Tips and tricks on how to become a pharmacist

Last updated: April 21, 2024
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Eleana Bowman
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Tips and tricks on how to become a pharmacist
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Do you enjoy helping people and want to make a difference in their lives?

Pharmacy is a rewarding profession that can be incredibly fulfilling, and it enables you to do that. As a pharmacist, you play a key role in the healthcare system and work to ensure that patients receive the medications and information they need to stay in good health.

In this article, we'll cover what a pharmacist is and what they do, the educational requirements to become one, an overview of the job outlook and salary for pharmacists, and a timeline to becoming a pharmacist.

What is a pharmacist?

A pharmacist is a healthcare professional who dispenses medications to patients under the direction of a physician. They are responsible for ensuring that each patient receives the correct medication, dosage, and directions accurately and promptly. Pharmacists also advise on how to use medications properly and answer any questions patients may have.

There were over 312,000 pharmacists in the US in 2021, with many highly trained professionals working in retail pharmacies, hospitals, and nursing homes. A great deal of responsibility and trust is placed in pharmacists' hands, as they must take the utmost care when dealing with medications and providing patient advice. That's why this type of role requires in-depth knowledge of medications and treatments as well as excellent communication skills.

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This is why the career path to becoming a pharmacist is so stringent, consisting of several academic qualifications and certifications. This can seem overwhelming initially, but understanding the requirements for becoming a pharmacist can help make the process more manageable.

Pharmacist job duties and responsibilities

Pharmacists can work in retail or hospital pharmacies or in other healthcare settings. Their primary duty is to fill prescriptions that physicians write for their patients. However, there are numerous tasks involved in this process, and their responsibilities also include the following:

Consulting with other professionals

Pharmacists are just one of the key players on the healthcare team. They must understand the patient's medical history, allergies, and other medications they are taking to ensure that the prescribed medication is safe and effective for the individual. They often consult with physicians, nurse practitioners, and other healthcare providers to determine the best course of treatment for each patient.

Advising patients on medication safety

In addition to consulting with other professionals, pharmacists must also advise patients on how to take their medications safely and correctly. They must provide clear instructions on when and how to take the medication, any side effects to look out for, and other essential details. Pharmacists can be the first point of contact for patients when they need help understanding the prescribed medications.

Compounding medication orders

In some cases, pharmacists may be called upon to compound medication orders. This involves measuring, mixing, packaging, and labeling medications to create a unique formulation that meets the patient's needs. This requires great skill and knowledge, as pharmacists must consider each medication's desired strength and dosage when mixing the compounds.

It's common for children's medications and other unique patients to be compounded, so pharmacists must be familiar with the appropriate methods and techniques for completing this. Compounded medications also have special labeling requirements that pharmacists must adhere to in order to ensure that patients store them correctly.

Verifying prescription accuracy

Pharmacists must also verify that prescriptions are accurate and up-to-date. This involves checking the patient's medical history, making sure that the prescribed medications do not interact with one another, and ensuring that the dosage is appropriate for the patient. Verification is not only a fundamental part of the role but also involves insurance, legal, and ethical considerations.

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Monitoring patient progress

In some roles, such as in a hospital setting, pharmacists also monitor patient progress by keeping records of medications, dosages, and any adverse reactions or drug interactions. They must watch for signs of potential complications and report any concerns to the healthcare team. There is an immense amount of trust placed in pharmacists' hands, and they must take their responsibilities seriously.

Supervising pharmacy technicians and interns

Once pharmacists have gained enough practical experience and expertise, they may be asked to supervise pharmacy technicians and interns. This involves teaching them about medication safety, providing guidance on how to fill prescriptions, and ensuring that all work is done accurately and in accordance with regulations.

Administering vaccines

Finally, some pharmacists may also be asked to administer vaccines. This requires a great deal of knowledge and skill, as they must ensure that the vaccine is administered correctly and safely. Only some pharmacists will be required to administer vaccines, but those who are must have the necessary training and certifications.

These are just a snapshot of a pharmacist's many duties and responsibilities, as they can vary between different settings and roles. Without a pharmacist's expertise, the healthcare system would not be able to provide the same grade of care. Understanding the full scope of the job is key to ensuring that patients receive safe and effective medications.

Education and requirements to become a pharmacist

While many people are familiar with pharmacists and their roles in healthcare, only some are aware of the education and prerequisite courses involved in becoming a pharmacist. This profession requires a significant amount of schooling and clinical experience to prepare you for the responsibilities of a pharmacist.

Generally, in order to become a pharmacist, you will need at least six years of education: two years of undergraduate coursework, followed by four years of pharmacy school to earn your PharmD. This six-year timeline can vary depending on the school you attend and the type of program you choose.

Becoming a pharmacist doesn’t require a bachelor’s degree to enter a pharmacy program, but some recommend that their prospective students complete one. If you choose to do so, you will most likely add two more years to your timeline for becoming a pharmacist.

During the first two years of college, you will take courses in basic sciences, such as biology and chemistry. This will give you a strong foundation for the more advanced topics you will cover in pharmacy school. During this time, you may also be asked to submit your Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) scores for admission into a doctorate program.

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After completing the undergraduate prerequisites in a related field, such as chemistry or biology, you will move on to four years of pharmacy. During this time, you will gain hands-on experience as a pharmacy intern or extern in a clinical setting.

In addition to the standard academic requirements, prospective pharmacists are required to pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) and the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE). These are two tests administered by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy and are required for licensure in all 50 states.

This entire process can take between six to eight years to complete, depending on the pharmacy program and the individual's academic performance. It is crucial to note that in order to become a licensed pharmacist, one must also maintain their licensure through continuing education and staying up-to-date on the newest advances in the field.

Overall timeline to become a pharmacist

Once you have an understanding of the requirements needed to become a pharmacist, you can move on to the overall timeline to becoming a licensed pharmacist. On average, it takes six to eight years to complete all the necessary education and licensure requirements. Let's look at each step of the process in more detail so you can plan your journey accordingly.

Complete undergraduate degree

If applicants have a high school diploma or GED, they can begin working on their undergraduate prerequisites at a college or university. It's recommended that applicants pursue a degree in a related area, such as biology, organic chemistry, or pharmacology, as this will give them a better foundation for pharmacy school.

Many students will study and prepare for the PCAT during their undergraduate studies. This is an important step, as scores on the PCAT exam are often one of the key factors in deciding which pharmacy school to attend.

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Apply to pharmacy school and complete a doctor of pharmacy degree

Once applicants have their undergraduate prerequisites cleared, they can apply to a doctor of pharmacy degree program. These programs typically last four years and cover topics such as pharmacology, medicine, and biochemistry. Entry into these programs is competitive, so applicants should make sure to research their options and apply to the best-fit school.

During pharmacy school, students must strive to maintain high academic standards. This will prepare them for future clinical rotations and licensing exams.

Complete internships or clinical rotations

During the fourth year of pharmacy school, many students will opt to take part in internships or clinical rotations. This is an essential step, as it allows students to gain real-world experience and learn from experienced pharmacists. These rotations will also prepare students for the exams they must pass to become licensed pharmacists.

It's important to note that some states may also require additional requirements for licensure, such as a certain number of hours of supervised practice.

Pass the NAPLEX, MPJE, and state exams

The final step in becoming a licensed pharmacist is to pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX), the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE), and any other state-required exams. Once you have successfully passed all of these, you will be eligible for licensure and ready to practice as a pharmacist.

These types of exams are typically taken during the last year of pharmacy school, though students can also take them afterward if they need additional time to study. There's no one-size-fits-all timeline for taking licensing exams, as it is a personal journey that depends on the individual's academic performance and career goals.

Start practicing as a pharmacist

After passing the licensure exams and paying any required fees, the individual is eligible to practice as a pharmacist. This is the best time to build a strong healthcare resume to help you land a job in the field and to begin networking with other professionals.

Once you become a licensed pharmacist, it is important to maintain an active interest in the latest advances in the field. Doing so will not only help you provide better care to your patients, but it can also help you stay up-to-date with the latest developments in pharmacy and ensure that you remain a valuable asset in the profession.

Job outlook and salary for pharmacists

There are countless factors that can affect the job outlook and annual salary for pharmacists, including location, experience, and specialty. According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual wage for pharmacists was $128,570 in 2021. This is much higher than the average salary for all occupations, making the role of a pharmacist an attractive and lucrative career choice.

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A pharmacist's salary and earnings can range significantly, though it is typically higher in urban areas than rural ones. Additionally, a 2% job growth is anticipated for the next decade, equating to over 7,000 new jobs yearly. This positive outlook highlights the growing need for pharmacists, particularly in the healthcare sector.

For those pursuing pharmacy careers, there are other benefits to consider, such as the potential for flexible hours and the wide range of available opportunities. It's a gratifying profession that can offer a healthy work-life balance.

Start your journey to becoming a pharmacist today.

Pharmacists are a key component of the healthcare industry and are responsible for helping to ensure that patients receive safe, effective medication. The timeline for becoming a pharmacist is lengthy, but it is a lucrative career choice in the end. With the proper education, training, and certification, pharmacists can look onward to a fulfilling career with good job prospects and an attractive salary.

If you're ready to embark on a new career, check out the Getting Hired Resource Center for resume tips and job search strategies.

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