Pharmacists play a vital role in the health care system. Becoming a pharmacist takes years of formal education and practical experience, but the rewards include financial gain and the satisfaction of helping patients on the road to better health. The aging baby boomer generation has created a demand for more pharmacists, which should continue through the next decade.
Although programs vary, pharmacists typically spend at least eight years in school earning their undergraduate and Pharm D degrees before entering a one- to two- year residency.
The duties and responsibilities of a pharmacist extend beyond filling prescriptions. Pharmacists apply their knowledge of medications to check for potentially harmful interactions with other medications in a patient’s drug regime or for side effects that can impact a patient’s medical condition. The pharmacist must verify the doctor’s instructions and communicate dosage and storage requirements to the patient. The pharmacist advises when to take a medication, such as before or after meals, and warn of dangers such as consuming alcohol while taking the drug.
Many pharmacists administer flu shots, provide advice about healthy lifestyles, and offer health screenings such as blood pressure checks. A pharmacist can also help you make decisions about products such as bandages, over-the-counter medications and medical equipment such as crutches and blood sugar testing devices.
While your doctor maintains a chart of your medical history, the pharmacist keeps detailed records of your medication history. Pharmacists also must keep meticulous records of their drug inventory as a business practice and, in some cases, to comply with government regulations such as laws pertaining to narcotics.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimates nearly half of American pharmacists work in pharmacies and drugstores, while about 25 percent work for hospitals, state or local health clinics. Pharmaceutical companies hire pharmacists to work in areas ranging from marketing to research and development, and medical consulting firms employ pharmacists to advise insurance companies and health care institutions.
Pharmacists who work at hospitals or drugstores often must work nights and weekends. Typically, pharmacists spend much of their workday on their feet.
To become a pharmacist, you must earn a Doctor of Pharmacy degree (Pharm D), which is offered by just 135 colleges and universities. The Pharm D degree is a graduate-level credential, which means you must complete undergraduate requirements before entering a pharmacy program. Some pharmacy programs require applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree, which typically takes at least four years of study to obtain.
As a prerequisite for admission, most pharmacy programs require applicants to complete the Pharmacy College Admissions Test, which schools use to evaluate an applicant’s scientific knowledge and academic skills. Some states, including California, require pharmacy students to obtain an intern pharmacist’s license to carry out pharmacist duties while in school. Most Pharm D programs take four years to complete, with coursework that includes pharmacology, medical ethics and chemistry, although some schools offer three-year programs. The program you select may also include an internship at a local pharmacy or hospital. Pharmacists who plan to open their own drugstore often take business courses such as accounting and finance or earn a secondary postgraduate degree in business administration.
After completing pharmacy school, pharmacists seeking research careers often enter residency programs, where they may specialize in a certain type of medicine such as oncology or geriatric care. Residencies can take place at institutions such as pharmaceutical companies or hospitals and typically run from one to two years.
Although programs vary, pharmacists often spend at least eight years in school earning their undergraduate and Pharm D degrees.
Every state requires pharmacists to hold a license, which requires passing two tests, the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) and the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE). The NAPLEX tests the knowledge and skills you need to perform pharmacist’s duties, and the MPJE assesses your knowledge of federal pharmacy law and state laws in the state in which you plan to practice. Certain states require pharmacists to complete a defined number of hours of practical experience, dispensing medications and keeping pharmacy records before they can qualify for a license. Many states hold reciprocal agreements with other states, which allows pharmacists to transfer their existing license from one state to another. However, some states require applicants to pass their state-specific MPJE to qualify for a transfer.
Most states require pharmacists who administer immunizations such as flu shots to earn certification through the Pharmacy-Based Immunization Delivery program, which bases its curriculum on standards established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pharmacists also can earn certifications in specific areas of medicine, such as nutrition, diabetes and oncology.
Years of Experience and Salary
In 2017, pharmacists earned a median wage of $124,000. Half of all pharmacists earned more than this, and half earned less. High earners made nearly $160,000, while pharmacists at the bottom of the salary scale brought home less than $90,000.
Job Growth Trend
The BLS projects an increase in pharmacist positions by up to 6 percent through 2026, which is about the average job increase for this period.