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How to Become a Pharmacist

By Ajoke Aminu

Published:

Have you ever wanted to break into the lucrative and growing field of pharmacy but don’t know where to start? It can be intimidating; spending countless hours researching the different routes, costs, and qualifications. Not to mention the tremendous amount of time required for continuing education. Here, we will make navigating the process easy–let us show you how to become a pharmacist in just 5 easy steps!

Career Summary

Pharmacist Salary

Pharmacist Salary

Are you wondering if the pharmacist salary is enough to make it rain or just make a drizzle?

According to Glassdoor, the various wages for pharmacists in the United States include:

  • Entry Salary (US$91k)
  • Median Salary (US$126k)
  • Executive Salary (US$150k)

It’s fair to say that pharmacists are not struggling to make ends meet, especially since this salary is significantly higher than the national average.

Pharmacist Job Description

Pharmacists are healthcare professionals who are responsible for dispensing medications, providing medication counseling to patients, verifying prescriptions, ensuring accurate dosage, monitoring for drug interactions and adverse effects, collaborating with medical teams, and promoting patient health and safety.

Pharmacist Career Progression

  • Pharmacy Intern/Assistant: Assisting licensed pharmacists with various pharmacy tasks and gaining practical experience.
  • Staff Pharmacist: Working as a licensed pharmacist in retail or hospital settings, dispensing medications and providing patient care.
  • Clinical Pharmacist: Specializing in direct patient care, collaborating with medical teams, and optimizing medication therapy.
  • Pharmacy Manager: Overseeing pharmacy operations and staff, and ensuring compliance with regulations.
  • Pharmacy Director: Managing multiple pharmacy locations or departments and developing strategic initiatives.
  • Executive/VP of Pharmacy: Holding senior leadership roles, overseeing pharmacy operations across an organization or healthcare system.
Pharmacist Career Progression

Pros:

  • Contributing to patient care and improving health outcomes.
  • Opportunities for career advancement and specialization.
  • Playing a crucial role in promoting medication safety and drug therapy optimization.

Cons:

  • Long and irregular work hours, including weekends and holidays.
  • Dealing with insurance-related challenges and medication reimbursement issues.
  • Managing high workloads and handling stressful situations.

Useful Skills to Become a Professional Pharmacist

  • Communication and patient counseling skills.
  • Attention to detail and accuracy in medication dispensing.
  • Pharmacotherapy expertise and knowledge of drug interactions.
  • Problem-solving and critical thinking abilities.
  • Team collaboration and leadership skills.

Popular Pharmacist Specialties

  • Clinical Pharmacy
  • Ambulatory Care Pharmacy
  • Oncology Pharmacy
  • Pediatric Pharmacy
  • Compounding Pharmacy

How to Become a Pharmacist

Pharmacist 5 Steps to Career

Hey there, curious minds! This is only the first of 5 easy steps to turning your dreams into a reality. With all 5 combined steps under your belt, you’ll be well on your way to prescribing medication like a pro. In the meantime, let’s fill all the educational prescriptions you need.

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor’s Degree

You’re ready to take the next step in your career and become a pharmacist. Getting an education is the perfect place to begin your journey. So, step one is to earn a degree. Although a bachelor’s degree alone is not sufficient to become a licensed pharmacist in the U.S., it can serve as a stepping stone for those who intend to pursue a Pharm.D. degree.

Fundamentally, students can complete their bachelor’s degree in a related field, such as pharmaceutical sciences, chemistry, biology, or other pre-pharmacy programs, before applying to a Pharm.D. program. The prerequisite coursework required for admission to a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) program can vary slightly between pharmacy schools, but there are common science and mathematics courses that are typically expected. These prerequisites are designed to ensure that students have a solid foundation in the relevant subjects before entering the pharmacy program.

Some of the common prerequisite coursework include:

  • Chemistry: General Chemistry I and II with lab, Organic Chemistry I and II with lab.
  • Biology: General Biology I and II with lab, Microbiology.
  • Physics: General Physics I and II with lab.
  • Mathematics: College-level Calculus or Statistics.
  • Anatomy and Physiology: Human Anatomy and Physiology I and II.
  • Biochemistry: Introduction to Biochemistry or a specific Biochemistry course.
  • Social Sciences: Some pharmacy schools may require coursework in psychology, sociology, or other social sciences.
  • English: English composition or writing courses.

Step 2: Pursue a Doctor of Pharmacy–PharmD

Indeed, to become a pharmacist in the United States, you need to earn a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree from an accredited pharmacy school or college. The Pharm.D. degree is a professional doctoral degree and is the minimum educational requirement to practice as a licensed pharmacist.

Not only does it set them apart as experts in their field, but it allows them to truly understand the medications they’re handling.

Getting a degree in pharmacy, specifically a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree, is crucial for these reasons:

  • Professional Licensure: In many countries, including the United States, a Pharm.D. degree is the minimum educational requirement to become a licensed pharmacist. Without this degree, individuals cannot practice pharmacy legally and provide pharmaceutical care to patients.
  • Comprehensive Education: Pharm.D. programs provide a comprehensive and structured education that covers essential topics such as pharmacology, pharmaceutical sciences, patient care, pharmacy law, and drug interactions. This education equips pharmacists with the knowledge and skills necessary to safely and effectively provide pharmaceutical services.
  • Patient Safety: Pharmacists play a vital role in patient care and medication management. Their expertise ensures that patients receive the correct medications, at the appropriate dosages, and with proper instructions to minimize the risk of adverse reactions and drug interactions. A Pharm.D. degree ensures that pharmacists are trained to prioritize patient safety.
  • Clinical Knowledge: Pharm.D. programs focus on clinical training, allowing pharmacists to work as part of a healthcare team, collaborate with other medical professionals, and provide evidence-based recommendations for drug therapies.
  • Specialization Opportunities: Pharm.D. programs may offer elective courses and opportunities for specialization in areas such as geriatrics, pediatrics, oncology, infectious diseases, or psychiatric pharmacy. Specialization can open up unique career paths and allow pharmacists to address specific patient needs.
  • Evolving Role of Pharmacists: The role of pharmacists is continuously evolving, with increased emphasis on providing direct patient care, medication therapy management, and preventive healthcare services. A Pharm.D. degree prepares pharmacists to adapt to these changing roles and meet the demands of modern healthcare.
  • Career Advancement: Having a pharmacist degree enhances a pharmacist’s career prospects and may lead to higher earning potential and leadership opportunities within the pharmacy profession.

How Much Does Pharmacy School Cost?

The cost of completing a four-year PharmD program can vary significantly, ranging from approximately US$30,000 to over US$250,000. In addition to the tuition fees, there are also licensing expenses to consider after graduation, herein a budget of US$200 can cover. On average, the tuition fees for a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy in the US typically fall within the range of US$23,000 to US$57,000 per year. These expenses may fluctuate based on the specific pharmacy school, location, and any additional fees or expenses associated with the program.

How Many Years Does It Take to Study Pharmacy?

On average, it takes six to eight years of schooling to fully become a pharmacist. Yes, you read that correctly.

However, don’t let the full timeline deter you as you have the freewill to determine your route–here is a breakdown:

  • Pre-Pharmacy Undergraduate Studies: Before entering a Pharm.D. program, students must complete pre-pharmacy undergraduate coursework. This phase generally takes around 2 to 4 years, depending on the individual’s academic progress and the specific prerequisites required by pharmacy schools.
  • Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) Program: The Pharm.D. program itself usually spans 4 years. During this time, students undertake a rigorous curriculum that includes classroom instruction, laboratory work, and practical training in pharmacy practice settings. The program covers various subjects, including pharmacology, pharmaceutical sciences, patient care, ethics, and law.
  • Postgraduate Training (Optional): After completing the Pharm.D. program, some graduates may choose to pursue postgraduate residency training. Residencies, which are optional but highly beneficial, typically last for one or two years and provide specialized clinical experience and mentorship in areas such as community pharmacy, hospital pharmacy, or clinical pharmacy.

Can I Pursue a Pharm.D. Degree Online?

Yes, there are a plethora of online pharmacy schools that offer on-campus, virtual, and hybrid classes with tuition ranging between US$13,000 to US$42,000.

It’s true–gone are the days when you have to physically sit in a classroom to earn a pharmacist degree! With the advancements in technology, you can now learn from the comfort of your own home (or anywhere with Wi-Fi for that matter). This means you can avoid the long commutes to school, and pursue a career in pharmacy if you prefer to learn at home.

3. Gain Practical Experience

Gaining practical experience as a pharmacist is vital because it provides hands-on exposure to real-world scenarios and patient care. It allows pharmacists to apply their theoretical knowledge and fosters confidence and competence. This ultimately leads to better patient outcomes and enhances the pharmacist’s overall ability to deliver safe and effective pharmaceutical care.

Gain Pharmacist Experience Through Internship Opportunities

The beauty of internships is that you don’t need any prior experience–your pharmacist degree is enough to get you in the door. The most difficult part is probably how to find internship placements in the first place.

Here are some opportunities to guide your path:

  • Hospital Pharmacy Internship: Interning at a hospital pharmacy allows pharmacists to work in a clinical setting, participate in patient care activities, and gain experience in drug distribution and medication management.
  • Community Pharmacy Internship: Interning at a community or retail pharmacy provides hands-on experience in dispensing medications, interacting with patients, and offering medication counseling.
  • Clinical Pharmacy Internship: Clinical pharmacy internships focus on providing direct patient care, conducting medication therapy management, and collaborating with healthcare teams in various healthcare settings.
  • Industry Internship: Some pharmacists intern in pharmaceutical companies or industry settings, where they may be involved in drug development, research, or regulatory affairs.
  • Pharmacy Administration Internship: Internships in pharmacy administration allow pharmacists to learn about pharmacy management, operations, and healthcare policy.
  • Long-Term Care Pharmacy Internship: Long-term care facilities offer internships that focus on managing medications for elderly or long-term patients.
  • Compounding Pharmacy Internship: Pharmacies specializing in compounding medications may offer internships to learn the art of preparing customized medications.
  • Government or Public Health Internship: Working with government health agencies or public health organizations provides insight into public health policies and programs related to pharmacy.
  • Research Internship: Pharmacist research internships offer opportunities to contribute to pharmacy-related research projects and gain research experience.

What Skills Will I Learn as a Pharmacist?

As you journey into obtaining your pharmacist degree, license, and training, it is equally vital to know what skills you should look to acquire.

Below is a list of 15 essential pharmacy skills:

  • Medication Management: You will learn how to dispense medications accurately, assess drug interactions, and ensure appropriate dosages for patients.
  • Patient Counseling: Pharmacists develop communication skills to counsel patients on how to take medications, potential side effects, and medication adherence.
  • Pharmacotherapy Expertise: You will acquire knowledge of various drugs, their mechanisms of action, and their therapeutic uses in treating medical conditions.
  • Drug Information Retrieval: Learning to access and interpret drug information from reliable sources is essential for providing evidence-based care.
  • Pharmacy Law and Ethics: Understanding pharmacy laws, regulations, and ethical considerations is vital for maintaining professional conduct.
  • Medication Therapy Management: Pharmacists learn to optimize drug therapy, identify medication-related problems, and recommend appropriate interventions.
  • Healthcare Team Collaboration: Collaboration with physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals is crucial for integrated patient care.
  • Pharmaceutical Calculations: Developing strong math skills to accurately calculate drug dosages and compounding formulations.
  • Problem-Solving: Pharmacists must analyze complex medication-related issues and make informed decisions to ensure patient safety.
  • Technology Proficiency: Learning to use pharmacy software, electronic health records, and other technological tools to manage patient information and medication orders.
  • Patient Assessment: Gaining the ability to assess patients’ health conditions and medication needs to tailor treatment plans.
  • Quality Assurance: Pharmacists must ensure medication safety and quality in dispensing and compounding processes.
  • Research and Critical Analysis: Developing skills to review scientific literature and evaluate research studies to stay updated with advances in pharmacy practice.
  • Continuing Education: Pharmacists engage in lifelong learning to stay current with developments in the pharmaceutical field.
  • Cultural Competence: Understanding and respecting diverse patient backgrounds and cultural beliefs to provide patient-centered care.

Step 4: Obtain a License

Pharmacist licensure exams are essential assessments that aspiring pharmacists must pass to become licensed and legally practice pharmacy in their respective countries or states.

These exams evaluate the candidate’s knowledge, competence, and understanding of pharmacy practice, pharmaceutical sciences, and patient care.

In the United States, the primary licensure examination for pharmacists is the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX). The NAPLEX is a computer-based test that assesses a candidate’s ability to safely and effectively provide pharmaceutical care. It covers a wide range of topics, including drug therapy, drug interactions, drug safety, pharmacotherapy, and patient assessment.

In addition to the NAPLEX, some states may have additional requirements, such as a separate law examination (MPJE) that focuses on state-specific pharmacy laws and regulations. The Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination (FPGEE) is also an exam administered by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) in the United States. The FPGEE is designed for foreign-educated pharmacists who wish to become licensed pharmacists in the U.S.

The purpose of the FPGEE is to assess the educational equivalency of foreign pharmacy graduates to graduates from accredited pharmacy schools in the United States. It ensures that foreign-educated pharmacists have the necessary knowledge and competencies to practice pharmacy safely and effectively in the U.S.

Furthermore, for international candidates seeking licensure in the U.S., the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Examination Committee (FPGEC) Certification Program and the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) are required as part of the licensure process.

Other countries may have their own licensure examinations, each tailored to the specific regulations and practice standards of that country’s pharmacy profession.

Licensure exams are rigorous assessments, and passing them is crucial to becoming a licensed pharmacist. They are designed to ensure that pharmacists are well-equipped to provide safe and effective pharmaceutical care to patients and uphold the highest standards of the pharmacy profession.

Step 5: Engage in Continuing Education and Stay Updated

In the realm of pharmacy, continuing education is the key to excellence. Let’s explore some useful web resources that will help you navigate evolving challenges and stay updated on the latest pharmacy trends.

Useful Online Resources for Pharmacists

  • American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP): The AACP website provides information about pharmacy education, career paths, and resources for students interested in pursuing a career in pharmacy.
  • Pharmacy Times: Pharmacy Times is a leading source of pharmacy news, drug information, continuing education, and career resources for pharmacists and pharmacy students.
  • Pharmacy Times Continuing Education: Offers a wide range of online continuing education courses for pharmacists to keep them updated on the latest developments in pharmacy practice.
  • American Pharmacists Association (APhA): APhA provides resources, professional development opportunities, and information about the pharmacy profession.
  • Pharmacy Podcast Network: This site offers podcasts covering various topics in pharmacy, providing insights and perspectives from experts in the field.
  • Pharmacy Practice News: Provides news, articles, and updates on pharmacy practice, drug therapies, and industry developments.
  • Drugs.com: A comprehensive drug information resource, including drug interactions, side effects, and patient education materials.
  • RxList: Offers a comprehensive range of drug details, encompassing drug interactions, adverse reactions, and educational resources for patients.

What’s the Career Outlook for Pharmacists?

The job outlook for pharmacists shows approximately a 2% growth rate from 2021 to 2031. Despite this limited employment growth, the demand for pharmacists remains steady, with about 13,600 job openings estimated each year, on average, over the course of the decade.

Although the growth rate may be modest, the pharmaceutical industry, healthcare sector, and evolving roles of pharmacists continue to present opportunities for those seeking a career in pharmacy. Pharmacists play a vital role in patient care, medication management, and public health initiatives, making them integral members of the healthcare team. As the healthcare landscape evolves, pharmacists are expected to adapt their roles and contribute to advancements in drug therapies, research, and pharmaceutical services.

Pharmacist Popular Career Specialties

Top Job Opportunities that Suit a Pharmacist

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a pharmacist? Not only do they get to wear cool lab coats, but their job opportunities are endless!

Pharmacists can work in a variety of settings such as:

  • Retail Pharmacist: Working in community pharmacies or drugstores, retail pharmacists dispense medications, counsel patients on proper drug use, manage medication therapy, and provide over-the-counter product recommendations.
  • Clinical Pharmacist: In hospitals and healthcare facilities, clinical pharmacists work closely with medical teams to provide direct patient care, conduct medication reviews, optimize drug therapy, and monitor for drug interactions and adverse effects.
  • Hospital Pharmacist: Hospital pharmacists manage the hospital pharmacy department, oversee medication dispensing, prepare intravenous medications, and provide specialized clinical services to patients.
  • Ambulatory Care Pharmacist: Ambulatory care pharmacists provide patient-centered care in outpatient clinics, managing chronic conditions, offering medication counseling, and promoting medication adherence.
  • Nuclear Pharmacist: Nuclear pharmacists prepare and dispense radiopharmaceuticals used in diagnostic imaging and therapeutic procedures.
  • Long-Term Care Pharmacist: Long-term care pharmacists work in nursing homes or assisted living facilities, overseeing medication management for elderly patients.
  • Pharmacy Manager: Pharmacy managers supervise pharmacy operations, staff, and inventory, ensuring compliance with regulations and delivering quality patient care.
  • Clinical Research Pharmacist: Clinical research pharmacists participate in pharmaceutical research studies, testing new medications or treatments.
  • Pharmacy Informatics Specialist: Informatics pharmacists focus on the integration of technology and pharmacy practice, managing electronic health records and pharmacy software systems.
  • Academic Pharmacist: Working in universities or colleges, academic pharmacists teach pharmacy students, conduct research, and contribute to the advancement of pharmacy education.
  • Industrial Pharmacist: Industrial pharmacists are involved in drug manufacturing, quality control, and pharmaceutical product development.
  • Public Health Pharmacist: Public health pharmacists participate in public health initiatives, vaccination programs, and medication management for populations.
  • Consultant Pharmacist: Consultant pharmacists offer specialized expertise in areas such as geriatrics, psychiatric care, or medication management for specific patient populations.
  • Regulatory Affairs Pharmacist: Regulatory affairs pharmacists ensure compliance with drug regulations and guide pharmaceutical companies through the approval process.
  • Telepharmacy Pharmacist: Telepharmacy pharmacists provide remote pharmacy services, especially in rural or underserved areas.

Variety of Companies Hiring Pharmacists in 2023

Pharmacists get to specialize in areas such as oncology, pediatrics, and geriatrics–ultimately expanding the range of companies they can explore. And let’s not forget about the growing field of telepharmacy where pharmacists can work from the comfort of their homes. From the pharmacy job description and the list below, you should be able to identify the type of company you want to apply to or work with.

Here are some pharmacy-inclined company spotlights:

  • Retail pharmacies and drugstores
  • Hospitals and healthcare facilities
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturers
  • Long-term care facilities
  • Government health agencies
  • Ambulatory care clinics
  • Research institutions
  • Academic institutions (universities and colleges)
  • Home healthcare agencies
  • Telehealth companies
  • Pharmacy benefit management (PBM) companies
  • Pharmaceutical consulting firms
  • Hospice care organizations
  • Health insurance companies
  • Biotechnology companies
  • Clinical research organizations (CROs)
  • Nuclear pharmacies
  • Veterinary pharmacies.

5 Tips to Balance the Work and Life of a Pharmacist

Pharmacists are often surrounded by boxes of medications and a ton of paperwork. However, do not let the busy environment trick you into thinking that pharmacists do not have time for anything else. They have a work-life balance like everyone else.

Being a pharmacist does not only obligate you to work for hours on end, dealing with medications, and handling customer complaints. They can still have time to pursue other interests, hobbies, or even take a weekend off to relax. The person behind the counter should not only be a hardworking pharmacist making sure patients get the right medications, but also a person with a life beyond the pharmacy.

Here are some tips to live a balanced life:

  • Prioritize Your Tasks: As a pharmacist, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the volume of work. Prioritize your tasks based on urgency and importance. This will help you spend your time more efficiently and reduce stress.
  • Set Boundaries: It is crucial to set boundaries between your work and personal life. Try not to bring work home and ensure that your time off is spent on relaxation and personal activities.
  • Stay Healthy: Maintaining your physical health is essential. Ensure you get regular exercise, eat a balanced diet, and get enough sleep. This will keep you energized and focused.
  • Seek Support: Don’t hesitate to seek help when you need it. Whether it’s delegating tasks at work, or asking family and friends for support at home, remember that you don’t have to do everything alone.
  • Take Time for Yourself: Remember to take time out for activities you enjoy or simply to relax. This can help recharge your batteries and prevent burnout.

Should I become a Pharmacist?

It’s a decision that can impact the rest of your life: should you become a pharmacist? The answer isn’t as simple as a yes or no. There are many factors to consider, from the job market to your own personal passions and strengths. After reading through the key points in this article, you’ll have a better idea of whether the pharmacy path is right for you. But don’t stop there!

Take the time to reflect on your own interests and skills. Do you love interacting with people? Are you a numbers whiz? These traits could make you a perfect fit for the pharmacy world. And finally, don’t forget to envision your long-term goals. By considering these essential factors and making a well-informed decision, you’ll be on your way to a successful and fulfilling career as a pharmacist.

Careers Related to Pharmacist


Ajoke Aminu

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