How To Become a Pharmacist

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 22, 2021

Published February 4, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Pharmacists help people achieve and maintain good health by dispensing prescribed medications. You might consider a pharmacist career if you have an interest in working in the health care industry and providing medicines and education that keep people healthy. In this article, we discuss how to become a pharmacist and answer frequently asked questions about this profession.

What does a pharmacist do?

Pharmacists dispense prescriptions issued by physicians and educate customers about how to take medications safely. They also provide basic health care services and education. Pharmacists are responsible for the following tasks:

  • Receive prescriptions from physicians and fill them for customers. When dispensing prescriptions, pharmacists review the other medications customers take to determine whether any negative interactions may result.

  • Tell customers how to and when to take medications and provide written instructions. Discuss possible side effects that medications may cause.

  • Provide flu injections and other vaccinations upon customer request.

  • Process customer insurance claims and complete digital forms or paperwork to receive payment for prescriptions from insurance providers.

  • Discuss diet, exercise, stress management and other health and lifestyle issues with customers. Provide advice or suggest over-the-counter remedies.

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Average salary for pharmacists

The average salary for a pharmacist is $52.29 per hour but this figure can vary. Pharmacists' salaries depend on their experience level and their geographic location.

Pharmacist requirements

Employers typically require pharmacists to have a doctoral degree, a current license, on-the-job training and essential skills.

Education

All pharmacists must hold a Doctor of Pharmacy degree. Most doctoral programs take four years to finish in addition to the undergraduate education you have to complete prior to applying. These programs cover topics like managing prescriptions, biopharmaceuticals, toxicology and pharmacy law and ethics.

Most Pharm.D. programs also require students to complete an internship, which provides practical experience in a professional setting. Internships are typically paid and the length depends on the Pharm.D. program and state requirements.

Training

Before working independently as a pharmacist, you typically need to complete a training program. You may have two options for training:

  • Undergo an on-the-job training program, where you learn how to use your organization's computer system, master your employer's workflow and adapt to their policies and procedures.

  • Complete a one- or two-year residency program that provides professional experience. A residency is often essential if you plan to pursue a specialized position, such as a geriatric care or clinical pharmacy position.

Licenses

To work as a pharmacist, you must have a credential from your state's licensing board. To get a license, you have to complete an internship and pass two exams:

  • North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam: This test confirms your understanding of prescription medication and pharmacy skills.

  • Multi-state Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam: This state-specific exam tests your knowledge of pharmacy law in your state.

You may need additional certifications to perform certain tasks as a pharmacist. For example, if you provide vaccinations, most states require you to complete the Pharmacy-Based Immunization Delivery program offered by the American Pharmacists Association.

Skills

To excel as a pharmacist, you need the following skills:

  • Attention to detail: Pharmacists must follow prescriptions carefully to provide safe, effective medications for customers. You must be detail-oriented to process each prescription accurately.

  • Analytical thinking: As a pharmacist, you are responsible for helping customers take medications safely. You have to be able to analyze your customers' needs and the potential conflicts that multiple medications may cause to keep your customers safe.

  • Communication skills: Whether you are educating a customer about safe medication usage, confirming insurance details with a provider or requesting information from a physician, you need excellent communication skills. Pharmacists must be able to speak and write clearly and effectively.

  • Computer literacy: When you work in a pharmacy, you have to use a computer to retrieve prescription information, confirm insurance details and update client records. You need to know how to use your pharmacy's software system and perform basic searches and data entry.

How to become a pharmacist

Follow these six steps to become a pharmacist:

  1. Take post-secondary science classes.

  2. Pass the Pharmacy College Admissions Test.

  3. Earn a Doctor of Pharmacy Degree.

  4. Cultivate essential skills.

  5. Apply for a license to practice in your state.

  6. Complete required training.

1. Take post-secondary science classes

To enter a professional pharmacy program, you typically need at least two years of college education. Many aspiring pharmacists complete four years of post-secondary education and earn a bachelor's degree before applying to a doctoral program. As a post-secondary student, you should take classes in subjects like biology, chemistry and physics to meet the application requirements for most doctoral programs.

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2. Pass the Pharmacy College Admissions Test

Before you start a doctoral program, you have to pass the PCAT. This standardized exam includes sections that cover writing, biological processes, chemical processes, critical reading and quantitative reading, with a total of nearly 200 questions and one writing prompt. The exam is usually offered at least six times a year.

3. Earn a Doctor of Pharmacy degree

After taking the PCAT, you can apply to and enter a Pharm.D. program, which takes two to four years to complete. To gain practical experience, look for a doctoral program that requires an internship.

4. Cultivate essential skills

To succeed as a pharmacist, you need strong analytical thinking skills, basic computer skills and attention to detail. You also need to communicate effectively with patients and physicians.

5. Apply for a license to practice in your state

Before you can work as a pharmacist, you need a state license. Each state requires pharmacists to do an internship and pass both the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam and the Multi-state Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam. If your job requires you to offer vaccinations, you have to complete a separate licensing program from the American Pharmacists Association.

6. Complete required training

To work independently, you need to complete a pharmacist training program. Most pharmacists can choose between a one- or two-year residency program and an on-the-job training program.

Related: How To Find the Best Jobs for You

Frequently asked questions

What do pharmacists' work environments look like?

Most pharmacists work in commercial pharmacies. They spend most of their day standing and walking, as they fill prescriptions and assist customers. Pharmacists also use computers to process prescriptions and update customer records, and they use phones to communicate with physicians' offices and insurance providers.

What hours do pharmacists work?

Pharmacists are responsible for working during their pharmacy's open hours. Some work standard nine-to-five schedules, but others work on weekends or in evenings. Professionals who work for 24-hour pharmacies may have to work overnight.

How often do pharmacists have to renew their licenses?

Some states require pharmacists to renew their licenses every year, but each state has its own requirements. Most states require pharmacists to complete a certain number of continuing education credits to maintain a current license.

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