Pharmacist: Career Definition, Occupational Outlook, and Education Prerequisites

Research what it takes to become a pharmacist. Learn about job duties, career outlook, salary and educational requirements to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Pharmacy Technology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Pharmacist Do?

Pharmacists distribute medication to patients, based on doctors' written prescriptions. They confirm that the dosage and strength of a medication is appropriate for the conditions of a patient while also ensuring there will be no negative interactions between a newly prescribed drug and any of a patient's current medications. Additionally, they inform patients of the appropriate methods for taking a medicine as well as what side effects to watch out for. These professionals are also qualified to administer flu shots and vaccinations and provide advice about general health issues like stress management or diet. Pharmacists often oversee pharmacy technicians and perform administrative duties, such as completing insurance forms and keeping records. The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Pharm.D. degree
Education Field of Study Pharmacy
Key Responsibilities Prepare & dispense medications; provide information to patients; monitor treatment programs; communicate with physicians re patient medication history
Licensure Required License required in all states
Job Growth (2014-2024) 3%*
Average Salary (2015) $119,270*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Is the Career Definition of a Pharmacist?

Pharmacists not only prepare and dispense medications, but they also act as an information resource for patients. They answer questions about over-the-counter drugs and prescription medications and discuss possible side effects. Many pharmacists work in retail drug stores, hospitals and community clinics. They may inform doctors about a patient's medication history, monitor treatment programs, administer drug therapies and provide instruction on the correct use of prescribed medications.

Pharmacists sometimes offer health advice on matters such as nutrition and exercise and on controlling medical conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Some pharmacists work outside of the traditional setting, most commonly as pharmaceutical researchers or educators at pharmacy schools.

What Is the Occupational Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for pharmacists were expected to increase by about 3% between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). In 2014, 42% of full-time, salaried pharmacists worked in pharmacies and drug stores, while others worked in hospitals and grocery stores. The BLS estimated that demand would continue to grow as the U.S. population ages and consumers have an increased need for prescription medications. Expansion was also attributed to expected increases in the number of people with prescription drug insurance coverage, as well as the invention of new drugs.

The average annual salary for pharmacists in May 2015 was $119,270. Those who worked in health and personal care stores earned $119,620, while those who worked in hospitals earned about $119,460.

What Educational Prerequisites Will I Be Required To Satisfy?

If you'd like a career as a pharmacist, you must earn a 4-year Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree, which replaces the now defunct Bachelor of Pharmacy degree. First, however, you must complete a minimum of two years of college study with includes courses in biology, physics, chemistry and calculus. Many other candidates choose to prepare for three or more years at a university or college, and then enter a pharmacy program.

Your Pharm.D. program must be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. Curricula usually include courses on such topics as medicinal chemistry, pharmacology, biochemistry, organ physiology, laboratory medicine and pharmacy practice laboratory. You might also participate in a postgraduate fellowship or residency program lasting up to two years. This component will allow you to acquire more training and experience, and it can be hugely important if you'd like to work in research or a clinical practice.

Each state requires licensing for its pharmacists. Thus, once you receive a Pharm.D. degree, you must pass several licensing tests. Among them are the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) and, as required by the vast majority of states, the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination (MPJE). Both examinations are overseen by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). Various states may have additional examinations and requirements, so you should consider these options when choosing where to practice.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

The medical field provides some related careers that also require a doctoral degree, including medical scientists, biochemists and biophysicists. Medical scientists use clinical trials and other research methods to discover new diagnostic tests and treatments for use in a variety of medical specialty areas. Biochemists and biophysicists also conduct research aimed at improving human health by focusing their experimentation on the chemical and physical aspects of biological processes.

Students interested in a more hands-on approach to diagnosing and treating patients might consider careers as physicians or surgeons. These positions require a doctoral degree in addition to the completion of a residency program.

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