Dr Praveen Raj always wanted to become a doctor, but it was only during his MBBS days that he developed a love for pharmacology.
His motivations were simple – there was a dearth of academia and research in the country and he wanted to do something to fill the gap.
He loved biology since school days and knew that he wanted to be a doctor from a very young age. After school, he realised that getting a seat in a medical college is not easy and put in immense hard work to crack the entrance test in one go.
While studying MBBS at Devraj Urs Medical College, Bengaluru, one of his professors had told him that an ideal doctor should hone three qualities – he should be a researcher, a physician and teacher.
“I realised that while there is no dearth of physicians in India, academia and research are still relatively under-represented. This is why I chose to specialise with an MD in pharmacology, a field of medicine that offers a mix of academics and research,” he says.
What do pharmacologists do? Those with a science degree and good technical skills do research on and develop drugs. They have to understand how drugs work and how these can be used safely and effectively on human beings. Research to discover and develop new drugs is also something they need to do.
Pharmacologists have to investigate how drugs affect biological systems. These (drugs) are tested on cells and animal tissue and even whole animals to check how they react.
Talking about the most important projects he has been involved with, Raj, who currently working with the pharma company, Abbott, says it was researching heart diseases in women.
“Heart disease in women, in India, for different reasons, was not studied or given attention to, as much as heart disease in men. The fact is that women have very much the same triggers – stress, lifestyle, genetic factors that influence heart disease. My work involved surveying thousands of doctors across India and creating medical data that highlighted the condition of heart disease in women,” says Raj, chief manager, medical services at Abbott.
Pharmacology is an evolving field because new drug discoveries and regulations are happening at a rapid space. One needs to keep abreast of this knowledge to remain relevant. For those with full-time day jobs, it becomes a bit of a task to keep up.
“Smartphone technology is a great help if you want to stay updated – mobile apps like Medscape, Knowledge Genie and Heart are great resources for any pharmacologist,” Raj adds.
He says his qualifications allow him to work within different disciplines – pharmaco-vigilance, clinical research, medical affairs, across pharmaceuticals, nutrition, medical devices and diagnostics.
He’s also happy about the fact that his work enables him to help people lead happy and healthy lives – from keeping their hearts healthy to nourishing their bodies at every stage of life by taking medicines to manage their health, Raj says.
“I get a great sense of fulfillment because of what my work enables and that’s why I love it,” he adds.
In India, the demand for pharmacologists is significant, mainly because of the pharmaceuticals and healthcare industry.
Medical writing, clinical research, back-end support for global clinical trials, research and academia are other areas where pharmacologists can build a career in India.
There are a few basic skills that a pharmacologist needs to excel – analytical ability, sound pharmaceutical and pharmacological knowledge, observational skills and precision in analysis. He or she also needs to study extensively; there is no alternative to committing to study deeply. These are really ‘skills of the trade’ – one must sharpen these in order to be good at this profession.
Pharmacologists can expect to find jobs in the pharmaceutical industry. They can also work for clinical research organisations, in research wings of universities, environmental agencies, governmental laboratories, hospitals or organisations involved in medicinal/drug research.