It’s easy to confuse pharmacologists with pharmacists, but there is a distinct difference between the two professions. While pharmacists are doctors that can dispense drugs, pharmacologists work behind the scenes to determine how drugs will affect the body. They study the chemical reactions between drugs and humans and how these medications produce a given effect, and develop new drugs and therapies to help people. To earn an undergraduate or graduate degree in pharmacology, there are a variety of courses and other required training that must be completed.


Chemistry courses make up a large portion of any pharmacology curriculum, regardless of the degree you’re working on. Because the foundation of pharmacology is the study of chemical reactions between drugs and people, a variety of chemistry courses are required, including classes like general chemistry and biochemistry. Pharmacology students also need to have a clear understanding of the human body and its systems, so classes in biology, cell biology, genetics and physiology will also be required.


Pharmacology courses to study the interactions between drugs and people are a necessity. There introductory courses to take as well as more advanced ones that will require in-depth study of pharmacology and related areas. Some courses you may choose from focus on how various drugs affect the brain, including neuropsychopharmacology and epigenetics. While some pharmacology courses are required for all students, others dealing with more specific topics are often listed as electives, allowing to students to select classes based on their own interests or career goals.

Lab and Research

No matter what college you attend, there will be a required lab component to complete your degree. As a practicing pharmacologist, you will likely spend a great deal of time researching in a lab environment, so courses to prepare you for this are necessary. Some of your core classes, like biochemistry or intro to pharmacology, will likely contain a lab portion, but other classes are solely devoted to lab time. Courses like laboratory demonstrations, special laboratory procedures and laboratory rotations will give you the practical experience you need post-graduation, familiarizing you with lab tools and allowing you to observe and practice your own research.

Independent Study and Thesis

The independent study or thesis class is usually taken just before graduation and contains the culminating project for most pharmacology students. Thesis classes are usually reserved for graduate students, but some undergraduate programs may require a written thesis as well. Both of these courses are centered around an independent research project, with students documenting their work, writing a research paper or thesis, and often presenting it before a faculty committee.