Research in pharmacy: an alternative pharmacist career path

medical research, pharmaceutical industry, public institutions, pharmacist
Research in pharmacy: an alternative pharmacist career path
The pharmacy profession has long been regarded as a reputable and respectable career in the medical field, and entry requirements for pharmacy undergraduate are among the toughest in Malaysia. A recent survey showed that pharmacy was the highest paying job for fresh graduates in the country [1].

Nonetheless, the recent delays of admission into the Provisionally Registered Pharmacist program (PRP) have shaken many graduates’ beliefs that pharmacy is the right choice. A good portion of these are skeptical of the liberalisation of PRPs training in private sectors [2], and this is not without valid reason.

However, it would do all pharmacists good to remember that this profession is not limited to just the hospital or the community setting, and it would be verging on ignorant to assume that a pharmacist will have limited professional growth beyond these two popular career choices. This article intends to highlight an alternative career option for many pharmacists in the country especially fresh graduates and young pharmacists: Medical research.

Types Of Medical Research

The field of medical research is broad and comprehensive, but can be generally categorised into preclinical and clinical research. Preclinical research utilises various cells and animals to study a wide variety of diseases, whilst clinical research involves different types of studies conducted on human volunteers. Medical research is almost always conducted to enhance our understanding of the human body, and subsequently improve health.

What Does A Research Pharmacist Do?

The job scope of a research pharmacist differs in many aspects from their counterparts in the hospital or community settings. The main difference is the shift from patient-centered service to project-oriented tasks. Patient safety is still of the utmost importance in any research, but research pharmacists need to expand their focus beyond the conventional.

For example, unlike hospital pharmacists who need to dispense quickly in order to cater for a large patient pool, a research pharmacist’s priority is to ensure the study patient has a thorough understanding of his or her medication, and the appropriate dosing regimen. Counselling and communication with the patient may sometimes take hours to complete, especially if the research involves complex dosing regimens.

Research Pharmacists In Public Institutions

The National Institute of Health (NIH) is a good place for junior pharmacists to begin their career in medical research. The Malaysian NIH was offically launched in 2003, and now consists of 6 different institutes: Institute for Medical Research, Institute of Public Health, Clinical Research Centre, Institute for Health System Research, Institute for Health Management, and Institute for Health Behavioural Research [3]. For those who must work in a pharmacy department, there are ample opportunities to conduct pharmacy-related health research as well.

Research Pharmacists In The Pharmaceutical Industry

On the other hand, the private pharmaceutical industry is another interesting field to advance one’s career as a pharmacist, particularly in the generic drugs sector. Malaysia aims to become a regional export hub for generic medicine, and the government has invested a good deal of resources into increasing the competitiveness of local pharmaceutical industry [4].

Research in the generic drug sector includes bioequivalence and drug formulation studies. Pharmacists with good knowledge and qualifications in pharmacokinetic and pharmacology are highly sought after in this field. They must be capable of taking up leading roles in generic drugs research and development, such as bioequivalence studies.

The job scope, on the other hand, will be quite different. The pharmacist may need to produce study protocols based on various Malaysian and international guidelines, conduct laboratory analysis or perform quality control checks. Additional professional qualifications such as Good Laboratory Practice (GLP) and Good Clinical Practice (GCP) may be required.

In general, both the public and private sector offer great career opportunities to aspiring pharmacists who wish to venture into the field of medical research. This highly competitive field offers great rewards both in terms of career satisfaction and financial returns to those who are willing to take the road less travelled. MIMS

1. (2014) Top 10 Best Paying Jobs in Malaysia. Available: Accessed 5 April 2016.
2. Pharmaceutical Service Division (2013) Guidelines on Liberalisation of PRP (Provisionally Registered Pharmacist) Training in Private Sector for Graduates of Pharmacy Degree Programme Recognized by Pharmacy Board Malaysia.
3. National Institute of Health Malaysia (2015) About NIH. Available: Accessed 6 April 2016.
4. PEMANDU (2013) EPP3: Malaysian Pharmaceuticals. Available:;_Malaysian_Pharmaceuticals_–_Increasing_Local_Generic_Manufacturing_for_Exports.aspx. Accessed 5 April 2016.