Modern medicine has made incredible advancements in the way we diagnose, treat, and prevent diseases. Breakthroughs in pharmaceutical research have led to life-saving drugs and continue to improve health outcomes for patients. The importance of pharmaceutical therapies is rarely understated, as seen today as the world anxiously awaits a safe and effective vaccine for the novel coronavirus.
For many, pharmacists are the first professionals that come to mind when thinking about the pharmaceutical industry. While pharmacists play an important role in doling out treatment to patients, the discovery and development of life-saving therapies depend on vastly more people, from researchers to laboratory technicians and many professionals in between.
Because there are many different focus areas within the pharmaceutical industry, as well as discrepancies in licensing requirements across countries, there is often confusion around the different educational paths students can pursue to build their careers. Here’s a closer look at what a master’s in pharmacy is, the careers you can pursue with one, and five additional degree options to consider.
Can you become a pharmacist with a master’s degree?
A master’s in pharmacy (sometimes abbreviated MPharm) is typically a five-year program designed to prepare students to become licensed pharmacists in European countries, as well as several other nations around the world.
In the United States, candidates must complete an accredited Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) program in order to become a pharmacist. Upon completion of a degree, graduates must also sit for and pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX), as well as the appropriate state licensure examinations, before they are able to practice. As part of this journey, some pharmacists may also choose to pursue clinical residencies to further develop their skills.
While it’s not possible to become a pharmacist in the United States with only a master’s degree, there are many other careers related to pharmacy which do not require a PharmD.
Pharmacists are directly involved in patient care and treating diseases with existing medications, but there are many jobs in the pharmaceutical industry that are focused on researching, testing, and manufacturing new drugs and therapies—many of which are attainable with a master’s degree.
For those who are interested in the research, design, and development of pharmaceuticals, there are several educational paths to consider.
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Master’s Degrees in Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
Although a PharmD degree is required to become a licensed pharmacist in the United States, there are a number of graduate degrees that prepare students for careers in the pharmaceutical industry. Below are five options to consider:
1. Master’s in Pharmaceutical Science
A master’s degree in pharmaceutical science is ideal for students who are interested in the use and delivery of therapeutics. The curriculum is designed to cultivate the skills necessary to better understand how drug performance is affected by the chemical and physical properties of therapeutics.
At Northeastern, students enrolled in this program may also choose to pursue a concentration in novel drug delivery systems, biopharmaceutics and pharmacokinetics, physical pharmacy and polymeric dosage form development, or drug metabolism.
While there are various job titles students who complete a master’s in pharmaceutical science can pursue, one of the most common positions is that of a pharmaceutical scientist. According to Glassdoor, these professionals earn an average salary of $77,173 per year.
Learn More | What is Pharmaceutical Science?
2. Master’s in Pharmacology
For those interested in the study of drug action, a master’s degree in pharmacology could be a good fit. The curriculum of pharmacology programs explores how drugs work in living systems.
The field of pharmacology is similar to, yet distinct from that of pharmacy. Those who work in pharmacology study how the body reacts to and uses drugs for the purpose of better understanding how to diagnose, treat, and prevent diseases. Pharmacists, on the other hand, are trained to prepare, formulate, dispense, and manage these drugs for patients.
After completing a master’s in pharmacology, graduates can go on to pursue positions as researchers, scientists, and laboratory technicians. Pharmacologist is one of the most highly sought after job titles in the field. Some employers, however, may prefer candidates who hold a PhD as opposed to a master’s degree. The average pharmacologist earns an annual salary of $99,271, according to PayScale.
3. Master’s in Medicinal Chemistry
A master’s degree in medicinal chemistry also prepares students to design, develop, and analyze drug compounds through a curriculum focused on synthetic organic chemistry, bioorganic chemistry, analytical chemistry, and pharmacology. After completing this degree, graduates have a thorough understanding of medicinal chemistry and its applications in order to work toward solving unmet medical needs.
Graduates often hold positions as chemists and materials scientists and commonly work in research settings. Medicinal chemists earn an average annual salary of $91,772, according to data from PayScale.
Learn More | What is Medicinal Chemistry?
4. Master’s in Biomedical Science
A master’s degree in biomedical science will typically provide the most holistic view of the field and provide students the skills necessary for interdisciplinary work in the field.
Some of the top biomedical science careers available upon completion of the degree can include:
- Biomedical laboratory technician: $62,077 average salary
- Biomedical scientist: $68,775 average salary
- Senior clinical research associate: $100,020 average salary
- Senior medical writer: $87,390 average salary
- Senior medicinal chemist: $109,069 average salary
In some cases, students who have completed a master’s degree in biomedical science may also pursue a PhD in the field to specialize their skills or tailor their careers to fit their interests. Some universities, such as Northeastern, will allow students who have completed their master’s degree at the institution to fast-track their progress toward a PhD.
5. Master’s in Biotechnology
Some students may also consider earning a master’s degree in biotechnology to develop the skills needed in the pharmaceutical industry. While biotechnology programs are typically broader than more specialized degrees in the pharmaceutical sector, some universities allow students to tailor their degree to fit their interest in the field.
At Northeastern, for example, students enrolled in the MS in Biotechnology program are able to choose from concentrations including molecular biotechnology, process sciences, manufacturing and quality operations, biopharmaceutical analytical sciences, pharmaceutical technologies, regulatory science, and biotechnology enterprise—all of which can be applied to the pharmaceutical industry in some form.
Graduates with this degree can hold various job titles such as biotechnologist, medical scientist, process development scientist, and more, and typically earn a starting salary between $75,000 to $85,000 per year.
Getting Started in the Pharmaceutical Industry
Depending on your interests and professional goals, there are several different paths you can take to break into the pharmaceutical industry and build a rewarding career.
No matter which specific discipline you choose to study, it’s important to choose a program that will give you the skills and experience you need to advance your career. At Northeastern, the programs offered through the Bouvé College of Health Sciences’ Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences offer unique experiential learning opportunities to prepare you for work in a professional environment.
Located in the heart of Boston’s pharma and biotech hub, students enrolled in these programs often have the option to work with the world’s top researchers at prestigious pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies through industrial internships and co-op opportunities.
To learn more about the different paths in pharmaceutical science, explore Northeastern’s offerings and get in touch with an enrollment coach today for advice on which might be the best fit for your goals.