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Pharmacist Careers

Pharmacists fill and dispense prescription medications and instruct patients on how to take them properly. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, typical tasks include ensuring prescriptions are filled according to the prescribing doctor's instructions, checking to make sure prescriptions won't harmfully interact with a patient's other medications or conditions, and advising patients of any potential side effects of the drugs they'll be taking. Pharmacists may also communicate with insurance companies, give patients general health advice, organize administrative paperwork or supervise pharmacy staff (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).

Most pharmacists work in retail pharmacies and drug stores, but a significant percentage can be found in state, local and private hospitals, and some may work in grocery stores, department stores and other one-stop shopping locations. Others work on new medications for pharmaceutical companies, research new prescription drugs at universities, or custom-make medication through a process known as compounding. Wherever they are employed, most pharmacists spend a fair amount of time on their feet and work at least 40 hours a week, although part-time pharmacist jobs do exist and made up about 20 percent of the pharmacist workforce in 2010 (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).

How to Become a Pharmacist

The road to becoming a pharmacist can be fairly lengthy, as it involves earning a Doctor of Pharmacy and gaining state licensure through several major examinations. Advanced positions in clinical pharmacy or research may require an internship or residency period of a year or more (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).

Here is one common path a student might take through pharmacist training and into the workforce, though following it does not guarantee employment:

  1. Earn a high school diploma, taking as many courses as possible in math and science.
  2. Enroll in college, completing the pre-pharmacy undergrad credits required to enter a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) program (typically several years' worth of courses). It can be helpful to have a Pharm.D. school in mind before completing prerequisite work, since admissions requirements vary from program to program.
  3. Study for and pass the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT).
  4. Enroll in a Pharm.D. program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) and study pharmaceutical chemistry, medical ethics, toxicology, pharmacy administration and other subjects specific to pharmacy careers.
  5. Take and pass the North American Pharmacy Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) and an examination on pharmacy law. Some states require specific tests or compose and administer their own, so check with your state's Board of Pharmacy.
  6. Meet any other conditions to gain state licensure, and become a registered pharmacist.
  7. Apply to entry-level pharmacist jobs in your state.
  8. Renew state license when necessary.

Post-Education Requirements: Certifications and/or State Licensing

All 50 states and Washington, D.C., have their own board of pharmacy regulations that aspiring pharmacists must meet before they can legally practice, which typically include passing scores on a skills test and a law test. The North American Pharmacy Licensure Examination (NAPLEX), the standard post-education competency test for pharmacists, is administered by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).

The NABP also administers the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE), a law test accepted by all state Boards of Pharmacy other than California, Virginia, Arkansas, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Exams are just part of the licensing process, so check with your state's Board of Pharmacy for complete details.

Pharmacist Job Growth and Average Salary

According to the BLS, pharmacist jobs are expected to increase by 25 percent between 2010 and 2020, which is much faster than the average rate of growth across all occupations BLS analysts cite several factors for rapid employment expansion in the field, including advances in science that lead to new drug products and the rising number of elderly in the country, who depend on prescriptions (bls.gov/ooh, 2012).

The median annual wage among pharmacist careers in the U.S. was $114,950 in May 2012, with the highest 10 percent earning more than $145,910 and the lowest 10 percent earning less than $89,280 (bls.gov/oes, 2013). These figures represent national estimates, and earnings for pharmacist careers can vary according to factors such as location, experience and education.

List of Related Careers

Those considering pharmacist training may decide to take a different career path in healthcare or a related industry. Related careers include:

  • Pharmacy Technicians: Work under the supervision of pharmacists to handle prescription orders. May require formal postsecondary training as well as state licensure.
  • Health Educators: Teach people how to lead healthy lives through specific programs and events. Requires a bachelor's degree and oftentimes certification.
  • Nurse Practitioners: Provide direct patient care and can often prescribe medication. Requires a master's degree and state licensure.

Links to Sources and Associations

The following websites offer more about pharmacist training and careers:

American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy

American Pharmacists Association

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Pharmacists, 2012

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, Pharmacists, 2013

National Association of Boards of Pharmacy

National Community Pharmacists Association