How to Become a Pharmacist

6 Min Read Published March 7, 2024
How to become a pharmacist

Pharmacists are medication experts who specialize in the safe and effective use of pharmaceuticals. If your doctor has ever prescribed you a medication, there’s a good chance you met a community pharmacist during pick-up at your hospital or local drugstore. But what we really want to dive into is how to become a pharmacist.

Pharmacists’ roles have expanded beyond simply counting and dispensing pills. If you desire to work as part of a healthcare team, are interested in learning about medications, and enjoy educating others about leading a healthier life, becoming a pharmacist might be an excellent career for you.

This article will cover everything you need to know about becoming a pharmacist, including what they do, how to become one, career outlook, salary information, and everything else you need to get started in an exciting career as a pharmacist!

We Found The Following Schools with Online Pharmacy Technician Programs

What is a Pharmacist?

Pharmacists are highly respected members of the public health community with expertise in preparing, dispensing, storing, and using medications. 

Pharmacists also educate patients on all aspects of their prescriptions, including:

  1. Biochemical makeup of medications
  2. Drug interactions
  3. Drug dosages for safe patient use
  4. Potential side effects
  5. How to store medicines to maintain efficacy
  6. How to properly use medications

>> Related: How to Become a Pharmacy Technician

How to Become a Pharmacist?

To become a pharmacist, you need to complete the following steps:

1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Pharmacy students must complete a bachelor’s degree in a science-related field or at least two years of undergraduate pre-pharmacy preparatory classes. 

Check with your desired pharmacy program to see what requirements you will need for entry. Pharmacy schools also usually require a minimum grade point average of 3.0 or higher and an emphasis on biology, physics, and chemistry courses.

2. Take the PCAT

Take the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT). Most pharmacy schools currently require the PCAT as part of their admissions process.

The PCAT has sections that test verbal ability, chemistry, biology, reading comprehension, quantitative ability, and writing skills.

3. Enroll in a Pharmacy Program

Earn a Doctor of Pharmacy degree, or Pharm.D, from a pharmacy program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE). These programs usually take four years to complete, though some schools offer expedited programs that take three years.

Pharmacy school will include training in a healthcare setting and include coursework in several topics, including:

  1. Pharmaceuticals
  2. Biology
  3. Non-Perscription Therapies
  4. Compounding and Calculations
  5. Metabolism and Cell Biology
  6. Chemistry
  7. Pharmacy Law
  8. Community Practice
  9. Pharmacology and Body Systems
  10. Hospital and Community Practice
  11. Oncology Medications
  12. Infectious Diseases

How Long Does It Take To Become A Pharmacist?

In general, you will need to obtain your undergraduate degree, which will take two to four years. At this time, you only need to have a two-year degree in order to apply and be accepted to pharmacy school. Then, you'll complete a pharmacist degree, which takes four years.

So, how long does it take to become a pharmacist? It can take anywhere from six to eight years to become a pharmacist.

What Do Pharmacists Do?

Pharmacists are healthcare professionals who safely dispense medications to patients with the help of pharmacy technicians. They perform several tasks regularly, such as:

  1. Receiving prescriptions from physicians
  2. Dispensing medications and other drug therapies
  3. Counseling patients about their prescriptions
  4. Ensuring safety by reviewing prescriptions for interactions with other drugs patients and patient allergies
  5. Advising patients on over-the-counter medications
  6. Conducting health screenings
  7. Giving immunizations, such as COVID-19 vaccines, flu shots, or other vaccinations
  8. Communicating with physicians and other healthcare professionals
  9. Process insurance claims and complete paperwork to ensure payment from insurance providers

Most pharmacists work in hospitals or community pharmacies. But you will also find pharmacists working in a variety of areas that require medication dispensing, including:

  1. Outpatient and ambulatory care clinics
  2. Drug stores
  3. Compounding pharmacies
  4. Retail settings
  5. Nursing homes
  6. Online dispensing pharmacies
  7. Pharmaceutical companies
  8. Government agencies

Pharmacists’ specific duties depend on the type of pharmacy practice they perform and their work environment. For example, hospital pharmacists ensure safe medication distribution for inpatient use. Hospital pharmacists will also meet with patients to review medications, interactions, side effects, and correct usage instructions upon discharge.

Some pharmacists work in the pharmaceutical industry or for government agencies. In this role, they assist with developing and improving new medications while ensuring safety and effectiveness.

We Found The Following Schools with Online Pharmacy Technician Programs

Pharmacist Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for pharmacists is $132,750, or $63.82 per hour.

Highest Paying States for Pharmacists

The top-paying states for pharmacists are:

  1. California - $72.73 per hour | $151,280 per year
  2. Alaska - $70.39 per hour | $146,400 per year
  3. Oregon - $68.00 per hour | $141,440 per year
  4. Washington - $66.63 per hour | $138,580 per year
  5. Minnesota - $65.84 per hour | $136,950 per year

Pharmacist Salary by Place of Work

Where a pharmacist works also impacts salary potential. The BLS states that in 2022 the top median wages for pharmacists per workplace were:

  1. General merchandise retailers: $139,680
  2. Ambulatory healthcare: $138,720
  3. Hospitals: $137,440
  4. Pharmacies and drug stores $129,920

Pharmacist Salary Factors

Many additional factors impact annual income, including years of experience, education level, geographical area, and if a pharmacist works full-time or part-time. Also, some pharmacists own their own pharmacy and work for themselves, while others work as employees.

Many pharmacists also receive paid time off, sick leave, personal days, health insurance, tuition reimbursement, bonuses, and more.

>> Related - How to Become a Nutritionist

4. Pass Your State Pharmacy Licensure Exam

Once the pharmacy school curriculum is complete, students will need to pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) and the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE) or an exam specific to the state in which they will work.

What is the Career Outlook for Pharmacists?

Though pharmacists are essential workers in the healthcare setting, the BLS anticipates a 3% increase in the need for pharmacists between 2022 and 2032. 

Several reasons for this include a low number of anticipated pharmacist retirements, an 85% increase in pharmacy graduates, and increases in pharmaceutical automation. 

However, until 2032, there will still be a need for 13,400 pharmacists each year to work in hospitals, ambulatory care centers, government agencies, pharmaceutical companies, and other healthcare settings.

What are the Continuing Education Requirements for Pharmacists? 

Every U.S. state requires pharmacists to complete continuing education. However, each state has its own specific requirements for the number of credit hours, the frequency of renewal, and specific course requirements.

Standard continuing education topic requirements include pharmacy and drug law, medication errors, patient safety, HIV/AIDS, and opioid abuse.

Where Can I Learn More About Becoming a Pharmacist?

There are professional resources available, including:

  1. American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP)
  2. Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE)
  3. American Pharmacists Association (APhA)
  4. American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP)

We Found The Following Schools with Online Pharmacy Technician Programs

Pharmacist FAQs

  • How many years does it take to become a pharmacist?

    • The road to becoming a pharmacist takes five to eight years, depending on the type of program you choose. While some programs only require two years of pre-pharmacy education, others require a bachelor's degree for admission. Pharmacy school then takes 3-4 years to complete.
  • Is a pharmacist a doctor?

    • A pharmacist is not a medical doctor. However, they must earn a doctorate in pharmacy degree or Pharm.D.
  • Is becoming a pharmacist hard?

    • Becoming a pharmacist requires a significant investment of time, and pharmacy school is highly competitive. Candidates will need to demonstrate expertise in chemistry, biology, physics, and other science and math courses.
  •  Is a pharmacist still a good career?

    • Pharmacists help to make a positive impact on the lives of patients and communities. It is a well-compensated, highly respected career that provides the opportunity to work in many different industry types.
  •  Do pharmacists go to medical school?

    • Pharmacists do not attend medical school. They go to specialized pharmacy schools to earn a doctorate in pharmacy.
  •   How many hours do pharmacists work?

    • Most pharmacists work full-time, which is 40 hours a week. Those who own their pharmacies may be required to work many more hours.
  • What skills do you need to be a pharmacist?

    • In addition to extensive knowledge of medication, pharmacists must have strong science and math skills.  They also must have excellent communication, enjoy educating others, and desire lifelong learning about healthcare trends and innovations in medicine.
    Terri Heimann Oppenheimer
    Terri Heimann Oppenheimer Contributor

    Terri Heimann Oppenheimer is a freelance writer and editor who is driven by details. She loves to dive into research, ensuring that the information she provides educates, engages and illuminates. Before starting her own business she spent years working in advertising and raising three kids. Today she lives in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, where her she and her husband enjoy travel, the Jersey Shore, and spoiling their grandchildren.

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