At a basic level, pharmaceutical chemists study, analyze, design and develop modern medicines before they reach the clinical development phase. The job requires intensive schooling, but even average earners generate an impressive paycheck. Moreover, according to estimates from the University of California in Davis, demand for pharmaceutical chemists is high and is expected to grow with the development of new tools and techniques.
The core responsibility of pharmaceutical chemists is the development of drug formulations. These professionals work with newly discovered medicines, analyzing their chemical properties to ensure that the drugs are effective, stable and non-toxic. In addition to hands-on lab work, this position requires detail-oriented data collection and analysis. Likewise, pharmaceutical chemists spend much of their time using computer-aided software for drug design.
Although specific qualifications may vary per employer, most pharmaceutical chemists have a master's or bachelor's of science degree, along with a PhD. Many universities put budding chemists on the career track with B.S. degrees in pharmaceutical chemistry. Oftentimes, employers prefer applicants with expertise that includes various areas of the pharmaceutical sciences.
Pharmaceutical chemists should have a strong background in physics, mathematics, solid state chemistry and biology. Specifically, pharmaceutical chemists need a background in particle sizing, structure activity relationships, combinatorial chemistry and small molecule formulation. The job suits detailed-oriented, self-reliant problem-solvers who enjoy staying up to date on the latest developments in science and medicine.
The mean annual salary of chemists working in the pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry in 2012 was $75,980, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Pharmaceutical chemists made an mean wage of about $36.53 per hour.