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Pharmaceutical Industry Job Descriptions, Careers in the Pharmaceutical Industry, Salary, Employment

Definition and Nature of the Industry, Education and Training Requirements, Getting the Job

The pharmaceutical industry makes products that cure or control diseases and help people live longer and more comfortable lives. Pharmaceuticals include prescription drugs, such as antibiotics and tranquilizers, that are dispensed by pharmacists following a physician's orders. Over-the-counter drugs, such as aspirin

The pharmaceutical industry devotes a great deal of time and money to research that may lead to new or improved products. (© Terry Wild Studio. Reproduced by permission.)

and vitamins, can be bought without a prescription. The pharmaceutical industry also makes biological products, including vaccines, serums, and other kinds of drugs made from living organisms. In addition, there are medicinal chemicals and drugs made from plants sold in bulk to pharmacists, who use them to fill prescriptions. Some drug manufacturers also make medicines for animals.

Physicians can choose from thousands of different pharmaceutical products to use in diagnosing, preventing, controlling, or curing diseases and other disorders. The pharmaceutical industry devotes much of its funds to research that may lead to the discovery of new products or to improvements in existing products. Every year, the industry tests thousands of new substances in its search for new products. Since the 1990s, it has been concentrating research on drugs that treat infections, tumors, and diseases of the heart and blood vessels.

In 2004 the pharmaceutical industry employed 290,000 people. Most workers in this industry are employed by firms that have more than 500 employees. The industry is concentrated in a few states, with most employees located in California, Illinois, Texas, Indiana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania. The pharmaceutical industry is closely regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a federal agency.

There are many professional and technical workers employed in the pharmaceutical industry. Nearly 30 percent of all employees are scientists, engineers, or technicians. Many of these workers do research and test new drugs. They include chemists, biologists, physicians, veterinarians, and biological technicians. New drugs are first tested on bacterial cultures and then on laboratory animals. Only if a drug promises to be safe and effective is it tested on humans. After much careful study, the scientists and physicians present the drug to the FDA for approval. When approved, professional and technical workers, including pharmacists, chemical engineers, and drug technicians, work out the details of mass-producing the drug. For example, they decide whether the drug should be produced as an ointment, tablet, gas, or liquid.

Production in the pharmaceutical industry is highly automated. Pharmaceutical operators control many kinds of machines. Granulator machine operators, for example, run machines that break bulk chemicals down into particles of the needed size. Compounders tend vats in which chemicals are mixed together and processed into creams, liquids, and powder. Compressors run machines that press ingredients together into tablets. Pill and tablet coaters control machines that coat pills. Tablet testers weigh the finished tablets and check them to see that they meet the plant's standards. Ampoule fillers operate machines that fill small sealed glass bottles, or ampoules. The ampoules hold measured doses of liquid drugs that are usually given by injection. Ampoule examiners check the quality of the liquid drug inside the ampoule as well as the ampoule itself. Other workers are employed in plant jobs, such as packaging, quality control, maintenance, and shipping. Only one in four workers in the pharmaceutical industry work in production.

Like other industries, the pharmaceutical industry employs a wide variety of office workers, such as managers and clerical workers. Sales representatives in the pharmaceutical industry are known as pharmaceutical detailer representatives. They describe their company's products to pharmacists, physicians, and other professionals. Detailers also help pharmacists check their shelves for outdated drugs.

Education and Training Requirements

Education and training requirements vary depending on the kind of job you want. Many companies offer training programs for their employees. Some cover part or all of the cost of college courses that employees take to improve their performance.

Many pharmaceutical companies prefer to hire high school graduates as production and maintenance workers. These employees often start as helpers to experienced workers and learn on the job. The minimum requirement for technicians in the pharmaceutical industry is a high school education. Most companies prefer to hire graduates of two-year college programs in science or technology to fill technicians' jobs. These workers often start as laboratory assistants. Positions in science, engineering, and sales usually require a bachelor's degree. Many companies have formal training programs that introduce college graduates to the company's product lines.

Getting the Job

If you want to work in the pharmaceutical industry, your high school, technical school, or college may be able to give you information about getting a job. You can apply directly to pharmaceutical manufacturers. Job openings are often listed on the Internet, in newspaper want ads, or with state and private employment agencies. Sometimes professional and trade organizations have information about job openings.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

As pharmaceutical industry workers gain experience, they can advance to more highly skilled positions in their department. Some become supervisors of other workers. To advance to some jobs, workers may need to get additional education.

Employment in the pharmaceutical industry is expected to increase by approximately 26 percent through 2014. Demand should be particularly strong for scientists working in research and development. Opportunities should also be plentiful for computer specialists, production workers, and sales representatives. Because the pharmaceutical industry is not highly dependent on the strength of the economy, employment tends to remain more stable than in other manufacturing industries.

Working Conditions

Working conditions are generally good in the pharmaceutical industry. Besides being kept clean to protect drugs from contamination, plants are also air conditioned and quiet. Except for maintenance workers and material handlers, most workers do not have to exert a great deal of physical effort. The work is generally safe. The small numbers of employees who work with poisonous chemicals and infectious cultures follow strict safety rules. The workweek is usually forty hours. Because some plants operate around the clock, employees at these plants have to work in shifts. Some production and maintenance workers belong to unions.

Where to Go for More Information

International Chemical Workers Union Council
1799 Akron-Peninsula Rd.
Akron, OH 44313
(330) 926-1444

Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America
950 F St.,NW
Washington, DC 20004
(202) 835-3400

Earnings and Benefits

Earnings for production workers in the pharmaceutical industry are comparable to those in other industries. In general, earnings depend on such factors as the education and experience of the worker and the location and kind of job. Benefits usually include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and retirement plans.

Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesManufacturing & Production