Pharmacist: Educational Requirements and Career Summary

Pharmacists are more than just drug dispensers - they're licensed healthcare professionals dedicated to improving patient health by educating patients about drug use and illness prevention, monitoring patient progress and advising physicians on medication issues. Becoming a pharmacist entails at least two years of undergraduate coursework followed by four years of pharmacy school. Pharmacists must also obtain licensure to serve in the profession.

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Pharmacist Educational Requirements

Undergraduate Education

Pre-pharmacy students must complete at least two years of college to be eligible for pharmacy school, though most complete 3-4 years of a bachelor's degree program. Aspiring pharmacists aren't required to pursue specific majors; however, undergraduate coursework in physics, chemistry, biology and calculus can provide a foundation for advanced pharmacy classes.

Doctor of Pharmacy Degree

While bachelor's degrees in pharmacy were once the requirement for entry-level positions, pharmacists are now required to hold Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) professional degrees. Pharm.D. programs take four years to complete and prepare students for the technical, scientific and patient-care aspects of the profession. Courses may include:

  • Pathophysiology
  • Toxicology
  • Disease treatments
  • Biopharmaceuticals
  • Pharmacy ethics and law
  • Drug absorption rates
  • Patient care
  • Medicinal chemistry

Pharm.D. programs also incorporate clinical training into their curricula. Through clerkships, students gain practical experience in pharmacy settings under the supervision of licensed pharmacists. The goal of clinical practice is to familiarize students with patient interaction while allowing them to develop professional skills by applying knowledge acquired in the classroom.

Post-Graduate Training

Graduates of Pharm.D. programs may choose to pursue additional training through residencies or fellowships. These programs generally last 1-2 years and allow training pharmacists to gain direct, patient-care experience in community pharmacies, hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Residents may pursue training in general, clinical or specialty pharmacy practice and are typically required to complete research projects. Fellowships provide pharmacists with more specialized training in a particular field, such as biomedical research, community pharmacy practice or geriatrics pharmacology.

Pharmacist Career Summary

Licensure

Graduates of Pharm.D. degree programs must pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination administered by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) in order to demonstrate the skills necessary to safely distribute medicine (www.nabp.net). Most states also require the NABP's Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination on federal and state laws. Other licensing requirements might include a criminal background screening and a certain amount of clinical experience.

Career Options

Once licensed, individuals may go on to serve as pharmacists in community, government or consulting pharmacies. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), most pharmacists work in retail locations as salaried employees (www.bls.gov). They may also work in private and public healthcare facilities or deliver hospice care.

Outlook and Salary Information

Pharmacists are expected to enjoy an employment increase of 14% from 2012 to 2022, according to the BLS. Job growth may be due to the growing middle-aged and elderly populations and advances in new drug treatments. As patient care becomes a greater aspect of the occupation, the BLS predicted that the healthcare industry would increase the demand for pharmacists to monitor patient medication. In May 2013, the BLS reported that pharmacists earned a median annual wage of $119,280.

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