How to Become a Pharmacist
January 6, 2015
If you have never thought about a job in the pharmacy field, it may be about time. But before we start, it may help to ask yourself some key questions about the things you like to do and your personal goals. For example, are you interested in science and math? Do you enjoy working with and talking to people?Are you looking to do something meaningful everyday?
If you answered “yes” to any one of these questions, then pharmacy could be the perfect fit for you.
Over the last 25 years, the field of pharmacy has expanded from a profession focused on preparing and dispensing medication to one that provides a broad range of health-related services. Be it retail pharmacies, hospitals, veterinary pharmacies or serving with the military, opportunities are nearly limitless. Pharmacists are more than just drug dispensers – they are licensed healthcare professionals.
Pharmacists are dedicated to improving personalized patient health through educating patients and monitoring their medication use, promoting overall well-being including illness prevention, and advising physicians on medication issues. Pharmacists can also promote population health through drug research and development by working for public health organizations, governmental agencies, and pharmaceutical industries. Lastly, good pharmacy educators are always needed to foster future generations of pharmacists.
A balanced and comprehensive high school education is an important first step in pursuing a professional degree in pharmacy. You should discuss your courses carefully with your guidance counselor to assure you are on track for college. AP level biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics are especially desirable.
Research several schools of pharmacy and learn about their application process. Many pharmacy schools have an accelerated program that will allow you to apply directly from high school. These programs are sometimes called a 2+3, 0-5, or 0-6 programs. In most cases, you will be applying to these programs in the fall of your senior year in high school. This will be a competitive admissions process where GPA, ACT or SAT scores, along with other academic and personal achievements are considered. Minimum requirements will vary by school. One example is Chapman University’s Freshman Early Assurance Program (FEAP).
Before being admitted into Pharmacy School, a student needs to complete some undergraduate coursework to qualify. The prerequisite qualifications for a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) program usually consist of about two years of specific undergraduate coursework. Classes required vary by school. Many pharmacy schools such as Chapman University’s School of Pharmacy (CUSP) will have the prerequisites listed online. It is important that pre-professional students plan their course work to meet the requirements of the program of their choice. Students may acquire a bachelor’s degree, although it is not a requirement for admission to most Pharm.D. programs. Approximately 85% of U.S. colleges and schools of pharmacy require the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) for admission. It is important that pre-professional students organize their course work to meet the requirements of the program of their choice. Meeting with a dean or admissions counselor may be your best help yet. If you are not sure you want to go into pharmacy, still align your classes to the pharmacy program to keep your options open in the future.
Pharm.D. programs are typically completed in four years. There are pharmacy schools, such as CUSP, that offer accelerated program to deliver the same curriculum as a 4-year program over 3 years through a year-round schedule. Pharmacy curricula strive to provide a balanced didactic and experiential education to prepare student pharmacists for board examinations and to enter the practice of pharmacy. The didactic curriculum of a Pharm.D. program introduces knowledge in pathophysiology, medicinal chemistry, pharmacology, pharmaceutics, therapeutics, health policy and management in a stepwise approach which is complemented with patient care skill development being learned in the didactic courses and Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experiences (IPPEs). The final stage of learning involves integration of the cumulated knowledge and skills into the Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences (APPEs) during the last year of pharmacy education where student pharmacists are placed in different patient care settings to learn directly from the pharmacists and other health care providers.
Graduates from Pharmacy School must pass both national and state licensure examinations before they can practice as a pharmacist:
- Pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX)
- If practicing in California: Pass the California Practice Standards and Jurisprudence Examination for Pharmacists (CPJE)
- If practicing outside California: Pass the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination (MPJE) or a state-sponsored exam depending on the requirements of the respective state.
Certain states may have additional licensing requirements, including background checks or age limits.
In the United States, more than 281,560 pharmacists work in both clinical and corporate environments. The roles and demand of pharmacists have continued to grow with implementation of healthcare legislation and as more Americans are aging, Pharmacy continues to be at the top of the occupations list from US News and World Report, ranking No. 5 overall and No. 3 among the Best Health Care Jobs category. Forbes magazine reports that CareerCast, a job search website in California, ranks Pharmacist as the top healthcare profession based on job satisfaction, a 14% growth rate by 2022, and an average annual salary of $116,670.
Student pharmacy graduates may also choose to advance their training with an additional 1-4 years of study through post-doctoral residency and/or fellowship programs. Some pharmacists choose to be recognized as advanced pharmacist practitioners in a specialty area by becoming Board Certified Pharmacists (oncology, psychiatry, nutrition, pediatrics etc.). Others become Certified Diabetes Educators or Certified Travel Medicine experts, helping patients deal with international travel related health safety. These certifications are achieved through work experience and passing the certification examination. Advanced Practice Pharmacy through these certificaitons is one of the broadest new opportunities for Pharmacists with entrepreneurial ideas and the desire to improve the lives of others through innovation and hard work.
Your most important priority is to select a school or program that best meets your educational needs. It is also important to apply to as many feasible programs as possible, giving you control over which school you attend and at what price fits better for you. School is an investment. It may seem overwhelming at first, but if you make a plan and stick to it, it will pay off in the future. Find mentors within your field of Pharmacy and ask the hard questions. How did you pay off your loans? How long did it take? Asking important questions and making a financial plan will help you gain peace of mind and better prepare to pay off your loans. Apply to scholarships and continue to do your best. Take your risks and work hard for yourself. And always keep in mind, as long as that school will help you meet the goals and objectives, you have chosen the school best fit for you.