Pharmacist vs. Pharmaceutical Scientist: What’s the Difference?

Are you looking to continue your journey toward a career in the pharmaceutical industry? An important next step is deciding which path is right for you. Read on to learn the differences between a pharmacist and a pharmaceutical scientist.

What Is a Pharmacist?

pharmacist is a healthcare professional specifically trained to be a medication expert. A large part of their role includes educating patients on the risks of medications and instructing them on how to self-administer their medications to ensure proper use.

Pharmacists collaborate with a wide range of healthcare providers to ensure patients receive the correct treatments and dosages. They often work in community pharmacies, such as independent pharmacies or large corporations (i.e., CVS or Walgreens), but can also work in specialty roles in hospitals, veterinary pharmacies, government organizations, and more.

In any instance where a patient may need medication, a pharmacist is included on the team to ensure patients receive the correct medication, for the right medical condition, at the correct dose, and without interactions with their other medications or medical conditions. The pharmacist is a critical member for the safe and effective use of medications with patients, and they are a key factor in helping patients get access to affordable treatments.

Within Northeastern’s Bouvé School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, many students pursue jobs in pharmacy practice settings like post-grad residencies or fellowships, community, institution, specialty pharmacies, and more. Others choose alternative career paths within the pharmacy industry. Some work in clinical research, drug safety, medical affairs, medical writing, regulatory affairs, education, and even traditional business disciplines such as marketing, sales, finance, and legal.

If you’re looking to become a pharmacist, there are several important skills the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics recommends for success in the field.

  • Analytical Skills: One of the key responsibilities of pharmacists is to provide the safe and effective use of medications for their patients. To do this, pharmacists analyze a patient’s medical needs, including current medical problems, other medications the patient is taking, insurance coverage for medications (cost and access), previous treatments, and food or drug allergies. These are just a few items they must consider when evaluating the impact different treatments will have on a patient. For example, if a patient is taking multiple medications, the pharmacist will want to know how they will interact with one another.
  • Communication Skills: Pharmacists are tasked with educating patients on the benefits and side effects of different medications and learning how they are currently using all their medications. Pharmacists assess a patient’s understanding of how to take medications and why they are taking each medication, ensuring that the patient has a complete understanding of how to administer each. Communication skills are critical to ensure these messages are received and understood.
  • Computer Skills: Different organizations use different electronic health record (EHR) systems. It is important for pharmacists to have a thorough understanding of how to use a computer in order to effectively navigate those systems.
  • Attention to Detail: Attention to detail is one of the most critical competencies of a pharmacist. The slightest mistake can lead to harming a patient. For example, inaccurate dosage labeling or giving the wrong medication to a client could have disastrous results.
  • Managerial Skills: Managerial skills such as inventory management and the ability to oversee a staff are crucial to becoming a successful pharmacist.

What Is a Pharmaceutical Scientist?

Pharmaceutical science combines a broad range of scientific disciplines to identify drug targets in the body and design new drugs that act at those targets safely and effectively.

pharmaceutical scientist studies drug action and drug discovery to design new therapies that are safe and effective treatments for disease. Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies employ these scientists to execute experiments as part of a team-based research project aimed at introducing new drugs to the marketplace.

Aside from inventing new treatments, pharmaceutical scientists must also consider how the drug changes within the body and how the body changes the drug.

Some specific tasks involved in the role include:

  • Designing and executing experiments to identify where in the body a drug should act to treat a disease effectively
  • Collecting and analyzing data
  • Collaborating with interdisciplinary team members
  • Testing and optimizing new drug compounds for safety and efficacy
  • Running experiments to determine how a drug functions

Although pharmaceutical scientists don’t interact with patients directly, their work in the lab has great potential to improve the health and quality of life of people facing various diseases and ailments. They are responsible for the benchside development of drugs with the goal that they reach commercialization (and therefore patients) to improve patient care.

Bouvé’s pharmaceutical sciences program allows students to participate in on-campus labs and research projects. Students can work in drug design, synthesis, and study the latest drug and gene delivery approaches to combat COVID-19, cancer, infectious diseases, substance use, and cardiovascular, metabolic, and neurological disorders.

4 Key Differences Between a Pharmacist and Pharmaceutical Scientist

1. Responsibilities

Pharmaceutical scientists focus on the research and testing of new drugs and treatments. Pharmacists deal with the safe and effective administration and distribution of existing medications and ensure patients have the appropriate medications.

2. Education

Pharmaceutical scientists have flexibility regarding the degrees they obtain for post-grad employment. They can find jobs in pharmaceutical science with an MS degree or a PhD. Furthermore, while pharmaceutical scientists are more likely to succeed with an advanced degree, some positions only require a bachelor’s degree.

Pharmacists’ educational requirements are more specific. A career as a pharmacist requires a PharmD degree from an ACPE-accredited program and a minimum of 1,500 hours of additional training to be completed during their pharmacy education program. In addition, pharmacists must pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) and the pharmacy state law exam for where they will be residing/practicing.

3. Work Setting

Pharmaceutical scientists typically work in a laboratory setting, whereas pharmacists work in more direct patient care roles in community pharmacies, industry organizations, and more.

4. Salary

Pharmaceutical scientists average more than $93,000 annually, while pharmacists enjoy higher pay with an average annual salary of more than $128,000. The higher salaries are typically a reflection of the increased educational requirements.

Pursuing A Pharmaceutical Career

Whether you choose pharmacy or pharmaceutical sciences, Northeastern offers a wide range of experience-based learning opportunities that can expand your education. Students in both programs can take advantage of Northeastern’s extensive research opportunities, co-ops, experiential network projects, and connections with faculty members who have real-world experience in their respective industries.

To learn more about Bouvé’s pharmacy and pharmaceutical science degrees, explore the programs here or download our free guide to advancing your pharmacy career below.

Download Our Free Guide to Advancing Your Pharmacy Career

Student reviews medication during pharmacy practice lab at Northeastern University
Career Guide

Learn how a PharmD can give you the skills for success in the industry.

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