Pharmaceutical Chemist: Requirements & Qualifications

Research what it's like to be a pharmaceutical chemist. Get to know the skills and the education you'll need as well as the projected job growth and the median income for this industry. Schools offering Sciences degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Information at a Glance

Pharmaceutical chemists research and develop the chemical compounds that are used in the production of pharmaceutical medicine. They are responsible for creating effective drugs that can be produced through efficient, large-scale manufacturing processes. In the table below, you'll find the education requirements, essential skills, median income, and projected job growth for this career path.

Education Required Bachelor's degree required for entry-level positions; advanced positions require a master's degree or Ph.D.
Required Skills Math skills, organizational skills, problem-solving skills, communication skills
Projected Job Growth (2016-2026) 6% (for all chemists)*
Median Income (2017) $74,740 (for all chemists)*

Source: *US Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Does a Pharmaceutical Chemist Do?

Pharmaceutical chemists are responsible for developing chemical compounds that can be used in the production of pharmaceutical drugs. After the development of these new pharmaceutical drugs, pharmaceutical chemists are tasked with implementing and overseeing complex research projects to determine a drug's effectiveness and its side effects. They also analyze the current manufacturing processes that are used to develop pharmaceutical drugs and are tasked with determining ways to increase efficiency for large scale drug manufacturers. Often times, pharmaceutical chemists work as part of a larger research team that also includes biologists and chemical engineers.

What Type of Education Is Required to Work as a Pharmaceutical Chemist?

Entry-level positions require that pharmaceutical chemists hold a bachelor's degree in chemistry from a college or university program that has been approved by the American Chemical Society. An undergraduate degree in chemistry typically includes coursework in organic, inorganic, physical, and analytical chemistry as well as other courses in advanced mathematics, statistics, and physical sciences. It is common for many employers to require that a pharmaceutical chemist earns a master's degree in a specialized field, such as medicinal or organic chemistry, for many positions. This type of advanced degree allows a pharmaceutical chemist to conduct research, which proves essential in the chemical manufacturing industry. Many pharmaceutical chemists continue their education at the Ph.D. or post-doctoral level in order to oversee and lead complex research projects.

What Skills Are Important for Pharmaceutical Chemists?

Pharmaceutical chemists are required to use a variety of advanced math skills in fields such as calculus and statistics in order to solve complex applied equations. It is also essential that pharmaceutical chemists remain organized in order to conduct processes that are well-calculated and follow any safety and health regulations. Because the work of pharmaceutical chemists is based heavily in experimentation, it is important that they have impeccable problem-solving skills as well. They must be able to identify when and where problems arise in the production process and must be able to develop unique and alternative solutions. Because pharmaceutical chemists work as members of an interdisciplinary production team, communication skills are essential in order to discuss any problems or questions that may arise in the processes.

How Much Do Pharmaceutical Chemists Make?

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that chemists in general earned an annual median income of $74,740 as of May 2017. Employment for chemists in all industries is expected to grow by 6% between 2016 and 2026. Demand for pharmaceutical chemists is projected to increase as the need for further research in nanotechnology and medical drug usage increases as well.

What Other Specializations Are There for Chemists?

Apart from pharmaceutical chemistry, there are several other specializations within the field, some of which include forensic, organic, inorganic, and physical chemistry. Forensic chemists work as members of a crime scene investigation team analyzing DNA evidence. Organic chemists research chemical compounds that contain carbon in order to develop new commercial products. Inorganic chemists study elements that do not contain carbon, such as metals, and determine how they can be used in products and structures. Physical chemists study the fundamentals of chemistry at the molecular level and aid in the continuation of research relating to chemical theory.

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