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Why Earn a Master’s in Pharmacology?

If you want to become a fully licensed pharmacist or staff pharmacist, you'll need to obtain a doctorate (PharmD). There is little point in earning a master’s degree alone in pharmacy, as few jobs are available without a PharmD degree. However, obtaining a master’s in pharmacology, a related but separate field, offers various well-paying career options.

The American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET) defines pharmacology as the “science of how drugs act on biological systems and how the body responds to the drug”. The field encompasses the work of many disciplines, including the entire pharmaceutical industry, industrial pharmacy, health-system pharmacy administration, medicine, veterinary medicine, nursing, and dentistry. A career in pharmacology is a career in the biomedical sciences and it may offer the opportunity to perform cutting-edge research. Pharmacologists are often employed in government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control, the Departments of Agriculture or Defense, the FDA, and many more. Many find employment in the private sector at pharmaceutical companies or in academia.

Those who want to become pharmacists must earn a doctorate. For that reason, there is little demand for a master’s degree in pharmacy outside of a combination masters/doctoral program, which is offered by many universities in the U.S. In many of these programs, however, the master’s degree is in business administration focusing on health-system pharmacy administration, rather than a scientific degree. Because the world of pharmacy is so highly regulated, there are also schools offering joint JD/PharmD degrees, along with master’s degrees in hospital administration, health policy, health outcomes research, and other related disciplines.


For those planning a career in the sciences, advancement is difficult without earning a graduate degree. With a master’s degree (M.S.) in pharmaceutical sciences, however, it is possible to perform interesting and important research while earning a good living. Most people going into scientific fields do so because they want to better the human condition in some way. That might mean finding cures for diseases, improving the environment, boosting crop production, or any one of the thousands of ways scientific research helps mankind. A person with a master’s degree in pharmacology or similar pharmacy degrees may become part of a team that saves lives.

Pharmacists with a PharmD are also candidates for a master’s degree in pharmacology if their previous M.S. wasn't in this specific field. A practicing staff pharmacist may find they prefer working in a laboratory on drug development rather than their current job. This degree makes the individual more attractive to certain industries and for high-level federal employment. While the pursuit of a master’s degree in pharmacology can lead them to a new career path, pharmacists generally work long hours, and time management is essential. As with many other degrees, an online master’s degree is an option for those graduate students seeking to switch careers into the pharmaceutical industry or to move into pharmacy leadership.


The few cons pertaining to obtaining a master’s degree in pharmacology primarily concern debt. The cost of a master’s degree (M.S.) in pharmacology, pharmaceutical sciences, or Master of Pharmacy depends on the school, but tuition averages $20,000. If you already have a considerable undergraduate student loan or other debt, you may want to think twice about taking on additional loans. However, the job prospects for those with a master’s degree in pharmacology, pharmaceutical sciences, or other pharmacy degrees are generally good, so taking on more debt to advance in an interesting and lucrative career may prove worthwhile in the long-term.

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Overview of a Master's in Pharmacology

In Europe, the master’s degree in pharmacy is the equivalent of the PharmD, and takes four years for completion. If a pharmacy student studies in Europe and earns a four-year master’s of pharmacy degree, he or she must obtain special certification allowing them to practice in the U.S. Qualifying for such certification is difficult, so even earning a master’s degree in pharmacy in another country that is similar in scope to a doctoral degree does not mean you’ll easily gain the ability to fill prescriptions in the U.S. and otherwise practice as a pharmacist.

For those who cannot pursue a PharmD degree at this time but want to work in drug research and development, a master’s degree in pharmacology is a good alternative. The degree permits graduates to find work in government, academia, or a private company at competitive salaries. It is possible that a future employer will pay for a job-related PhD or another degree. Here is a list of some of the master's degrees available in this field.

  • M.S. - Pharmaceutical Sciences
  • M.S. - Biomedical Sciences
  • M.S. - Health-System Pharmacy Administration
  • M.S. - Medicinal Chemistry
  • M.S. - Pharmaceutics with Specialization
  • M.S. - Pharmacy Administration
  • Master of Pharmacy
  • And More

Students completing these master's level pharmacy degree programs will take courses in chemistry, pharmacology, toxicology, biomedical sciences, patient safety, clinical and medical pharmacology, health systems, and health-system pharmacy administration.

What Pharmacology Master’s Degrees are Available Online?

There are a number of master’s degrees available in the pharmacology field, each focusing on a specific aspect of research.

The most common degrees include:

  • Master of Science (MS) in Pharmacology
    This degree is more general in nature and prepares students for various careers in the field. Those earning this degree may go to careers in academia, government or private industry, or to medical or veterinary school.
  • MS in Drug Development and Discovery
    Although not a degree in pharmacology per se, it is very similar. This degree is designed for those working in translational research, or the area between preclinical drug discovery and clinical drug development.
  • MS in Pharmacology and Toxicology
    This degree prepares students for pharmacological research and testing, clinical trial participation, and performing toxicological reviews and assessments in the pharmaceutical or biotechnology industry.
  • MS in Integrative Pharmacology
    This degree focuses on preparing the student for organ systems pharmacology as well as the business aspect of the field. It is designed for the student pursuing a career in regulatory affairs.
  • MS in Molecular Pharmacology & Toxicology
    This degree emphasizes research in molecular and neuropharmacology, biochemical and oxidant toxicology, and receptor pharmacology along with the molecular mechanisms of drug design, targeting, and delivery.

Admission Requirements for a Pharmacy Masters

Admission requirements for an online master’s in pharmacology requires students to have earned a bachelor of science degree in pharmacy or a scientific discipline such as biology, biochemistry, chemistry, or physics. If a candidate has a degree in another subject, they must possess strong grades in the science courses taken as an undergraduate for admission consideration. For most schools, a minimum GPA of 3.0 in science courses is a prerequisite for admission, although top schools will demand a higher GPA.

Candidates for an online master’s pharmacology should possess strong analytical skills along with a thorough background in science. Along with scientific knowledge, the successful candidate needs good communication and interpersonal skills. Those working in the pharmacology field must have the highest ethical standards.

How long does it take to earn a Pharmacology Master’s?

An online master’s degree in pharmacology, if pursued full-time, may be completed within one year. Some online programs, created for working professionals, are designed for completion within two years. Those pursuing a degree part-time should earn their online master’s in pharmacology within two to three years.

Potential Careers in Pharmacology with a Master’s

Those earning a master’s degree in pharmacology have a wide range of careers they could potentially pursue. Much of their work occurs in laboratories, hospitals, and clinical settings. Here is just a small sampling of the types of careers available to those with an MS in pharmacology.

  • Analytical Chemist
    These scientists use their chemical expertise to solve issues regarding chemistry in various industries. Their work assures compliance with environmental and food regulations, as well as helping doctors diagnose diseases and other important contributions to science and health.
    The average pay for an analytical chemist is: $55,500 annually.
  • Healthcare Scientist
    Also known as a medical or biomedical scientists, these professionals may work in a variety of medical disciplines and settings. Their work directly involves providing some form of clinical service, such as clinical trials, rather than only working in research. The demand for healthcare scientists is expected to rise 13% by 2026, well above average for most occupations.
    The average salary for a healthcare scientist is: $64,100 annually.
  • Microbiologist
    Microbiologists study the world of microorganisms, including bacteria, algae, viruses, and fungi. These organisms are responsible for diseases, environmental problems, and may affect agricultural or industrial production. Microbiologists work in laboratories conducting experiments and analyzing results. Job growth up to 2026 is estimated at 8%, which is about average.
    The average salary for a microbiologist is approximately: $51,900 annually.
  • Pharmacologist
    Pharmacologists conduct research on drugs, conduct clinical trials, analyze data, and develop new medications. There are various specializations in the field. For example, toxicologists study poisons for antidote development and neuropharmacologists focus on treatment for mental and neurological disorders. Job growth is expected to rise 13% for the decade between 2016-2026, much faster than average.
    The average salary for a pharmacologist is: $100,700.
  • Research Scientist
    As the name implies, research scientists conduct research, and their work consists of trials, testing, and data analysis. Research scientists write technical reports and also give presentations about their results. In some fields, research scientists require licensing.
    The average pay for a research scientist is: $78,000 annually.

Salary by Occupation

Occupations Entry-Level Mid-Career Late-Career
Pharmacist $102,500 $119,900 $121,600
Pharmacy Technician $29,900 $38,400 $40,700
Pharmacy Aid $21,130 $25,240 $32,980
Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologist $49,700 $58,200 $63,100
Chemical Engineer $67,500 $87,600 $124,500
Medical Scientist $78,000 $122,500 $81,300
Postsecondary Teacher $60,100 $69,500 $99,900
Science writer $70,930 $71,150 $72,150
Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives $42,000 $59,200 $76,500
Compliance Officer $54,000 $73,600 $87,900
Biological Technician $34,100 $39,600 $55,000

Options to Advance

Because pharmacology is so central to drug development, and there is also a strong demand in regulatory industries, pharmacology offers many options to advance. Obtaining a doctorate in the field helps those in pharmacology or pharmacy further their careers and conduct more advanced studies. Many schools offer a combination MS/Ph.D. degree in pharmacology or pharmacy for those who want to earn their doctorate as soon as possible.

Best Master of Science in Pharmacology Programs

  • Howard University College of Medicine
    Washington, DC

    The primary objective for candidates earning this degree is preparation for careers in research and teaching. During the core coursework, the student works in the laboratories of various faculty members and eventually chooses a thesis adviser. The school notes that a “broad range of research interests exists within the department.”

    Degrees Offered:

    • Masters of Science in Pharmacology
  • Long Island University
    Brooklyn, New York campus

    LIU’s master’s degree program prepares students for competitive positions in the pharmaceutical and biomedical research industries. This is also a suitable degree for those preparing to earn a PhD in the pharmaceutical or biomedical field, or medical school.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Masters of Science in Pharmacology and Toxicology
  • Tulane University School of Medicine
    New Orleans, Louisiana

    This one-year program is designed for those wanting to improve their credentials for medical or dental school admission. Between 2013 and 2017, nearly 80% of those completing the MS program were admitted to graduate school.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Masters of Science in Pharmacology
  • University of Michigan Medical School
    Ann Arbor, Michigan

    The MS degree in pharmacology consists of 33 credits and includes coursework and independent research. Coursework is similar to that on the PhD level. Students must complete 12 credits of independent research and may decide to pursue a doctorate in pharmacy, medicine, or dentistry after completing the master’s degree.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Masters of Science in Pharmacology
  • University of Southern California School of Pharmacy
    Los Angeles, California

    This master’s program emphasizes research in “molecular and neuro-pharmacology, receptor pharmacology, and biochemical and oxidant toxicology.” Graduates of this highly competitive program are highly sought after by major companies and government institutions.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Masters of Science in Molecular Pharmacology & Toxicology

Traditional Schools Offering an MS in Pharmacology

  • Michigan State University
    East Lansing, Michigan

    Michigan State University offers two of the best online master’s degrees in pharmacology available. The MS in Integrative Pharmacology focuses on the needs of the laboratory professional, while the MS in Pharmacology and Toxicology is designed for advanced training without lab course or research project requirements.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Masters of Science in Integrative Pharmacology
    • Masters of Science in Pharmacology and Toxicology
  • Ohio State University
    Columbus, Ohio

    This program is designed specifically for those interested in a career in clinical pharmacology, with an emphasis on clinical trials. Along with pharmacology and related coursework, there is special training in clinical trial conduction. Courses include Applied Pharmacokinetics and Pharmacodynamics; Research Applications of Clinical Pharmacology; Introduction to Personalized Therapeutics and Pharmacogenomics; and Biomedical Research Ethics.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Masters of Science in Pharmacology
  • University of California, Irvine
    Irvine, California

    This two-year program is designed for those working in the scientific or medical fields who want to earn their MS online. The faculty are internationally recognized for their contributions to scientific research and publications. The program focuses on current topics in drug discovery, drug action mechanisms, and strategies and techniques for drug research. US News and World Report ranks University of California, Irvine as the ninth top public university in the country.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Masters of Science in Pharmacology
  • University of Kansas
    Lawrence, Kansas

    Those seeking an online MS in pharmacology from the University of Kansas can choose between a literature-based or laboratory-based program. If choosing the latter, the student must have access to an appropriate research facility in which to conduct their work. Courses include Molecular Toxicology; Immunopharmacology, Infectious Diseases and Gastrointestinal Pharmacology; Endocrine Pharmacology; Central and Autonomic Nervous System.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Masters of Science in Pharmacology and Toxicology

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