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How to Become a Pharmacist

March 8, 2014

Pharmacists work in medical dispensary offices to administer prescriptions ordered by physicians for patients. As a pharmacist, a professional is required to have in-depth knowledge of chemistry and how drugs will react in different human beings, as well as how drugs may interact if taken together. By measuring and packaging medicine accurately, pharmacists ensure that the dosage of the drug is safe for consumption by the patient, which allows for proper administration. While pharmacists aren’t typically allowed to prescribe or select a type of medication for a patient, they do educate the patient on how to take different medications and what type of reactions to expect. If you think you might be interested in this exciting medical career, read on to learn about how to become a pharmacist.

What Qualities Should Pharmacists Possess?

Pharmacists need to have a variety of different skills and personal traits to excel at their jobs. A preference for interaction and chemistry is a must as pharmacists must be able to communicate well but also understand the science behind the drugs that they work with. These are a list of the best qualities and skills to have as a pharmacist.

  • Analytical traits: Pharmacists have to be able to evaluate every patient’s need while also understanding the prescriber’s orders. They must have knowledge about the appropriate drugs and any side effects that must be talked about with the patient. In many cases, they also have to recognize drug-seeking behavior to prevent abuse of medication.
  • how to become a pharmacistCommunication skills: Patients always need advice on medications. They might want to understand how to take a medication or what will happen if one drug is taken at the same time as another. They need clear answers and instructions from pharmacists who understand these drugs. Pharmacists also have to direct interns and technicians in their practice.
  • Computer skills: A pharmacy is very sophisticated and has a variety of equipment to make drug creation and selection very quick. The electronic health record systems and other types of software are used every day in pharmacies to track down records and administer the right drugs.
  • Managerial skills: If a pharmacist is running a retail operation, they have to have managerial experience and be able to supervise a team of employees. They’ll have to manage inventory and oversee day-to-day operations.
  • Detail-oriented traits: The accuracy of the prescription is the most important part of being a pharmacist. Improper use of medications can pose very dangerous threats and risks to patients. Pharmacists have to find the right information to make the best decisions about medications that will help patients. It’s very dangerous otherwise.

A Closer Look: Education and Training for Pharmacists

Pharmacists must earn a Doctor of Pharmacy or Pharm.D., which is a four-year post-graduate professional degree. They also have to earn a license to practice, which requires passing two exams as well.

The educational journey for a pharmacist depends on the school you plan to attend. Some high school graduates are accepted right into 6-year programs while other students may go through two years of undergraduate study before going into a 4-year Pharm.D. programs. Others will earn a bachelor degree in a related field before applying to Pharm.D. programs, which can be highly selective.

In 2012, there were 124 Pharm.D. programs in the United States that were accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. Admission requirements for these programs vary depending on the school, but applicants are expected to have mastered chemistry, anatomy and biology. Students must pass the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT) in order to be accepted into these programs.

Doctor of Pharmacy programs are rigorous and generally require three to four years of education. Program courses include pharmacology, medical ethics, chemistry and human anatomy. Students must also complete clinical work experiences or internships. Typically these are held in retail pharmacies, hospitals and other doctor’s offices.

There are also pharmacists who want to open their own pharmacy and go into business as well. In these cases, they earn a master’s degree in business administration in addition to a Pharm.D. degree. other pharmacists also choose to get a degree in public health to be better prepared for the workforce today. The choices that students make as to their final career will often decide what specialties and dual degree programs that they choose in college.

Once a student has graduated, pharmacists will go on to seek advanced positions in hospitals and pharmacies. They often look for jobs in clinics or even in research facilities. However, they must complete one to two years of residency before doing so. After completing the residency, they can get additional training in a special area such as geriatric care or internal medicine. These will enhance their abilities and make them more valuable as professionals at hospitals and pharmacies.

Becoming a Pharmacist: License and Certification

All states require pharmacists to have a license. After a student graduates with a Pharm.D., they must pass two exams in order to receive a license and start practicing. These exams are as follows:

North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX)

This is a standard test that was created by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy to ascertain if individuals were prepared for a license to practice. The typical fee for the exam is $485. NAPLEX is administered by a computer. Once a student is authorized by NABP to take the exam, students must go to an official testing facility.

NAPLEX consists of 185 questions and offers students four hours and fifteen minutes to complete. You are not allowed to backtrack during the exam and must answer questions to continue forward. The exam is mostly multiple questions, and there are no essay questions.

Questions range from beta-adrenegic receptor selectivity to vaccine knowledge in immunocompromised patients. Results are reported back to students after seven business days from administration. Applicants can check scores online at the state Board of Pharmacy. Tabulated scores of 75 or higher are required to pass, which means students must answer a little more than 60 percent of questions correctly in order to pass.

Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE)
career as a pharmacistMPJE tests applicants on pharmacy law. It was created by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy and helps state boards assess an applicant’s understanding of pharmacy law in order to practice pharmacy safely.

The MPJE has 90 questions total, but students only have to get 60 questions correct in order to pass. A score of 75 is required to pass, and the questions are fairly difficult to answer. Three major areas are covered in the test including pharmacy practice, regulatory structure and licensure.

Certification for Pharmacists
Many pharmacists can choose to get certified to show that they have an advanced level of knowledge in a particular area. Pharmacists do this to add a Certified Diabetes Educator statement to their resumes or Certification in Nutrition or Oncology to gain prestige and understanding. Typically certifications can be earned by passing an exam and paying a fee, although some may require courses and weeks of training.

Where Do Pharmacists Work?

There are a few different types of pharmacists. Deciding which role is right for you can help pick out a career path:

  • Community pharmacists: These pharmacists work in retail stores and independently run pharmacies. They administer medications and answer questions for patients who come to the store to order prescriptions and over-the-counter medications. They may also have questions for pharmacists unrelated to any prescriptions. They also provide flu shots and vaccinations.
  • Consultant pharmacists: These pharmacists work as advisers for healthcare facilities and insurance providers on patient medication use or how to improve pharmacy services. They can also give advice directly to patients.
  • Pharmaceutical industry pharmacists: These pharmacists are involved in research, development, marketing and sales. They design and manage clinical drug trials and help develop new drugs. They may also have a hand in establishing quality control and safety regulations for drugs.
  • Clinical pharmacists: These pharmacists work in clinics, hospitals and other healthcare offices. They actually spend the least amount of time administering prescriptions. Instead, they get involved with direct patient care. They do rounds with physicians. They recommend medications and oversee dosages and timing for those medications. They may also help with medical tests and give advice to patients.
  • Pharmacists typically work in grocery and drug store pharmacies, but they also work in hospitals and private clinics. However, other pharmacists will go into research and may work for laboratories at pharmaceutical companies. Collectively, pharmacists comprised almost 300,000 jobs in 2012 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The most popular place for pharmacists to work included privately owned pharmacies and drug stores while state, local and private hospitals were second.

Most pharmacists work full time. Since many pharmacies have changed to 24-hour availability, they may be expected to work at all hours of the day depending on the schedule that the pharmacy wants to keep.

A typical day for a pharmacist includes the following:

  • Filling prescriptions, verifying prescriber’s instructions on proper amount of medication to administer
  • Check medical history to determine if prescription will interact negative with other drugs prescribed to the patient
  • Answer any questions and direct patients on how to take prescriptions
  • Inform patients about potential side effects that they can experience
  • Advise patients on managing stress, exercise, diet and a number of other topics that coincide with their drug prescription
  • Administer flu shots and other vaccinations safely
  • Complete insurance documentation and work with insurance companies to ensure that patients get the medications that they need
  • Oversee technicians, interns and pharmacists in training
  • Teach other medical practitioners about proper medication therapies for patients

If you intend to own your own pharmacy, then there will also be times when you have to handle business activities and inventory management. Pharmacy owners must also go through continuing education to keep up with advances in pharmacology.

Getting the Job: Salary and Employment Outlook

As of 2012, the average annual wage for a pharmacist was over $116,000 or about $56 per hour. The highest paid pharmacists work in general merchandise stores while the lowest paid work in grocery stores and hospitals. For entry level pharmacists and those working in these settings, the pay is still about $89,000 per year. The top earners in pharmaceutical jobs earn $145,000 on average.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that pharmacist jobs will continue to rise through 2022 by 14 percent. There are several things that will contribute to the demand for pharmacists.

  • The population is growing older, which means they’ll need prescription medications.
  • Chronic disease rates are higher including diabetes. These diseases are affecting all age groups.
  • Scientific advances are creating new drugs every year.
  • More pharmacists are necessary to go along with the increasing number of hospitals and pharmacies to meet the demand for new prescriptions.
  • More people will have access to health insurance, which means they will have access to prescription drugs.

Pharmacy schools continue to grow in popularity. There are more pharmacy schools that there ever has been. It’s expected that there will be over 300,000 new jobs by 2022 for pharmacists. Students must be able to complete a residency program and also specialize in chronic diseases in order to beat out other potential pharmacists working to get the same jobs.


Becoming a pharmacist requires a lot of study and understanding of people and chemistry. It is one of the more demanding health fields because of the hours and accuracy needed by pharmacists. However, compensation and working conditions are generally favorable for pharmacists in the United States. There are also incentives for pharmacists who choose to open their own pharmacy. If you choose to work in research, you may also be able to work on the cutting edge of medical science.