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How to Become a Pharmacist

pharmacist
Pharmacists are responsible for filling prescriptions for patients and ensuring that a patient is not prescribed medicines that will react negatively with one another.
Credit: mangostock | Shutterstock

Pharmacists are in high demand in the United States, and rates of employment in the field are expected to grow by 25 percent between 2010 and 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If you’re considering a career as a pharmacist, there’s a lot you might like to know before you go looking for work. Here are some important facts about the job, including what the responsibilities of a pharmacist include, what you can expect of your workplace, and how much money you might earn annually.

What pharmacists do

Pharmacists are responsible for filling prescriptions for patients and ensuring that a patient is not prescribed medicines that will react negatively with one another. It is the job of a pharmacist to verify instructions from physicians on how much and how often a patient is to take a particular medicine and then instruct patients on how and when to take the prescribed medicine. Pharmacists must be able to advise patients on potential side effects of medications as well as on general health topics.

Much of a pharmacist’s work is administrative, as they must oversee the technicians and interns with whom they work, complete insurance forms, and keep patient records up to date.

Pharmacists who run their own businesses tend to also have additional business-related responsibilities, whereas those who work for universities or hospitals are often involved in the testing of new medicines.

Most pharmacists work in retail establishments, but there are also career opportunities for clinical pharmacists, who work directly with patients in hospitals and other healthcare facilities, as well as consultant pharmacists, who work as advisors to healthcare facilities or insurance companies.

Where pharmacists work

As of 2010, the majority of pharmacists in the United States were employed by retail establishments, such as grocery or drug stores, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. Other pharmacists find work in hospitals and other healthcare facilities, and consultant pharmacists often work for insurance providers.

Most pharmacists work full time, though there are some who work part time. Pharmacists often work irregular hours, as many pharmacies are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

As of 2010, the median annual wage of pharmacists in the United States was $111,570.

Becoming a pharmacist

All pharmacists are required to have a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree from an accredited institution. They must also possess a license, which requires passing two separate exams.

In order to be accepted into a Doctor of Pharmacy program, applicants must pass certain prerequisite courses in chemistry, biology and anatomy. Most programs accept applicants who have completed two to three years of undergraduate study, though some programs require that applicants receive a bachelor’s degree before applying. Applicants to Doctor of Pharmacy programs must also take the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT).

Once accepted into a program, Doctor of Pharmacy students usually take three to four years to complete their degree and supervised internship positions. Students seeking a career in clinical or research pharmacology must also complete a one- to two-year residency upon completing a Doctor of Pharmacy program.

Regardless of the state in which they choose to work, all pharmacists must pass two licensing exams, which test for pharmacy skills and knowledge of pharmacy laws.

For more information about pharmacists, visit the American Pharmacist Association.