Pharmacists prepare medications and work in hospitals, pharmacies, and long-term care facilities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), they made a lucrative median annual salary of $128,710 as of May 2020.
The BLS projects a 3% decline for pharmacists between 2019 and 2029, but demand for pharmacists to dispense the COVID-19 vaccine may reverse this trend. CBS MoneyWatch reported in February 2021 that regional and national pharmacy chains were hiring pharmacists and pharmacy students as quickly as possible.
This page explains how to become a pharmacist. We explore what a pharmacist does, education requirements, different pharmacy program structures, and pharmacist licensure.
What exactly does a pharmacist do?
Pharmacists play an important role in healthcare, giving patients prescription drugs and providing expert medication advice. To become a pharmacist requires a doctor of pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree and state licensure. Pharmacy technicians work under a pharmacist’s supervision, and the positions require at least a high school diploma.
Job duties include ensuring medications do not interact harmfully with each other, completing insurance forms, keeping accurate records, and providing patient education. Some pharmacists create their own medications by compounding, or mixing, different drugs. Pharmacists also give vaccines and conduct health screenings.
Typical work environments include drugstores or standalone pharmacies, hospitals, nursing homes, and hospice facilities. Learn more about the types of specialty pharmacy careers available. Some pharmacists provide direct patient care and customer service, while others work primarily with other healthcare practitioners and have little interaction with patients. Specialty pharmacy roles include clinical pharmacists, pharmaceutical industry pharmacists, and long-term care pharmacists.
Clinical pharmacists offer direct patient care in hospitals and other healthcare environments. They spend less time dispensing prescriptions. Instead, they make medication recommendations for patients, go on rounds with healthcare teams, offer patient advice, and conduct medical tests.
Long-term care pharmacists work in assisted living centers, nursing homes, hospices, and other long-term care facilities. Instead of providing direct patient care, they fill and refill prescriptions and check medication records for long-term care residents in consultation with a patient’s healthcare team.
Pharmaceutical industry pharmacists help develop new drugs and work in pharmaceutical research and development, marketing, and sales. They oversee clinical drug trials or help create safety regulations for new medications.
What are the education requirements for pharmacists?
Becoming a licensed pharmacist requires a Pharm.D.degree from a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. These are professional degrees that prepare graduates to provide clinical expertise about prescription medications.
After graduating and passing a licensure exam, pharmacists can practice anywhere in the United States, depending on licensure reciprocity agreements. A typical Pharm.D. program takes four years of full-time study to complete, but some schools offer a three-year option. High school graduates can gain entrance to some six-year pharmacy programs, which we explain in more detail below.
To qualify for admission to a pharmacy program, students must complete at least two years of undergraduate healthcare-related prerequisite classes, though some colleges may require a bachelor’s degree. Most schools also require Pharm.D. applicants to take the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT).
Typical courses include pharmacology, chemistry, and medical ethics. Specialist pharmacy careers take extra education or residences beyond the Pharm.D. degree. For example, pharmacists seeking research or clinical pharmacy jobs typically complete a 1- to 2-year residency.
With different goals than a Pharm.D., a Ph.D. in pharmacy prepares students to go into research.
What is a 0-6 pharmacy program?
Schools offer a variety of Pharm.D. program structures and lengths, depending on level of previous education and how quickly students want to complete the degree. All doctor of pharmacy programs start the professional curriculum after learners finish all pre-pharmacy classes.
In a 0-6/7 pharmacy program, students earn their bachelor’s and Pharm.D. degrees at the same time, graduating in 6-7 years. This type of expedited option admits applicants straight out of high school. Pharmacy majors take 2-3 years of pre-pharmacy coursework, which vary by institution and four years of professional pharmacy classes.
Other options include 2-3 and 3-4 pharmacy degrees. A 2-3 program requires two years of pre-pharmacy undergraduate study and lets students graduate after three years of expedited professional studies. A 3-4 program requires three years of pre-pharmacy undergraduate coursework and four years of non-expedited professional study.
Not all schools offer these types of expedited programs. Most pharmacists still go the route of earning a bachelor’s degree, passing the PCAT, and enrolling in a traditional four-year Pharm.D. program. This means the typical person spends eight years in college to become a pharmacist.
How do I get licensure as a pharmacist?
All 50 states require a license to become a pharmacist. To qualify for licensure, prospective pharmacists must successfully earn a Pharm.D. degree from an accredited pharmacy program.
After graduation, future pharmacists must pass two licensing exams. The North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX), a six-hour, computerized test that consists of 225 questions, assesses pharmacy knowledge and skills. Candidates have five chances to pass the exam.
Licensure also requires passing the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE) or a state-specific test covering pharmacy law. Applicants can contact their state licensing board to find out which test they need to take. Licensure requirements vary by state but may include submitting a criminal background check or completing clinical experience hours.
Specialist pharmacists may need to meet additional requirements. For example, in many states, pharmacists who want to give vaccines need certification through the American Pharmacists Association’s Pharmacy-Based Immunization Delivery program.