Psychopharmacology explores the effects that drugs have on brain processes and human behavior. Learn about degree program requirements, topics of study, employment options and salary ranges for related careers.
Is Psychopharmacology for Me?
Psychopharmacology, as suggested by the name, is a discipline that combines the study of the mind and behavior with the study of drugs; more specifically, the effects that drugs have on behavior, mood and cognitive reasoning. Psychopharmacology programs are typically offered at the postgraduate level, although you can begin your studies with relevant coursework in lower-level programs. Professionals in a variety of fields may work within psychopharmacology.
Psychologists, psychiatrists, medical scientists and professors who are interested in psychopharmacology often have both an M.D. and a Ph.D. degree. If you are more inclined towards research, positions with laboratories, private companies and universities may await you. However, if you are more interested in working with people, you could open a private practice as a psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor or pharmacist.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of 2012, the median yearly wage for clinical, counseling and school psychologists was $67,650. The same year, psychiatrists made $173,330. The median annual salaries for medical scientists and pharmacists were $76,980 and $116,670, respectively. Additionally, the median annual wage for postsecondary psychology teachers was $68,020. These careers within and overlapping with the field of psychopharmacology are projected to experience varied job growth rates that are roughly equal to the average rate of increase or better from 2012-2022, per the BLS; an 11% increase for clinical, counseling and school psychologists, 18% for psychiatrists, 13% for medical scientists, 14% for pharmacists, and 14% for postsecondary psychology teachers (www.bls.gov).
How Can I Work in Psychopharmacology?
It is helpful to take as many biology, psychology, mathematics and chemistry classes as you can in high school. Then, at your 4-year college or university, you can pursue an undergraduate degree in biology and/or psychology and take psychopharmacology courses if they're available. As an undergraduate student interested in this field, you can study various relevant subjects, including chemistry, biology, biostatistics, pharmacology, neuroscience and bioinformatics.
Next, you can pursue a doctoral degree that lends itself to psychopharmacological study - usually either a psychology Ph.D. program or an M.D. program. A Ph.D. program can take up to six years to complete. An M.D. program typically lasts four years, and consequent internships and residencies can take anywhere from 3-8 years to finish. You might also pursue a Doctor of Pharmacology (Pharm.D.) degree.
You can apply to a post-doctoral program specializing in psychopharmacology after completing your Ph.D. program. Often considered as additional psychopharmacology master's degrees, M.A. or M.S. programs might include courses in psychotherapeutic intervention and pathophysiology. After earning your M.D. or Pharm.D. degree, you may partake in psychiatry residencies that address psychopharmacology. Topics covered include psychopharmacology consulting and pharmacotherapy, and you might focus on drug dependency or mental disorders.
Undergraduate or graduate education in psychopharmacology can lead to careers in healthcare, research and product testing. Other job opportunities available for you, often after completing a master's, M.D. and/or Ph.D., include positions as a lab technician, pharmaceutical sales representative, neurophysiologist, psychiatrist, counselor, pharmacist or professor. If you're focusing on research, you might investigate topics like schizophrenia treatment methods, neurobiology of aggressive behavior or the effects of cocaine on chromatin-remodeling proteins.
Licensing and Certification
Psychopharmacology careers involving direct patient care and the prescription of medication require you to have a state-administered license. If you earn a medical degree, have your license, are board certified in a medical specialty and become a member of the American Society of Clinical Psychopharmacology (ASCP), you can prove your expertise in this discipline by passing the ASCP Examination in Advanced Clinical Psychopharmacology. You must retake this exam every five years to demonstrate that your knowledge is up-to-date; therefore, you might need to enroll in continuing education courses to remain current in the field.