Complete Guide to Becoming a Pharmacist

December 12, 2020

Anyone who has ever been prescribed medication has been treated by a pharmacist. When most people hear the word “pharmacist,” they think of the person who works at their local pharmacy dispensing prescriptions. However, pharmacists work in a variety of places. People interested in health care and medications might be a great fit to work as a pharmacist. Of course, anyone considering a career in any field should learn about the education needed, how to obtain a license, what kind of work is available, and what sort of salary they can expect.

Road Map to Becoming a Pharmacist

There are two main paths people interested in becoming a pharmacist can take. The first path is attending college and then applying to a graduate school to obtain a pharmacy degree. The other path involves a dual-degree path. People choosing this path will earn both an undergraduate degree and a Pharm.D. degree in about six years. Students in dual-degree programs are often exempted from taking the Pharmacy College Admission Test, or PCAT.

Students interested in becoming a pharmacist can make decisions to help them ensure entry into the undergraduate college or dual-degree program of their choice. As many advanced classes in math, physics, biology, anatomy, and chemistry as possible should be taken. It’s also important to develop excellent communication skills, both written and oral. Carefully picking extracurricular and part-time jobs that will stand out on a résumé can help students get the acceptance letter they want. Consider a part-time job in a nursing home or assisted living facility. Participating in extracurriculars like Science Olympiad also shows a serious, continued interest in science. It’s also a good idea to reach out to pharmacists in the community and ask for a chance to shadow them or conduct an informational interview. Students will gain a much better idea of what working as a pharmacist is like and also will get the chance to form a relationship with an established professional in the field, which will increase their chances of finding a professional mentor.

Education Requirements

Students choosing to complete a bachelor’s degree before pharmacy school should take lots of science classes. It’s a good idea to pick a major like chemistry or biology. Whether someone picks a traditional route or a joint enrollment program, all pharmacists in the United States must obtain a Pharm.D. degree before being allowed to take their licensing exams. Pharm.D. is short for Doctor of Pharmacy. A pharmacy degree is on the same level as a Doctor of Medicine or Doctor of Dental Surgery. All three are professional degrees. The Pharm.D. is a doctorate and shows the high level of education required to be a pharmacist.

Pharmacist License Exam

Pharmacists must pass both the NAPLEX, or North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam, and the MPJE, or Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam. The tests have different purposes. The NAPLEX tests the judgment and decision-making skills of the new pharmacist, while the MPJE tests their knowledge of pharmacy laws at both the state and federal levels.

Residency Program

Most students chose to apply to a residency program after completing their Pharm.D. degree. Residencies allow new pharmacists to learn more about their field and get experience. Residencies consist of two parts. During Post-Graduate Year 1 (PGY1) is a chance to further the knowledge and skills learned in the classroom while studying for the Pharm.D. degree. The second part of a residency program, Post-Graduate Year 2 (PGY2), gives residents the chance to fully explore a subsection of the field, like managed care or pharmacotherapy.

Careers in Pharmacy

Pharmacists work in a variety of settings, including chain and local pharmacies. They also staff hospital pharmacies, where they dispense medications for patients. Pharmacists can work for a pharmaceutical company in the development of new medications. Government agencies also employ pharmacists to work in the field of public health. And academia always needs pharmacists to conduct research on best practices in the field and to teach classes on the subject.

Salary Range for Pharmacists

The median salary for pharmacists, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $61.88 an hour or $128,710 a year. However, there’s a range of what salary someone can expect depending on their location and what branch of the field they work in. Pharmacists in Alaska earn an average of around $148,000 a year, while a pharmacist working in Tennessee might only make about $95,000 each year. Pharmacists working in research for private corporations typically make more money than their peers working in any other part of the field, including hospitals and commercial pharmacies.