If you are scientifically inclined, enjoy helping people, and would like to be employed in a health-related field with unlimited growth potential and an above average salary, then you might consider becoming a pharmacist. This occupation requires more than just the ability to count pills. A pharmacist is a highly trained professional who must have a thorough knowledge of chemistry, physiology, biology, and mathematics. This career also entails a need for business acumen, good interpersonal skills, attention to detail, and the ability to work long hours, often on your feet.
Though job prospects and pay are great, it takes several years to gain the qualifications and skills that you need to become a pharmacist. Here is a comprehensive guide on how to become a pharmacist, a description of what the job involves, the educational and licensing requirements needed, and an overview of the pharmacist salary and job outlook.
Pharmacist Job Description
When most people think of a pharmacist, they think of the person at the local drug store or supermarket who fills their prescription and advises them on how and when to take their medications. While it is true that a pharmacist fills prescriptions- usually in a retail, hospital, or clinical setting- this only only a part of the pharmacist job description. A person who has undergone the schooling and training needed to become a pharmacist has several options as to what their career path will be. In turn, that career path will determine what additional schooling or other training the prospective pharmacist may need.
This is the career path chosen by more than half of the students who decide to become pharmacists. Even if one chooses another career path, most start out their career in a retail setting. This can include a private pharmacy, a drug store, or grocery store. Many pharmacists in this field eventually move on to management or private practice. The salary and benefits are above average, but the hours can be very long, up to 12-hour shifts.
A clinical pharmacist works in a hospital or clinical setting, mixing and dispensing medications, advising physicians, and counseling patients. These pharmacists can also work in nursing home or other long-term care facilities, but would usually not interact with patients. Their main function would be to manage and stock the medication carts for the nurses’ rounds. There are also other pharmacological specialties with in this setting, such as nuclear pharmacists, who are responsible for preparing and administering the radioactive materials that must be ingested by a patient before an MRI or similar procedure, and chemotherapy pharmacists, who mix and administer chemotherapy treatments for cancer patients.
A research pharmacist usually works in a laboratory setting developing and testing new medications and aiding in clinical trials for new drug therapies.
The business side of pharmacy careers is in the realm of pharmaceutical sales, pharmaceutical benefits management, administrative positions, and academics. This is one of the less open fields of pharmacy, and doesn’t not always require the same type of education as a retail, clinical, or research pharmacist.
For those who are undecided about which path to take toward a career as a pharmacist, there are contract and temporary jobs available. Although there may sometimes be a wait between placements, this will give the new pharmacist the opportunity to work in a variety of settings, and gain valuable experience before taking any of the permanent pharmacist jobs.
How to Become a Pharmacist: Education Requirements
A pharmacist who intends to work in the Untied States or its territories must complete a Doctor of Pharmacy degree, or Pharm.D, from a College of Pharmacy in the United States. This college must be accredited by the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), and includes those who wish to work within the United States, the District of Columbia, the US Virgin Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico, and in military medical facilities world wide.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Pharmacist?
A Pharm.D is a 4-year, graduate-level degree, and most students complete at least 3 years of undergraduate work or obtain a Bachelor of Sciences degree in a related field, such as Chemistry or Pharmacology, before applying to a College of Pharmacy. There are also the options of post-graduate fellowships, research grants, and Masters-level degrees in fields such as business management, education, public administration, or public health. The decision of further post-graduate education depends on the field of pharmacy the prospective pharmacist decides to pursue after graduation. For instance, a pharmacist intent on becoming a Clinical Pharmacist will have to also complete a research fellowship as a part of their requirements. There are 100 accredited Colleges of Pharmacy based in the Untied States.
Pharmacy School Entry Requirements
The minimum requirements that you will need in order to apply for entrance to a college of pharmacy are:
- At least 2 years of pre-pharmacy courses at the college or university level. These include chemistry, biology, physiology, mathematics, and core college courses in English, social sciences, and humanities.
- A passing score on the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT).
- Additional requirements by individual school, such as essays and pre-selection interviews. Some colleges may also require the student to use the Pharmacy College Application Service (PharmCAS).
- At least 2 letters of recommendation, but can be as many as 4, depending on the individual school.
Any paid work, volunteer work, or internships related to the medical field or patient care are also helpful, and will help you stand out from other applicants.
Alternative Routes to Becoming a Pharmacist
There are a few alternative routes to obtaining a Pharm.D.
- Non-Traditional Pharm.D: This is for those who have acquired a Bachelor of Sciences degree in Pharmacy and are currently working as a pharmacist. These are pharmacists who received their Bachelor of Sciences degree before the AACP began requiring Doctorates in Pharmacy for certification. They offer a more flexible schedule, online courses, and an accelerated program in order to allow for working pharmacists who do not yet hold an advanced degree to obtain their Pharm.D in less than 4 years.
- 0-6 Program: This is a route that can be taken by a student just out of high school who is certain that they want to pursue a career as a pharmacist. There are currently 9 accredited Colleges of Pharmacy which will allow a student just out of high school to complete all relevant undergraduate and graduate study within 6 years in order to obtain their Pharm.D degree.
How to Become a Pharmacist: Licensing Requirements
Pharmacist License Requirements
In order to become a practicing pharmacist in the US and its territories requires the following:
- A Pharm.D from an accredited College of Pharmacy.
- Passing the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) is required in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and US territories. This tests for basic pharmacy skills and knowledge.
- Passing the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE) is required in 44 states and the District of Columbia. This tests for knowledge of pharmacy law. The rest of the states and US territories have their own requirements for this type of testing.
There may be additional licensing and other requirements which vary by state. These include age requirements and criminal background checks.
Licensing for Foreign Pharmacists
In addition the the testing requirements for each state, graduates of foreign pharmacy schools must seek certification by the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Examination Committee (FPGEC). They must then pass several other examinations to qualify for employment in the United States:
- Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination (FPGEE)
- English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) examination
- Test of Spoken English (TSE) examination
Canadians who were certified by the Canadian Council of Accreditation prior to 2004, but after 1993, are exempt from these requirements.
The salary for a pharmacist can depend on a few factors, such as career path, geographical region, and what level the pharmacist is at in their career. According to PayScale, the median income for a pharmacist at entry level is $89,600 per year, after 5 years, that figures moves up to $10,354, at 10 years a pharmacist can expect to make $103,658, and the salary remains level after that.
The average salary, nationally is $111,000. The bottom 10% of pharmacists make $82,000 per year and the top 10% make an average of $138,000 annually. The state paying the highest entry-level pharmacist salary is Maine, with $121,400 per year. The lowest pay- less than $64,000 per year – is paid by the US Government.
The breakdown by field is as follows:
- Retail Pharmacists make an annual median salary of $112,000.
- Clinical Pharmacists make an annual median salary of $102,000 for hospitals and clinics, $112,000 annually for nuclear and chemotherapy pharmacists. Those who work in mental health and substance abuse treatment do a little better, averaging $122,380 per year.
- Research, Business, and Technical Pharmacists make and annual median salary of $121,000+.
(All figures are as of 2010.) Source: PayScale.com
Pharmacist Job Outlook
Jobs in health-care related fields are on the rise. As the population ages and more people have access to health care, the need for persons working in health-related fields will increase. Pharmacists are one of those occupations for whom the employment out look is especially good. Overall, a growth of 17% is expected industry-wide over the next 6 years. The largest segment of the job market is retail pharmacy, which employs about 66% of the pharmacists. The lowest demand is in the field of academics.
However, due to an increase in the number of retail outlets that will be offering pharmacy services, burgeoning markets such as online pharmacies, part-timers, retirements in the industry, and the small number of accredited Colleges of Pharmacy, more qualified pharmacists will be needed in every branch of the profession. Forecasts are for the annual median salary for an entry-level pharmacist to increase as well.
We will provide specific steps and requirements to help you learn how to become a pharmacist – get the training, qualifications, and license to practice Pharmacy. In addition, those who are already pharmacists who are looking to advance their career through further training will find helpful articles here providing different options. Of course, we will always try to provided the most updated information.
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