How Long Does It Take to Become a Pharmacist?
Updated December 9, 2022
If you enjoy working with people and want to help others feel better, then a career as a pharmacist may be for you. Pharmacists are healthcare professionals who are in charge of all aspects of delivering medications to patients. They typically have advanced qualifications in the study of drugs, their uses, potential side effects, drug interactions and how to monitor their use, effects and progress. In this article, we will explore what a pharmacist does and how long it takes to become one, as well as what education is required to pursue this career path and frequently asked questions.
What is a pharmacist?
Pharmacists provide both prescribed medications and over-the-counter medications that don't require a prescription to patients. For prescription medications, a pharmacist receives the prescription from the physician, then prepares and packages the appropriate medications. They give these medications to patients with an explanation of their purpose, dosing information and advice on using them safely and effectively.
With over-the-counter medications, the pharmacist may sometimes be the first point of contact for the patient. Pharmacists can advise patients on minor ailments and suggest a suitable medication to buy or refer them to a physician if the condition warrants a medical consultation.
The role of a pharmacist may also involve the following:
Preparing and dispensing medications based on physician orders
Advising patients on the use of prescription and over-the-counter drugs
Completing insurance forms and information paperwork
Providing screenings for health conditions, such as diabetes, asthma or high blood pressure
Informing clients about products they may need, including medical equipment or home healthcare supplies such as blood-pressure monitors
Advising patients on general health issues including diet, exercise, smoking cessation or stress management
Performing administration tasks, such as updating records and databases, filing documents or restocking shelves
Pharmacists may also choose to specialize in drug therapy areas, such as cancer, intravenous nutrition support or psychiatric drugs used to treat mental disorders.
Related: Learn About Being a Pharmacist
How long does it take to become a pharmacist?
The time it takes to become a pharmacist can depend on the level of education you receive. It is possible to qualify as an entry-level pharmacist following six years of education after finishing high school. This includes at least two years of undergraduate study followed by the completion of a four-year pharmacist degree.
Educational requirements for pharmacists
Pharmacists are medical professionals who require specialized training and licensure. Here are the educational requirements and steps for becoming a pharmacist:
1. Obtain a degree in an appropriate subject
There is no specific degree for pharmacists. Students must have at least a two-year degree to get into pharmacy school but may benefit from obtaining a bachelor's degree that focuses on related coursework. Students should choose an undergraduate degree with a strong emphasis on math, physics, chemistry, biology and anatomy. A pre-medicine degree is also a good option for students interested in this career path.
2. Complete pharmacy school
After obtaining an undergraduate degree, students must complete a four-year pharmacy school program that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE). Upon successful completion of the program, students will earn a Doctor of Pharmacy degree (Pharm. D.).
This postgraduate degree focuses on the underlying science of drugs and medications and covers subjects such as the absorption rates of drugs, medical chemistry, toxicology, how drugs work in the body, biopharmaceuticals, public health concepts, ethics and laws and aspects of prescription management. Students may also receive practical training with licensed pharmacists in a range of pharmacy settings.
3. Undertake a residency or internship
After pharmacy school, many students choose to complete additional training through a residency program or internship. Pharmacists who want to work in a clinical setting may be required to complete a residency. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists is the accrediting body for residency placements. Students who are interested in completing a residency program will need to apply through the Pharmacy Online Residency Centralized Application Service, which can match them with a suitable placement.
4. Obtain a state license
In addition to the above educational requirements, pharmacists must obtain a state license to practice before they can start working as a pharmacist. This requires passing the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX), which is administered by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). Some states also require the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE), which tests pharmacists' knowledge of pharmacy law. All states require a specified number of hours of practical experience before pharmacists can apply for a license and some may also require a criminal background check.
Related: How to List Education on a Resume
Frequently asked questions about being a pharmacist
Here are some frequently asked questions and responses about becoming a pharmacist:
1. Are pharmacists in demand?
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment outlook for pharmacists overall will remain stable with no growth in the period from 2018 to 2028.
In hospitals and clinics, the employment rate for pharmacists will likely increase because there will be an increase in the number of medications prescribed and distributed to the aging population. The rates of chronic diseases, such as arthritis and diabetes, are increasing in the population as a whole, which will also mean there is an increased demand for prescription medications and therefore, for pharmacists.
This increase in demand is balanced out by a decline in the amount of available employment for pharmacists in retail pharmacies and drug stores due to an increase in online pharmacies that send their medications out in the mail.
2. What is the expected salary for a pharmacist?
The salary for a pharmacist can depend on a variety of factors, including education and qualifications, years of experience and the size and location of the employer.
Common salary in the U.S.: $52.09 per hour
Some salaries range from $20.30 to $98.20 per hour.
3. What skills do I need to become a pharmacist?
Pharmacists require a specific skill set to succeed in the role. These skills include:
Physicians and patients rely on you to be accurate when dispensing medication. It is essential that patients are given medication as prescribed and that medications are distributed in the correct strengths.
Even doctors can make mistakes and pharmacists must be able to question whether the number of drugs prescribed seems incorrect or if there are possible drug interactions that the physician may have missed. Pharmacists must have the integrity to follow up on their queries and ensure that the needs of patients are met.
Pharmacists often work with several doctors, other healthcare professionals and patients to ensure that patients are receiving the medications they need. If a pharmacist needs to question a prescribing physician, they will need to be diplomatic and effective at communicating the issue. Pharmacists also have to work with a variety of patients and should be empathetic and understanding.
Ability to multitask
In addition to accurately dispensing medications, pharmacists also have to answer telephone calls, enter information into computerized databases, discuss medications with patients, adhere to protocols and regulatory guidelines and may even perform additional services for patients, such as blood pressure or blood sugar checks. Pharmacists must be able to multitask and maintain standards of excellence in all duties performed.
4. What is the work environment like for a pharmacist?
Pharmacists work in pharmacies based in hospitals, clinics, grocery stores and drug stores. The government and military also employ pharmacists in various settings.
The majority of a pharmacist's workday may be spent standing and walking around the pharmacy. There may be some lifting and carrying involved when moving and re-stocking shelves with drugs and supplies. A pharmacist will need to wear gloves and masks when they are working with sterile or harmful pharmaceuticals.
Depending on the employer, a pharmacist may work standard full-time hours or a rotating shift pattern that covers 24 hours and the weekends, especially if they are working in a hospital or community pharmacy that is open for extended hours. Travel to other healthcare facilities may be necessary if the pharmacist is acting as a consultant and monitoring drug therapies for patients that have specific treatment protocols.
Some pharmacists work in specialized areas performing tasks such as undertaking research for pharmaceutical manufacturers, working in marketing or as college faculty teaching pharmacy students.
5. What professional organizations exist for pharmacists?
There are several professional organizations that pharmacists can join, including the following:
The Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy (AMCP)
Members of this organization aim to provide the best available pharmaceutical care for patients. The AMCP supports its members with professional growth opportunities and by advancing the knowledge of the pharmaceutical industry.
The American College of Clinical Pharmacy (ACCP)
The ACCP helps pharmacists grow their practice by providing leadership, advocacy and educational programs.
The American Pharmacists Association (APhA)
The APhA was the first national professional organization of pharmacists and is now the largest. It aims to help those in the field of pharmaceuticals advance in the profession.
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