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What do you want to become?
How to Become a Pharmacist
Alternate Career Titles:
Doctor of Pharmacy
Pharmacist Job Description: Pharmacists provide wellness screenings, administer immunizations, dispense prescription medication and offer expertise in regards to prescription medication
Pharmacist Salary (Annual): $128,090
Pharmacist Salary Range: $88,400 to $162,900
How Long To Become a Pharmacist: 8 years
Pharmacist Requirements: Doctor of Pharmacy, Pharm. D.
Become a Pharmacist
Pharmacists perform a variety of important pharmaceutical tasks including filling prescriptions, verifying instructions from Family Physicians and administering the correct doses of medication to prescribed patients. These professionals also advise patients on possible side effects and reactions medications may have, instruct patients on how to take their prescribed medication, administer immunizations (such as flu shots) and provide advice to patients regarding general health topics. In this career, professionals learn all of the pros and cons of pharmacy and the pros and cons of being a Pharmacist.
Responsibilities of Pharmacists also include completing insurance forms, keeping up-to-date and correct patient records and overseeing Pharmacy Technicians and interns. Pharmacists who own or manage their own pharmacies may also conduct inventory management and possibly compound their own prescriptions.
“A lot of words come to mind [when trying to describe a career as a Pharmacist, but the one that seems most appropriate is ‘rewarding,’” Joe Adamovicz, Pharm.D., a Pharmacist practicing in Philadelphia, said. “The career is also demanding and frustrating at times, and every day is an education. There can be long hours, and there are times where it seems thankless, but one good patient interaction is usually enough to remind me why I entered the career.”
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Education & Training
To become a Pharmacist, a professional must first obtain a 4-year bachelor’s degree in a related science. Upon completing this undergraduate degree, learners must next work toward completing a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree, which usually takes another four years to complete. These programs involve classes in chemistry, pharmacology, ethics and supervised clinical work (also called an “internship”).
For admittance in these programs, professionals most often are required to have additionally obtained a Bachelor’s Degree, having taken courses in chemistry, biology and physics. Another step prior to entering a Doctor of Pharmacy program is also to take a Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT).
“There are some schools that will accept students for a 6-year program out of high school, but the most common route, and the one that I chose, was entering a 4-year professional program after taking the undergrad prerequisites at a different university,” Adamovicz said. “It took me a total of 7 years, but that’s because I wanted to make sure I’d be on track to get a bachelor’s degree in four years in the event I wasn’t accepted to pharmacy schools.”
He further explained that the coursework involved in these programs can be very strenuous, and that certain undergraduate classes — particularly organic chemistry and anatomy / physiology — tend to challenge some students to the point of questioning their intended career path. However, for those students who choose to persevere, the work in Pharmacy School does not get much easier. Learn about other careers in pharmacy today!
“There are a lot of obligations to fulfill, and a lot of time commitments outside of the classroom,” Adamovicz explained. “I was fortunate enough to be able to focus on school full-time, but I imagine it would be much more difficult to manage for students with families.”
He continued in explaining that the final year of pharmacy school is entirely outside of the classroom. This means that for 6 weeks at a time, students are working 40-hour weeks in different practice settings. Most students also maintain part-time pharmacy careers throughout that time, making free time potentially hard to come by.
“The main challenge for me was adapting to the mentality of approaching school more like a full-time career than just school,” Adamovicz said. “It’s much easier to get away with slacking in undergrad, but there’s still plenty of opportunity for fun.”
Lastly, after obtaining a Pharm.D., Pharmacists must pass two exams to receive their license. The North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) tests pharmacy skills and knowledge, but a Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE), or a state-specific test on pharmacy law, is also required. A number of hours as an intern, which varies by state, may also be mandatory.
“Anyone who wants to work in a retail setting like a typical chain pharmacy would start [trying to advance their career] by managing a pharmacy at one of the company’s locations before seeking promotions to district or regional manager, etc. That’s basically just a rise up the corporate ladder and moves pharmacists farther away from actually practicing pharmacy,” Adamovicz explained. “For people who want to work in a more clinical setting, like a hospital or specialized field, the best route is to pursue a residency after graduation.”
He noted that residencies are typically 1 to 2-year long experiences working under another Pharmacist’s supervision, much like residency programs for Physicians. This process allows for a full-time, on-the-career learning experience and is slowly becoming a requirement for just about any non-retail position, according to Adamovicz.
“Residents get paid less than half as much as their peers in retail and work very long hours, but many find a career in their desired field to be very rewarding and worth the work required,” Adamovicz added.
Furthermore, Pharmacists who wish to advance within their career in healthcare may also consider changing their pharmacy specialty. For example, while community Pharmacists work in retail stores, other Pharmacists can work in hospitals, clinics or other healthcare settings. Additionally, Consultant Pharmacists are employed to advice healthcare facilities and insurance providers on patient medication use and on how to improve pharmacy services.
Furthermore, Pharmaceutical Industry Pharmacists can work in areas of the field such as marketing, sales, research and development with the purpose of designing/developing medications, or promoting them. Alternatively, Pharmacists hoping to advance their careers may also choose to earn a certification to show their advanced level of knowledge in a certain area (i.e. Certified Diabetes Educator).
Experience & Skills
Those who succeed in the career of a Pharmacists typically have strong analytical skills, including the ability to provide safe medications efficiently, evaluate patients effectively and assess patient needs. Professionals in these careers should also possess strong communication skills, allowing them to clearly converse with patients. This is integral to determining their symptoms, needs and concerns to advise them on how to take their prescriptions. Pharmacists will also call on communication skills when prescriptions and refills with Nurse Practitioners, Registered Nurses and Surgeons.
“Above all else, pharmacists need good communication skills,” Adamovicz confirmed. “Relaying complicated concepts about disease states, medications, and insurance issues to patients who often have no education in those areas can be difficult. If a patient can’t understand their pharmacist, building a functional and trusting relationship will be difficult.”
Lastly, Pharmacists should have excellent computer skills to maintain electronic health records, and managerial skills to supervise facilities and employed Pharmacy Techs. These systems can also keep track of inventory, alerting a Pharmacist when a prescription is low in stock. Therefore, understanding the operative systems are imperative.
“The best pharmacists are the ones who are not only knowledgeable, but friendly, approachable, composed and compassionate,” Adamovicz explained. “Patients are more likely to learn from and trust a pharmacist who treats them with the respect and care that they’d give to a member of their own family. Being able to act cool and calm in the face of stress also helps.”
Additionally, Pharmacists should be extremely detail oriented, as there is no room for error in administering medication to patients. These professionals should also possess a desire to help others improve their health, and be passionate about the science of pharmaceutics. In their best interest is also being kind, compassionate and empathetic, as oftentimes those seeking healthcare advice or medication are ill or injured and can be frustrated and/or in discomfort.
“Clinical Pharmacists are a crucial part of critical care teams in the hospital, helping to save lives in emergencies. If you think about some of your most recent trips to CVS or Walgreens, there was probably someone yelling at an employee behind the counter, a phone that never stopped ringing, a car visible in the drive-thru lane, and three to four people standing and staring at the employees while they worked,” Adamovicz said. “Buried somewhere in that pandemonium was a Pharmacist going through an average workday.”
“The lifestyle of a Pharmacist depends a lot on where they practice,” Adamovicz said. “For a Pharmacist at a retail chain, the lifestyle often includes long, irregular hours with altered sleep and meal schedules, a lack of time with family and friends and regularly elevated stress levels.”
Most Pharmacists work full time, although roughly 20 percent choose to work part time. Additionally, because many pharmacies are open at all hours of the day, Pharmacists can be required to work evenings, nights and weekends, often involving long hours on their feet. Yet, the Pharmacists who chose to own and operate their own businesses are granted the ability to essentially choose the hours they are open, and the hours they work. This can create the potential for a great work-life balance.
“Things tend to be a bit less hectic for the average staff Pharmacist verifying orders at a computer in a hospital basement or for someone working at an insurance company, spending most of the day on the phone,” Adamovicz assured. “However, all that added stress is usually taken on willingly by folks seeking greater financial compensation.”
The employment of Pharmacists is projected to see little to no change in growth over the next decade. The majority of Pharmacists work in pharmacies or drug stories, followed by state, local and private hospitals, general merchandise stores and grocery stores. Other Pharmacists find employment from government entities and the military. Furthermore, the state with the highest employment level is California, followed by Texas, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania.
“I got my first pharmacy career at CVS while still in pharmacy school through a required part of my ‘experiential education,’” Adamovicz recalled. “They liked working with me enough to keep me with the company, and typically they’ll retain interns as Pharmacists once they graduate.”
After graduating from pharmacy school, Adamovicz said he found his first post-graduate Pharmacist position through a career search application, although he remembers there being listings for the position on most career sites. Yet, he noted that networking is just as important as possessing strong pharmaceutical credentials.
“Pharmacy is a small world though, so making connections and good impressions can be just as valuable as an impressive resume,” Adamovicz said. He then added, “I’d recommend pharmacy students network as much as possible, whether through clubs, fraternities or friends from class, and not be afraid to reach out to someone they worked with in the past.”
The median annual wage for Pharmacists was $128,090. Additionally, the lowest 10 percent earned less than $88,400, whereas the highest 10 percent earned more than $162,900. However, the highest paying facilities included general merchandise stores, local, state and private hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies and drug stores. The top paying state for this occupation is Alaska, followed by California, New Hampshire, Vermont and WIsconsin.
“There can be an appreciable disparity between pharmacists in different fields,” Adamovicz added. “Typically, retail Pharmacists earn more than their peers who may work in the ‘industry’ (for a pharmaceutical company) or at hospitals and insurance companies.”
Adamovicz continued by explaining that working for a corporation, like CVS, also means an employer will benefit from incentives like company stock and a 401(k). The paychecks can mean living comfortably for most people, but the career can make it hard to find time to enjoy the luxuries afforded by it.
“Finding the balance while still young is crucial,” Adamovicz advised. “Many young pharmacists, myself included, are also buried in a mountain of student debt, meaning my lifestyle does not at all feel like a reflection of what I see on my paystub.”
Unions, Groups and Associations
The American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy (AJHP) is the official publication of the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP). It publishes peer reviewed scientific papers on contemporary drug therapy and pharmacy practice innovations in hospitals and health systems.
The National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) advances a pro-patient and pro-pharmacy agenda. For the ultimate benefit of the consumers served by NACDS members, the mission of NACDS is to advance the interests and objectives of the chain community pharmacy industry, by fostering its growth and promoting its role as a provider of healthcare services and consumer products.
The American Pharmacists Association (APhA) is the largest association of pharmacists in the United States, with more than 62,000 practicing pharmacists, pharmaceutical scientists, student pharmacists, pharmacy technicians as members. APhA is the organization whose members are recognized in society as essential in all patient care settings for optimal medication use that improves health, wellness, and quality of life.
The American College of Clinical Pharmacy (ACCP) is a professional and scientific society that provides leadership, education, advocacy, and resources enabling clinical pharmacists to achieve excellence in practice, research, and education. Additionally, ACCP is the professional home for clinical pharmacy practitioners, scientists, educators, administrators, students, residents, and fellows from more than 60 countries committed to excellence in clinical pharmacy.
“There are a ton of organizations for Pharmacists and pharmacy students suited to every field and area of specialty,” Adamovicz stated. “From day one in pharmacy school, students will be bombarded by representatives for them announcing meetings. No matter what appeals to you about pharmacy, there’s guaranteed to be at least one organization you can get involved in to learn more about what interests you and how to get what you want out of your career.”
- Apply for a position as a Pharmacy Technician to get a feel for the industry
- Research pharmacy schools and learn about admission requirements
- Create a spreadsheet or checklist for application materials
- Meet application deadlines
All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meet the professional: Joe Adamovicz, Pharm.D.
Practice: Independent Community Clinic Pharmacy, affiliated with Drexel University
Location: Philadelphia, PA
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“Don’t do it for the money! I’m only half kidding. Pharmacy school is very expensive and there isn’t as much grant and scholarship money available to help mitigate the costs as there is for undergraduate students. The paychecks can be nice, but seeing how much of them goes right to paying my loans can be extra sad. Another big thing is to always make time to take care of yourself. Getting burnt out with the studying, long hours and constant outpouring of compassion for others can be easy. Remember to treat yo’self.”
What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“I think some people take on too much responsibility and overextend themselves, whether in school or as a newly practicing Pharmacist. There’s a lot of pressure to be involved with some kind of organization, and companies often rely on young employees to put in extra hours. Getting involved and garnering respect in the workplace are important, but losing sight of what motivated us to enter this field in the first place can be easy.”
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“Not a lot of people ask about what an average day is like. I’m pretty accustomed to clearing up misconceptions about a Pharmacist’s duties (which, for the record, include a lot more than taking pills from bigger bottles and putting them into smaller bottles), but someone asking about what a usual day entails is rare. The answer can be very different, depending on the Pharmacist you ask, but the typical retail Pharmacist spends a ton of time on the phone and speaking to patients in person. For a lot of folks, everything between getting seen by a doctor and going home with medicine can be a total mystery. For many, the whole notion of insurance, refills, copays, and the dreaded ‘prior authorization’ are an enigma, and a lot of my time and energy is devoted to helping them navigate and understand their medical conditions and the confusing healthcare landscape. I’m much more accessible to most patients than their physicians are, so me being the primary contact and reference point for anything health-related is common. I take on many roles for for patients, but in the end, I’m helping to make complex challenges as simple as possible for them and to keep them as healthy as I’m able.”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
“I was always into science and the idea of understanding things that seemed like magic. I thought chemistry was just the coolest thing (I know I’m lame) and medicine appealed to me because the field was like magic that could somehow heal people. I didn’t like the idea of being around blood and guts as a physician, but the more I learned about pharmacy, the more the profession called to me. Everything about how a single little pill can make a sick person better is interesting to me. Getting to share that with others and help make healthier living accessible to people is exactly the kind of reward that keeps me coming back to the mayhem every day.”
Credentialing organization: Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education