Becoming a pharmacist means entering a steadily growing career field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the field will expand through 2018, with excellent career prospects. Pharmacists distribute drugs and provide patients and medical professionals with advice about usage and side effects. If you're working as a pharmacist in the United States, you'll need a license, which requires a Doctor of Pharmacy degree.
In order to qualify for an accredited pharmacy college, you'll need two years of "pre-pharm" coursework at the undergraduate level. Classes typically include chemistry, physics, anatomy and physiology. Most applicants will complete three or more years of undergraduate work before applying for pharmacy school, but this isn't a requirement. You'll also have to pass the Pharmacy College Admissions Test to prove your qualifications. The test covers verbal, reading and mathematics ability, as well as biology and chemistry. Each pharmacy school sets its own cutoff point for an acceptable score.
It takes four years in pharmacy college to earn the Doctor of Pharmacy or "PharmD" degree. The courses cover all aspects of drug therapy, and train prospective pharmacists in communicating with patients and medical professionals about drug treatments and patient care. Pharmacy college students will spend time working and training under a licensed pharmacist in a practice to gain hands-on experience. Students also take classes in professional ethics, public health and business management.
In addition to their college courses, some pharmacists will also take a one- to two-year residency as part of their training. The BLS states these programs are mandatory for any pharmacist working in a clinic or hospital, but they can also provide specialized training for pharmacists in medical research or some other similar field. Residencies typically require completing a research project. Some pharmacists will go on to acquire a Masters of Business Administration or a medical degree as well.
Once you've completed your education, you have to pass the licensing tests before you can start your career. All states require pharmacists pass the NAPLEX exam testing their professional skills, plus a test – the exact brand varies between states – on pharmaceutical law. Some states have additional tests.You may also have to deal with age requirements, background checks and requirements for hands-on experience. The latter is generally covered as part of your pharmaceutical college training.