Are you thinking of becoming a pharmacist? It does take a major amount of formal education, however, the rewards will outweigh your hard work, no doubt. You will be responsible for making a substantial difference in someone’s health and well-being. At some point in every consumer’s life, we must all be dependent on hard-working and well educated people to fulfill the role of pharmacist to assure and to administer effective and safe healthcare. As you consider the long educational journey needed to obtain your online doctorate degree in pharmacy, the PharmD degree, please consider the dedication and compassion required to care for your customers in order to perform your career as a pharmacist.
How do I become a pharmacist? How many years of school to become a pharmacist? These are among the common questions that you’re asking at the moment and we’re willing to answer.
What exactly does a pharmacist do?
A pharmacist is responsible for the distribution of prescription drugs to patients, as well as, the education of medication side effects and their uses. They also educate patients on illness and disease prevention, all while working closely with consulting physicians. You’ll most likely work in a drugstore, hospital or other healthcare facility. Pharmacists are required to hold a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree and be licensed in the state in which you practice. Please be sure to check your state to verify license requirements.
While considering a career as a pharmacist, first, you should decide which pharmacy degree is best for you. Although somewhat similar in coursework, the PharmD degree and the PhD degree are each required for different careers. You may choose an online doctorate degree in pharmacy, the PharmD degree, which is required to be a pharmacist or a PhD degree which is generally related to positions in the academic world or in pharmaceutical research. Also, you may choose to combine both degrees if you have an interest in research and would like to practice as a pharmacists.
How to become a Pharmacist.
First off, let’s answer the question, “What degree do you need to be a pharmacist?” You may start by obtaining your online bachelor’s degree, preferably a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree with an accredited school offering at least two years of pre-pharmacy or related courses. Such classes may include anatomy, calculus, chemistry, biology, humanities, physics and sociology. However, some pharmacy schools just require that you take the necessary pre-requisite classes, not necessarily by obtaining a bachelor’s degree, in order to apply to their school. These classes provide a firm foundation for advanced pharmacy classes.
Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT)
Next, after obtaining your bachelor’s degree, you must then enter a pharmacy doctorate degree program, therefore, you will need to pass the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT), which is a standard four-hour admission test with roughly 232 questions in the categories of writing, reading comprehension, verbal ability, chemistry, quantitative ability, and biology.
The PCAT is a standard admission requirement for about 85% of pharmacy programs in the US. But not all programs require a passing PCAT rate, specifically the 0-6 programs. Each path to being a pharmacist has its merits so be sure to consider them before making your choice.
Choose Your Path Toward a Pharmacy Degree
But exactly what degree do you need to become a pharmacist? The specific degree needed to be a pharmacist is a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree. But be careful about enrolling in a school offering a PharmD program without checking its accreditation status, among other things. In the United States, the primary accreditation agency for PharmD programs is the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE).
The step between a bachelor’s degree and a PharmD degree is just one facet “How do you become a pharmacist?” question. Here are a few more specific steps to become a pharmacist of particular interest to high school students.
First, a solid foundation in science and math is strongly recommended for high school students planning to pursue the pharmacist path. Classes in chemistry, biology and physics as well as advanced math are suggested; the more advanced the classes, the better for your foundational knowledge. Soft skills are just as important as science skills so be sure to develop your written and oral communication skills.
Look beyond your academic achievements, too, with relevant extracurricular activities. You’re well-advised to increase your exposure to healthcare settings and/or STEM-related activities. These can include extracurriculars like volunteering in a nursing home, becoming a member of HOSA, and participating in science competitions.
Second, consider the available paths toward becoming a pharmacist. Each path will result in a specific answer to the question, “How much schooling does a pharmacist need?”. The two common paths are:
- The traditional undergraduate path where students spend at least two years in an undergraduate program. You may also complete a relevant four-year bachelor’s degree to be a more competitive applicant to PharmD school. During this time, you will earn both college credits and foundational knowledge necessary for the rigorous PharmD program. Think of it as your preparatory years.
- The dual degree path where students earn both a bachelor’s degree and a PharmD degree, and it’s offered in many an online pharmacy school. Also known as 0-6 programs, these last for six years with the first two years spent on pre-professional studies and the subsequent four years in professional PharmD studies.
Which of these paths is right for you? You must carefully consider your unique circumstances including your academic inclinations, funding sources and stability, and career goals.
The undergraduate plus graduate school path, or the traditional path, takes a longer time for completion but it’s a more flexible option. You may be testing the waters of a career in pharmacy and, thus, the pre-pharmacy classes you’re planning to take. You may want a strong science background but not necessarily proceed to a PharmD program down the road.
While the prerequisite courses vary between schools, the common requirements include:
- General chemistry and organic chemistry with laboratory experience (Two semesters each)
- Biology, microbiology, physics and human anatomy with laboratory experience (Two semesters each)
- Calculus and statistics
You may want to ask the admissions officer of the PharmD school you’re planning on entering about the prerequisite courses. This way, you can plan your coursework during your two-year pre-pharmacy undergraduate program.
The 0-6 path has a shorter duration since the PharmD programs follow an accelerated timeline. Plus, students aren’t required to take the PCAT since their respective schools determine who will and will not proceed to the professional program.
But while the 0-6 path seems easier, it isn’t, not by a long shot! The dual degree programs are more competitive with admission requirements including high GPA and standardized test scores. Students must also maintain minimum academic standards and complete required courses lest they lose their place in the program.
Many competitive PharmD programs have additional non-academic requirements that make it more difficult for aspiring pharmacists. These include sufficient experience volunteering, working and/or shadowing in the pharmaceutical or healthcare industry. Requirements vary between schools so you must inquire about these experience-related requirements as early as in high school.
The University of Minnesota, for example, has a preference for applicants with relevant work experience. The average admitted applicant possesses approximately two years of paid work, either full-time or part-time, in a pharmacy or healthcare setting. There’s also a preference for applicants with community service, leadership and research experience.
And then there are early assurance programs, which are similar to the 0-6 programs. Here, students are admitted in their high school years with the guarantee of admission into the professional PharmD program upon completion of undergraduate requirements.
The main benefits of these program are guaranteed admission into a PharmD program and seamless transition from high school to college. These programs may or may not follow an accelerated timeline, so we suggest asking first.
The Challenges of Becoming a Pharmacist
How hard is it to become a pharmacist? This is a valid question that every aspiring pharmacist must look into, if only to set realistic expectations of what lies ahead. Keep in mind that the pharmacist education needed isn’t just about the technical knowledge and skills that are vital for competency purposes. It’s also about the soft skills necessary to become a compassionate pharmacist.
In a study, pharmacy students face five challenges that influence their overall well-being:
Students are often overwhelmed by the academic rigor of onsite and online pharmacy courses. There are several periods when a succession of exams and quizzes are administered, and these can add to the workload of clinical rotations. Even the overachievers in high school express difficulty in maintaining their grades aside from feelings of physical exhaustion, social isolation and mental distress during these times.
- Learning environment
The best pharmacy schools emphasize the value of academic achievement, student excellence and professional preparation for success. The learning environment has positive and negative effects on students that must be considered if you’re planning on entering pharmacy school.
On one hand, you may feel a sense of security that, indeed, you can become an excellent pharmacist in the future. Your rigorous training will not only prepare you for the challenging licensing exam but also for the rewarding career as a pharmacist.
On the other hand, you may feel under pressure to become an excellent student with good grades. You may sacrifice your personal relationships and overall health to be one, and it may not be to your advantage in the long run.
We suggest looking for a pharmacy school that provides excellent student support services. You will find that a sense of community, mentorship services and mental health support are vital for your success as a student pharmacist. Your rigorous pharmacy classes online will be less intimidating for this reason, too.
- Meaningful experiences in school
Students report that their positive interactions and experiences with patients, fellow students and instructors strengthened their desire to become pharmacists. You may find that your sense of purpose is also strengthened by the wide range of meaningful experiences in and out of school.
- Personal relationships
Students find that their personal relationships also enabled them to overcome the challenges of pharmacy school. These included friendships with their fellow students, collaborative studying, and shared experiences, as well as with family and friends outside of school.
- Personal factors
Students pointed out their positive personal traits that enabled them to persevere despite the challenges. These traits included resiliency, adaptability and patience, as well as hard work, which can be developed through good habits.
The bottom line: Yes, of course, being a student pharmacist is a challenge with the academic rigor and high expectations that come with it. But you can overcome these challenges, just as millions of successful pharmacists have done in their time!
How to Become a Pharmacist: The Essential Traits
Aside from the technical knowledge and skills, what does it take to be a pharmacist? We’re talking about the essential characteristics that every successful pharmacist developed during their years in pharmacy school.
These essential characteristics were drawn from the profession’s guiding principles as stated in the Pharmacy Code of Ethics, the Pledge of Professionalism, and the Oath of a Pharmacist. These are also drawn from society’s expectations of what a pharmacist should be or shouldn’t be.
- Intellectual ability, or the capacity to understand, interpret and analyze information; use critical thinking and problem-solving skills to formulate a plan of action; and pursue life-long learning. Indeed, it may well be the most crucial trait in schooling to become a pharmacist!
- Communication skills, or the ability to make concise yet accurate summaries of information; interact with others in making effective decisions; and communicate a wide range of concepts to others. Students must have satisfactory skills to thrive in school, in both academic and healthcare settings.
- Psychomotor skills, or the ability to effectively participate in clinical activities including drug administrations; use and analyze information from various sensory inputs; and use observation to determine critical elements in a problem.
- Respect for the diversity of people in healthcare settings is also a must, and it must be characterized by sensitivity to each patient’s needs. Learning how to be a pharmacist is as much about your technical skills as it is about your attitude toward others.
- High ethical standards must also be maintained among student pharmacists. These include maintaining patient confidentiality, acting with compassion, and accepting accountability.
What do you need to become a pharmacist? You must also demonstrate the ability and willingness to live up to the social and behavioral expectations of a pharmacist, even when you’re only a student! These include making appropriate decisions and actions in your public and private lives.
How long does it take to become a Pharmacist?
PharmD (Doctor of Pharmacy) programs typically take four years to complete. The coursework may include medicinal chemistry, biopharmaceuticals, pathophysiology, patient care, pharmacy ethics and law, toxicology, drug absorption rates and disease treatments. These courses will prepare you for the scientific and the technical aspects of patient care as a pharmacist.
Most PharmD programs provide opportunities for clinical training in their curriculum. While applying what you’ve learned in the classroom, you can gain practical experience under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist. Some programs provide specialized training in a specific area such as geriatrics or pharmacology.
But the specific answers to the question, “How many years to become a pharmacist?” will depend on many factors.
First, what path did you choose to take? If you choose the traditional path, then you can spend eight years of studies – four years in an undergraduate program and four years in a professional PharmD program.
You can shorten it to six years by proceeding to a PharmD program after only two years of undergraduate studies. But you may be at a disadvantage since you may not have the academic preparation for it.
If you choose the 0-6 path, then you can become a pharmacist within six years after entering a program. Your path may be shorter in duration but it won’t be easier, as previously mentioned.
If you’re the impatient kind, you may want to look into accelerated PharmD programs. Students can earn their PharmD degree within two to three years, but take note that the admission and retention requirements will really challenge your intelligence and perseverance.
How long does it take to be a pharmacist if you already have a degree in healthcare or other related sciences? You will still have to complete the entire program, or four academic years, even with said degree.
Generally speaking, a bachelor’s degree in a related discipline won’t have an impact on the completion time for a PharmD degree. But the former will have a direct impact on the latter in terms of academic preparation.
The answer to the question, “How many years does it take to become a pharmacist?” also depends on whether you’re a full-time or part-time student. If you’re a full-time student, then you may well be able to complete the program within the allotted time.
If you’re a part-time student, you may take a longer time to do so. But we must also point out that pharmacy schools offering part-time enrollment aren’t the norm. This isn’t to say that there are none or that their quality of education is sub-par!
We found several schools offering a PharmD program for part-time students, typically working professionals who want to earn a PharmD degree while working full-time.
- Shenandoah University offers a part-time, non-traditional PharmD program. Students in the online program appreciate the flexibility of earning the degree while working full-time, thanks to the self-paced nature. Plus, the clinical experience can be completed at the current workplace.
- University of Colorado Denver has an online Doctor of Pharmacy in North American-Trained PharmD program. Students enjoy the part-time format of the 65-credit program (35 hours of academic work and 30 hours of experiential work). You can complete the program in six years and choose to become a full-time student.
So, how long does a pharmacist have to go to school? It depends on your chosen path, status as a student and determination!
But your education doesn’t stop when you graduate from a PharmD program and secure your license either. You must also take classes for continuing education purposes as well as for life-long learning. The pharmaceutical and healthcare industries are in constant flux and, thus, their professionals must continually learn.
How much school to become a pharmacist, cost-wise? According to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, the tuition can range from $8,536/year for a traditional program at the University of Toledo to $81,810/year for accelerated program at Chapman University. The duration of the program and its delivery method must be considered when comparing the cost of attendance in schools offering PharmD programs.
North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination
Upon graduation of the PharmD program, you must then obtain your license to begin your career. The North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination is given by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. Also, most states require an additional exam be administered called the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination. This exam covers federal and state laws within the pharmacy realm. Other requirements may include a criminal background check.
Once licensed, you may choose to perform your duties as a pharmacist in your community, government, or consulting pharmacy. The average median salary for a pharmacist ranges between $128,090 – $162,900 or more per year, depending on experience and location. Check out our picks of the Top 3 Online Schools for Doctor of Pharmacy!