Pharmacist

Job Description

Pharmacist preparing a prescription
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A pharmacist is a health professional who, in addition to dispensing prescription medication to patients, also provides information about the drugs their doctors have ordered for them. He or she explains physicians' instructions to patients so these individuals can use these medications safely and effectively.

Quick Facts

  • In 2016, annual earnings were $122,230, and hourly wages were $58.77.
  • 297,000 people worked in this occupation in 2014.
  • Their primary employers are pharmacies and drugstores. Hospitals also employ many pharmacists. 
  • Work hours include days, weekends, evenings, and holidays.
  • The job outlook for this occupation is weak. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts employment growth that is slower than the average for all occupations through 2024.

A Day in a Pharmacist's Life

These are some typical job duties taken from online ads for pharmacist jobs that we found on Indeed.com:

  • "Dispenses or supervises the dispensing of medications and related supplies according to prescriptions written by physicians"
  • "Reviews prescriptions for accuracy and checks for drug interactions"
  • "Compounds medications and prepares special solutions and medications as required"
  • "Counsels patients regarding appropriate use of medications"
  • "Oversees daily ordering"
  • "Collaborates with other healthcare professionals to plan, monitor, review and evaluate patient effectiveness"
  • "Makes recommendations for drug therapy changes as appropriate"
  • "Ensures that the pharmacy is in compliance with all local, state, and federal rules and regulations regarding the practice of pharmacy"
  • "Participates in the education of patients and staff on drug therapy"

How to Become a Pharmacist

To become a pharmacist, you must earn a Doctor of Pharmacy degree, known as a Pharm.D.

Pharmacy programs range from four to six years long and must be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE). Students coming out of high school can choose to apply for admission to a 0-6 or an early assurance program. Both include two years of undergraduate coursework in addition to four years of professional education.

If you have already completed two years of college, you can apply to a four-year pharmacy program. Most schools require applicants to take the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT). Doctor of Pharmacy programs include coursework in pharmaceutics and pharmaceutical chemistry, pharmacology (effects of drugs on the body), toxicology, and pharmacy administration. For comprehensive information about pharmacist education, please see "How to Become a Pharmacist."

Every state in the U.S. licenses pharmacists. While each state has its own requirements, all applicants must pass the North American Pharmacist Exam, which the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) administers. Most states also require graduates to pass the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE), a test of pharmacy law that is also under the purvue of the NABP. Some states give an additional exam that tests knowledge of pharmacy law.

Several states also require other state-specific exams. To learn more about the requirements in the state in which you want to work, you should check with that state's Board of Pharmacy. The NABP maintains a list of Boards of Pharmacy that includes, in addition to U.S. boards, those in Canada, New Zealand, and Australia.

What Soft Skills Do You Need to Succeed as a Pharmacist?

Those who want to become pharmacists should bring with them certain qualities they typically acquire outside the classroom. Some of them are:

  • Reading Comprehension: You must be able to understand written information.
  • Active Listening: The ability to understand what your customers and coworkers are telling you is essential.
  • Verbal Communication: You must be able to provide clear and concise instructions for administering medication to patients, caretakers, and other healthcare workers.
  • Customer Service Skills: Pharmacists should be personable and friendly toward their customers.
  • Critical Thinking: When solving problems, you must know how to weigh the merits of possible solutions.
  • Detail Oriented: Attention to detail is imperative since mistakes can endanger people's lives.

The Truth About Being a Pharmacist

  • Expect to work weekends, evenings, and holidays especially if you are in a retail environment. 
  • This job can be physically demanding since you will have to spend the majority of your shift standing.

What Will Employers Expect From You?

To find out what requirements employers have, we looked at some actual job announcements on Indeed.com:

  • "Ability to work in a high volume fast paced work environment"
  • "Excellent customer service is a high priority"
  • "Must be certified to administer immunizations"
  • "Ability to speak clearly and concisely, conveying complex or technical information in a manner that others can understand"
  • "Able to connect with our patients and provide them with consultation, vaccinations, and friendly service"

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

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Pharmacy TechnicianHelps pharmacists prepare prescription medications for customers$30,9206 Months to 2 Years of Formal Training or On-the-Job Training
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Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 (visited July 5, 2017).
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online (visited July 5, 2017).