How To Become a Pharmacist
What is a Pharmacist?
What does a Pharmacist do?
Anywhere medications are dispensed or drug decisions are being made, a pharmacist will be a vital part of the team, providing expertise on available treatment options. In a healthcare setting, the role of a pharmacist is to be the ultimate drug resource and expert to help mitigate drug-related issues for physicians, nurses, and patients. In a community (retail) setting, the pharmacist is the most accessible healthcare professional to patients; therefore, pharmacists are tasked with triaging everyday ailments and concerns by recommending over-the-counter medications or referring patients to a physician when necessary.
You could think of the pharmacist as the guardian or gatekeeper of processes involving drugs. With few exceptions, the pharmacist is the healthcare professional ultimately responsible for dispensing medications to patients. The pharmacist does so much more than that, however. They also:
Most pharmacists work with the help of pharmacy technicians in a retail pharmacy setting, such as independent pharmacies, drug stores, or a pharmacy within a larger grocery or department store chain (eg, Publix, Target). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics1, half of all pharmacists work in a retail pharmacy setting.
- Hospitals and other inpatient facilities.
- Clinics and other outpatient facilities.
- Pharmaceutical companies.
- Nonprofit community health organizations.
- Government agencies (eg, FDA, DEA).
- Academia (teaching, often within a school of pharmacy).
Complete pre-pharmacy coursework.
- General biology with labs
- General chemistry with labs
- Human anatomy and physiology
- Organic chemistry with labs
Achieve a desired score on the PCAT
Build a strong application for Pharmacy School Admissions
- Impressive pharmacy school letters of recommendation.
- A well-written admissions essay explaining why you want to be a pharmacist (if required).
- Demonstrated leadership in school or community organizations.
- Volunteer efforts in your local community.
- Pharmacy experience, such as working as a pharmacy technician or even. spending some time shadowing your local pharmacist.
- Excellent communication skills so you can make a good impression on your pharmacy school interviews.
How long does it take to become a pharmacist?
What kind of training is required to become a pharmacist?
Pharmacists undergo intensive academic and experiential training across many pharmacy disciplines during their academic curriculum and clinical rotations.
Upon completion of your pharmacy program and attaining your PharmD, you will need to take and pass licensure exams. All states require candidates to pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination® (NAPLEX®). In addition, most states require candidates to pass a pharmacy law exam called the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination® (MPJE®). A few states have other requirements in addition to or in place of the MPJE. For example, in California, candidates for licensure are required to pass the California Practice Standards and Jurisprudence Examination (CPJE) instead of the MPJE.
Hospitals and clinicsIt should be no surprise that pharmacists work in pharmacies within hospitals and clinics. Some pharmacists prefer to work in this clinical setting in collaboration with teams of medical doctors, nurses, physician assistants (PAs), nurse practitioners (NPs), and other healthcare professionals, developing and delivering patients’ treatment plans.
Commercial or retail pharmaciesThis type of pharmacy is what most people associate with a pharmacist’s job. In this setting, pharmacists work in a pharmacy that is directly accessible to patients. The pharmacy may be independent or part of a chain (eg, Walgreens, CVS) or located within a larger grocery or department store (eg, Kroger, Walmart). In this setting, pharmacists are responsible for assisting patients and customers in the community with prescription dispensing, coordinating refills, medication counseling, making recommendations regarding non-prescription products, and basic health screenings. In recent years, the role of pharmacists has evolved to include other tasks such as administering tests and vaccines (eg, COVID-19) and educating patients on the latest news, updates, and guidelines.
Nonprofits and government agenciesSome pharmacists prefer to work in the service of the general public through nonprofit organizations or government agencies focused on public health and safety. Organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) all offer desirable career opportunities for pharmacists to render their talents in service of the greater good. Similarly, organizations such as the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy® (NABP®) and state boards of pharmacy offer opportunities for pharmacists to protect public health by creating uniform education and licensure standards via the NAPLEX and MPJE.
Pharmaceutical companiesCommonly known as “Big Pharma,” pharmaceutical companies offer a range of options for pharmacists to work in the private sector. Pharmacists who tend to be more inventive, innovative, or research-oriented can find fulfilling work in developing, testing, and distributing new drugs, tests, vaccines, etc.
Academic institutions and education companiesSome pharmacists want to educate and train the next generation of pharmacists either as pharmacy school administrators or professors, curriculum developers, or specialized content authors (eg, textbooks). Others even pursue careers as content developers or clinical pharmacist educators at education technology companies that prepare students for the NAPLEX, MPJE, and CPJE.
Is it hard to become a pharmacist?
- Enrolling in and passing prerequisite courses.
- Maintaining a GPA that satisfies your desired pharmacy program’s admissions criteria.
- Taking the PCAT (in some cases), and achieving at least the minimum required scores.
- Securing strong letters of recommendation.
- Applying to one or more pharmacy schools.
- Making a good impression on your interviews.
- Getting admitted to a program.
Do pharmacists go to med school?
What is the fastest way to become a pharmacist?
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Pharmacists, at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacists.htm (visited February 23, 2022)
- Lyons, K., Taylor, D. A., Minshew, L. M., & McLaughlin, J. E. (2018). Student and School-level Predictors of Pharmacy Residency Attainment. American journal of pharmaceutical education, 82(2), 6220. https://doi.org/10.5688/ajpe6220