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How to become a pharmacist

Published: Thursday 14th January 2021

Young female pharmacist taking inventory of her stock of medicines

Have you ever wondered how to become a pharmacist? You’re not alone. Thousands of people every year in the US opt to go into this dynamic and challenging field. About 15,000 people every year graduate from pharmacy school in the US, and join a workforce that is 320,000 strong. 

Many people choose this field because of the stability, high pay, and continual demand for pharmacological expertise. 

Here’s how to become a pharmacist.

What is a pharmacist?

Pharmacists dispense prescription medication to patients and offer advice on how to manage dosages and the safe use of their medicines. A pharmacist’s knowledge of medicines has to be great, since they’re dispensing potentially dangerous substances to people every day. 

There are a few different kinds of pharmacists, each one providing its own specialty service. Community pharmacists, for instance, work in retail operations, often managing their own desk/kiosk. They dispense medications and answer questions about medication use and other health care-related subjects. Some pharmacists are knowledgeable enough to create their own mixtures of medications, a process known as compounding. 

Clinical pharmacists, on the other hand, work in hospitals or clinics. They are more directly involved in patient care and often consult with doctors, nurses, and other health professionals about medication use. Consultant pharmacists advise healthcare organizations and insurance companies on medication use and improving services.  

It is not uncommon for many pharmacists to become very involved in the day-to-day administration of their workplace. They will often spend a fair amount of time on things like inventory and shipping.

What education do I need to become a pharmacist?

Two pharmacists looking at a shelf of drugs

To become a pharmacist, you need to achieve a PharmD from an accredited pharmacy program. Admissions requirements vary, but most applicants will need to display achievement in post-secondary subjects like chemistry or biology. Most programs require a bachelor’s degree. You will also be required to take the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT). 

Most PharmD programs take around four years to complete. During your program you will study subjects like chemistry, pharmacology, and medical ethics. It is also very common for pharmacy students to do internships at hospitals and clinics during their studies. 

Do I need any other experience or certifications?

To operate as a pharmacist, you need to be licensed in the state where you work. To become licensed, you need to pass two exams: the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX), which tests pharmacy knowledge, and the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE), which tests your knowledge of pharmacy law. You must also complete a number of hours as an intern. 

Main duties

Your duties as a pharmacist will vary depending on the type of pharmacist you become. However, most pharmacists will:

  • Dispense prescription medication
  • Advise patients and colleague on medications and their effects
  • Advise on general health and well-being
  • Check to see if there will be any negative effects from taking prescription medication
  • Provide immunizations
  • Complete insurance forms
  • Oversee the work of pharmacy technicians
  • Conduct administrative work

Where are all the pharmacist jobs?

Pharmacisst dispensing medicine to a patient

Most pharmacists work either for retail chains or manage their own businesses. However, some pharmacists also work for pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, clinic, and other organizations. You may also work for the government or the military.

Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019, the average pharmacist earned around $128,000. A pharmacist’s salary can grow as high as $200,000 in the US.

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