Pharmaceutical Scientist

Pharmacists are professionals whose goals are to achieve positive outcomes from the use of medication to improve patients' quality of life. The practice of pharmacy is a vital part of the complete health care system. Due to society's many changing social and health issues, pharmacists face constant challenges, expanded responsibilities, and increasing growth in opportunities.

A pharmaceutical scientist performing research, holding calipers that grip electrical wires inside a glass container while vapors spread around the container's base.

pharmacognosy the study of drugs from natural products biodiversity degree of variety of life ethnobotany the study of traditional uses of plants within a culture pharmacognosy the study of drugs from natural products biodiversity degree of variety of life ethnobotany the study of traditional uses of plants within a culture

Pharmacists are specialists in the science and clinical use of medications. They must have the knowledge about the composition of drugs, their chemical and physical properties, and their uses as well as understand the activity of the drug and how it will work in the body. Pharmacy practitioners work in community pharmacies, hospitals, nursing homes, extended care facilities, neighborhood health centers, and health maintenance organizations. A doctor of pharmacy degree (Pharm.D.) requires four years of professional study, following a minimum of two years of pre-pharmacy study.

Pharmacy practitioners may combine their professional activities with the challenge of scientific research. Many pharmacists go on to obtain postgraduate degrees in order to meet the technical demands and scientific duties required in academic pharmacy and the pharmaceutical industry. Students have the opportunity to complete advanced study (graduate work) at pharmacy schools across the United States. Graduate studies may qualify the student for a Master of Science (M.S.) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in various areas of pharmaceutical sciences (medicinal and natural products chemistry, pharmacognosy, pharmacology, toxicology). These research degrees require an undergraduate bachelor's or a doctor of pharmacy degree. The pharmaceutical scientists are mainly concerned with research that includes sophisticated instrumentation, analytical methods, and animal models that study all aspects of drugs and drug products.

The pharmaceutical industry offers many opportunities to pharmaceutical scientists in research, development, and manufacture of chemicals, prescription and nonprescription drugs, and other health products. Colleges and schools of pharmacy present options in teaching and in academic research. Pharmaceutical scientists may also be employed in a variety of federal and state positions including with the U.S. Public Health Service, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control, and in all branches of the armed services. In addition, they may also be engaged in highly specialized jobs such as science reporters, as experts in pharmaceutical law, or as drug enforcement agents, or they may specialize in medicinal plant cultivation and processing.

As society's health care needs have changed and expanded, there has been an increased emphasis on the use of herbal remedies as dietary supplements or the search for new prescription drugs from natural sources such as microbes and plants. As a result, an increased number of pharmaceutical scientists hold doctoral degrees in natural products chemistry, pharmacognosy, or medicinal chemistry and are involved in biodiversity prospecting for the discovery of new medicines. At the turn of the twenty-first century there exists a shortage of specialists in this area, and they are in great demand if they are also trained in ethnobotany.

There are many opportunities and great potential for advancement and competitive salaries within a pharmacy science career. In 1999, starting annual salaries average between $50,000 and $65,000, depending on location. see also Ethnobotany; Medicinal Plants; Plant Prospecting.

Barbara N. Timmermann

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