated in larger cities and towns typically pay more than those in rural areas such as small villages.

  • Seniority: Working in the medical profession, there is typically a hierarchy of positions you can work your way up depending on your education and experience. The more senior roles usually have a higher salary.

  • Employer: If you work within the NHS, a banding system determines the level of pay you receive, whereas with private employers, salary may vary.

The average base salary for pharmacists is around £44,883, with some positions reporting earnings of up to £60,000. As pharmacologists do not require as high a level of education to enter the workforce, the starting salary is around £25,000. More experienced and educated positions earn up to around £50,000 or more.

Working environment

The working environment for pharmacists and pharmacologists is very different. The role of a pharmacist is patient-facing, and much of their time is spent advising patients on their course of medication or educating and promoting a healthy lifestyle. It's not uncommon for pharmacists to build long-standing relationships through close work with their patients. If you enjoy patient interaction and a busy work environment, then a pharmacist career may be a good fit for you. Employers typically include:

  • Hospitals

  • Independent pharmacies

  • Pharmacy chains situated in supermarkets or retail stores

  • Speciality clinics

Pharmacologists, however, have very little interaction with patients, if any at all. Pharmacologists typically spend most of their time within a laboratory setting conducting scientific research and carrying out experiments to advance the future of medicine and drug use. If you enjoy working as part of a team in a controlled research environment rather than interacting with patients, you may prefer a career in pharmacology. Typical employment settings include:

  • Research labs

  • Drug manufacturing companies

  • Forensic laboratories

  • Government agencies

Related: How to Become a Pharmacist

Related careers

There are several careers related to pharmacy and pharmacology that you may also wish to consider when deciding on your career path. Some of these include:

1. Clinical research scientist

National average salary: £42,872 per year

Primary duties: As a clinical research scientist, you'll research, plan and conduct experiments to expand knowledge in scientific areas relating to medicine. This can include developing or improving new and existing drugs and treatments, investigating the underlying causes of disease and carrying out research to prevent, diagnose and treat a variety of human diseases and disorders. Typically, you work in a laboratory-based setting and can expect to collaborate with a wider team of researchers. You may be required to prepare reports and present your findings, which could be published and distributed nationally or potentially internationally.

2. General practitioner

National average salary: £66,359 per year

Primary duties: As a general practitioner (GP), you work within the community treating all common medical conditions, either in a doctor's surgery or within the patient's home. Typically, appointments are scheduled to last 10 to 15 minutes, during which time you assess the patient considering their medical history and symptom patterns to determine a likely diagnosis. A treatment plan is then developed, which could include providing reassurance and information, a certain course of action or medication or a referral to another medical service or hospital.

3. Microbiologist

National average salary: £70,960 per year

Primary duties: Microbiologists study the various bacterial, viral, fungal and parasitic organisms that cause infections. As a microbiologist, it's your responsibility to identify the important organisms and provide effective support and advice to facilitate the development of drugs to be used for treatments. Your day to day duties may include preparing cultures of microorganisms to test, classify and analyse. You can also help develop and improve necessary tests to diagnose infectious diseases and help innovate our medical responses and control of infections.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries‌ ‌may‌ ‌‌vary‌‌ ‌depending‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌hiring‌ ‌organisation‌ ‌and‌ ‌a‌ ‌candidate's‌ ‌experience,‌ ‌academic‌ background‌ ‌and‌ ‌location.‌ Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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