University of Sydney Handbooks - 2018 Archive

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Study in the Discipline of Pharmacology, School of Medical Sciences, is offered by the Sydney Medical School. Units of study in this major are available at standard and advanced level.

About the major

Pharmacology is the study of the properties and biological actions of drugs and chemicals and the key role they play in the prevention and treatment of human diseases. A drug is any agent, either biological or chemical, that modifies the function of living tissues. Increasingly, doctors rely on drugs not only to cure disease, for example antibiotics and infections, but also to prevent diseases, such as lipid lowering drugs in the prevention of heart disease. Pharmacologists search for and identify new drugs and new drug targets based on knowledge of the nature of particular diseases, and investigate mechanisms of drug action which may lead to greater understanding of disease processes and therapies.

A major in pharmacology will equip you with a thorough knowledge of the discovery, development and testing of drugs, and its importance to the future of medical research and practice. In this major you will learn about the mechanisms of drug action, drug absorption, distribution, metabolism and elimination, drug activity and chemical structure, the effect of drugs on body systems, the toxic effects of drugs and more.

Requirements for completion

A major in Pharmacology requires 48 credit points, consisting of:

(i) 12 credit points of 1000-level core units
(ii) 12 credit points of 2000-level core units
(iii) 24 credit points of 3000-level core units

A minor in Pharmacology is available and articulates to this major.

Pathway through the major

The requirements for a major in Pharmacology are spread out over three years of the degree (possibly four years if students are completing a combined Bachelor of Advanced Studies degree).

A sample pathway for the Pharmacology major (over three years of a degree) is listed below.

Sample pathway: Pharmacology major (48 credit points)



Units of study


Semester 1 or 2

Core: CHEM1XX1 Chemistry 1A

Semester 2

Core: BIOL1XX7 From Molecules to Ecosystems


Semester 1

Core: PCOL2011 Pharmacology Fundamentals

(MEDS2002 only available to students in the medical science stream)

Semester 2

Core: PCOL2012 Pharmacology: Drugs and People


Semester 1

Core: PCOL3X11 Toxicology

Core: PCOL3X12 Drug Design and Development

Semester 2

Core: PCOL3X21 Drug Therapy

Core: PCOL3X22 Neuropharmacology


Please Note. This sample progression is meant as an example only. Depending on unit prerequisites, students may be able to complete these units in a different sequence from that displayed in the table above.

For details of the core and selective units of study required for the major or minor please refer to the Pharmacology section of the unit of study table, Table S, in this handbook.

Fourth year

The fourth year is only offered within the combined Bachelor of Science/Bachelor of Advanced Studies course.

Advanced Coursework
The Bachelor of Advanced Studies advanced coursework option consists of 48 credit points, which must include a minimum of 24 credit points in a single subject area at 4000-level, including a project unit of study worth at least 12 credit points. Space is provided for 12 credit points towards the second major (if not already completed). 24 credit points of advanced study will be included in the table for 2020.

Requirements for Honours in the area of Pharmacology: completion of 36 credit points of project work and 12 credit points of coursework.

Honours units of study will be available in 2020.

Contact and further information

Vanessa Gysbers

T +61 2 9351 6725

The Discipline of Pharmacology
Molecular Bioscience Building G08
Corner Maze Cros and Butlin Ave
University of Sydney NSW 2006

Professor Robert Vandenberg
T +61 2 9351 6734

Dr Tina Hinton
T +61 2 9351 6954
Learning Outcomes

Students who graduate from Pharmacology will be able to:

  1. Describe the physiological and pathophysiological processes in normal and diseased cells and tissues
  2. Explain drug mechanism of action in relation to drug and target structure and pathophysiological processes
  3. Explain structure-activity relationships and the primciples underlying drug design
  4. Describe and critically evaluate pharmacology and toxicology research methods and their role in obtaining knowledge about pharmacology and toxicology and translating this to practice
  5. Outline the processes involved in drug development, regulation and monitoring
  6. Explain how drugs are absorbed, distributed, metabolised and excreted
  7. Apply your understanding of drug targets and binding, and drug absorption, distribution and elimination, to predict and explain the therapeutic effects, side effects and toxic effects of drugs
  8. Design and conduct laboratory and virtual pharmacology and toxicology experiments
  9. Collect, analyse, interpret and critique data derived from pharmacology and toxicology experiments
  10. Communicate experimental findings and their implications
  11. Demonstrate proficiency in the use of research software and databases
  12. Apply principles of drug mechanism of action, absorption, distribution and elimination to experimentation to predict drug effects
  13. Describe and apply assays used in drug discovery and development and the information they provide about drug-target binding and activity
  14. Communicate effectively with peers through discussion and debate, informally and formally, in small and large group settings
  15. Apply pharmacology and toxicology knowledge to real world problems and contribute to public debate and discourse on safety, efficacy and risks associated with drugs and xenobiotics
  16. Use scientific databases to search for and identify literature relevant to current pharmacology and toxicology topics, course material and experiments
  17. Integrate pharmacological and toxicological information from many sources to coherently and critically appraise available pharmacology and toxicology knowledge and resolve contemporary problems
  18. Communicate effectively using a range of modes (written, oral, visual etc.) for a variety of purposes and audiences
  19. Critically analyse the research literature for reliability and relevance of information
  20. Consider and apply ethical and cultural reasoning important to pharmacology and toxicology
  21. Be accountable for your own learning by being an independent, self-directed learner
  22. Demonstrate the capacity for self reflection as well as reflection on the relevance of pharmacology and toxicology to society
  23. Demonstrate effective teamwork skills through collaborative learning
  24. Explain the difference between legitimate cooperation and plagiarism, and demonstrate academic integrity.