How to Become a Pharmacist
Pharmacists must pay attention to detail, ensuring the accuracy of the prescriptions they fill.
Pharmacists typically need a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree from an accredited pharmacy program. Every state requires pharmacists to be licensed.
Pharmacists typically need a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree from an accredited pharmacy program. (A list of accredited programs is available from the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE).)
Admission requirements vary; however, Pharm.D. programs typically require applicants to have at least 2 years of prerequisite undergraduate courses in subjects such as anatomy and physiology, physics, and statistics. Some Pharm.D. programs require or prefer that applicants have a bachelor’s degree in biology, a healthcare and related, or a physical science field, such as chemistry.
Pharm.D. programs usually take 4 years to finish, although some programs offer a 3-year option. Others admit high school graduates into a 6-year program. Pharm.D. programs include courses in sciences, pharmacology, and pharmacy law. Students also complete supervised work experiences, sometimes referred to as internships, in settings such as hospitals and retail pharmacies.
Some pharmacy programs offer a dual-degree option. These programs allow students to get another graduate degree, such as a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) or a master’s degree in public health (MPH), along with their Pharm.D. degree.
Following graduation from a Pharm.D. program, pharmacists seeking a clinical or other advanced position may opt to complete a residency or fellowship. These program typically last 1 to 2 years and provide additional training and research opportunities. Pharmacists who choose a 2-year residency program train in a specialty area such as cardiology, internal medicine, or pediatric care.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
All states require pharmacists to be licensed, although licensure requirements vary. After completing their degree, prospective pharmacists typically must pass two exams to get a license. The North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) tests pharmacy skills and knowledge and is required in all states. The Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE) or state-specific test on pharmacy law is also required. Applicants also must complete a state-specified number of hours as an intern. To maintain licensure, pharmacists must complete continuing education.
In most states, pharmacists must be certified to administer vaccinations. For information about certification, see the American Pharmacists Association’s Pharmacy-Based Immunization Delivery program.
Pharmacists may choose to earn a certification to show advanced knowledge in a specific field. For example, a pharmacist may become a Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist, a credential offered by the Certification Board for Diabetes Care and Education, or earn certification in a specialty area, such as emergency care or oncology, from the Board of Pharmacy Specialties. Certifications from both organizations generally require applicants to have work experience and pass an exam.
Analytical skills. Pharmacists must evaluate the contents and side effects of prescribed medication to ensure that the patient may safely take it.
Communication skills. Pharmacists frequently must explain to patients about how to take medication and what its potential side effects are. They also may need to convey information to pharmacy technicians, interns, and other healthcare staff.
Compassion. Pharmacists often work with people who have health issues. They must be sympathetic to patients’ problems and needs.
Detail oriented. Pharmacists are responsible for accurately providing the appropriate medication for each patient.
Interpersonal skills. Pharmacists spend much of their time interacting with patients and as part of a healthcare team coordinating patient care.
Managerial skills. Pharmacists, particularly those who run a retail pharmacy, must have good leadership skills. These skills include ability to oversee inventory and direct staff.