Pharmaceutical Chemistry

Pharmaceutical chemists explore the components of drugs, analyze their effects and use this data to create or improve upon medications. Learn about job duties, related degree programs, coursework and salaries for this field.

Is Pharmaceutical Chemistry for Me?

Career Information

A career in pharmaceutical chemistry, requires you to use your knowledge about the composition of various drugs and the details on how they interact with the body. Potential employers include pharmaceutical companies and the government laboratories of institutions like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), while most aspiring pharmaceutical chemists only need a bachelor's degree in chemistry or a related discipline, some jobs in research require a master's or doctoral degree ( With a bachelor's degree, you can find entry-level positions in both the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. If you have earned an advanced degree, you could teach at the postsecondary level or work in the research and development of new drugs.

Employment Information

According to the BLS, employment of chemists is predicted to increase 6% from 2012-2022, a rate that's five percentage points lower than the national average for that same decade. Possession of a graduate degree can improve job prospects and make career advancement possible. The median pay earned by chemists was $72,350 in 2013, also per the BLS; the middle 50% earned $52,850-$97,100.

How Can I Work in Pharmaceutical Chemistry?

Undergraduate Training

You have the option of earning a Bachelor of Science in Pharmaceutical Chemistry or Pharmaceutical Sciences. In these programs, you delve into the discovery, design, creation and delivery of drugs. You're also likely to study the ethical implications of this profession. In addition to chemistry, other coursework includes biology, mathematics, physics and computer science. Some more advanced science topics you might explore are biotechnology, environmental toxicology, neurobiology and plant pathology. These degree programs typically require laboratory courses where you work with chemical reactions and learn how to document experiments through laboratory reports. You are encouraged to participate in an internship during your four years of study.

Graduate Education

You could then pursue a Master of Science in Pharmacy with a concentration in pharmaceutical chemistry. Courses may include medicinal chemistry, metabolic biochemistry, pharmaceutical analysis and natural medicinal products. A cumulative examination at the end of the degree program will decide whether or not you merit the degree. To further your knowledge, you can pursue a doctoral degree (Ph.D.) in pharmaceutical chemistry. While this curriculum is generally heavy in independent research, you can expect advanced courses covering areas like thermodynamics, biocompatibility, protein chemistry, quantum mechanics, spectroscopy and biostatistics. In addition, you need to successfully pass numerous comprehensive examinations, work with individual faculty members on your dissertation and defend it upon completion to earn this terminal degree.

Required Skills

You should like working with your hands and possess good computer, communication and leadership skills for a successful career in pharmaceutical chemistry. An aptitude for science and math is also critically important.

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