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Pharmacology at medical school

At medical school you will learn all about medicines, how they work, the reasons for taking them and potential side effects.

Depending on course, pharmacology may have dedicated modules or be integrated throughout. Many medical schools will encourage you to take intercalated degrees. Intercalated degrees give you the opportunity to study an area of medicine in depth.

Pharmacology is in everything we do. Even the healthiest surgical patient requires anaesthetic, pain killers and antibiotics. We can only offer the best care by combining our knowledge of the patient, their physiology, pathology and pharmacology.

A typical course will cover:

  • Science behind how common medicines work
  • Useful principles to help you learn about drugs
  • Development and monitoring of new drugs
  • Side effects of drugs we use
  • Basics of pharmacology
  • Principles of clinical pharmacology
  • Prescribing medicines in practice
  • How to choose a drug, dose, route of administration, and prescribe it.

Pharmacology is often a topic that brings many aspects of medicine together. It can teach you:

  • Mechanism of drug action – how the body works and what causes a disease.
  • Therapeutics – the different approaches to treating a disease
  • Learning to prescribe – how to administer medicines

Often clinical pharmacologists deliver therapeutics teaching and help prepare students for the Prescribing Skills Assessment.

You can explore medical pharmacology whist at university by doing:

  • clinical placements
  • electives
  • summer jobs
  • part-time work
  • getting involved in clinical audits

Some tips for learning pharmacology:

Look at the drug charts or prescriptions of all patients you clerk. This will familiarise you with the language of pharmacology and signpost commonly used drugs. Read up about them frequently and connect your reading back to the patient. Knowing about drugs is not the same as being able to prescribe them so practice this. Use resources such as guidelines and the British National Formulary and write prescriptions for simulated patients

Emma Baker, professor of clinical pharmacology

Find out more on the Royal College of Physicians’ and Health Careers’ websites.