What Does It Take to Become a Pharmacist?

Pharmacy careers are growing fast in the United States, with a projected increased need for both pharmacists and pharmacy technicians through 2026. This is largely due to the growing number of senior citizens in the country, many of whom need medications and additional medical care as they continue to live longer lives. Additionally, advances in pharmaceutical research mean there are more medication options available than ever before.

Pharmacists are needed to educate patients on these new medications and ensure people are taking them safely. If you’re interested in helping others in a healthcare role and are highly detail oriented, a pharmacy career might be a good fit. In this guide, learn what you’ll need to do in order to become a pharmacist along with other careers within the field.


Becoming a Pharmacist: First Steps

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You’ll need advanced education and licensure in order to work as a pharmacist. Pharmacists are required to have a doctoral degree and pass multiple exams before becoming licensed.However, you don’t need to be a pharmacist to work with patients and medications. Pharmacy assistants and technicians also play important roles in pharmacies and hospitals.

Pharmacy assistants and technicians need much less education in order to begin working. Their roles fall the supervision of pharmacists and they complete essential tasks for patients and doctors. Working as a pharmacy technician can be a great place to start your healthcare career. You’ll gain valuable experience in the field that can help you decide if you want to pursue a pharmacist license later. Plus, working as a pharmacy technician can give you an advantage when applying to pharmacist programs. Wherever you want to start, read on to learn more about becoming a pharmacist and other pharmacy careers.


Types of Pharmacy Careers

A pharmacy needs numerous professionals in order to serve its customers. While these job titles all sound similar, they require different levels of education and training, and each role has its own specific duties.

Pharmacy assistant

Pharmacy assistants generally only need a high school diploma and on-the-job training. Since they have less education and experience, they also have fewer responsibilities than other pharmacy professionals.

What they do

The duties of a pharmacy assistant can vary depending on your work setting and the laws in your state, but general tasks can include:

  • Keeping a record of medications delivered
  • Stocking supplies and merchandise
  • Working the cash register

Salary

Your salary as a pharmacy assistant also varies depending on your employer and years of experience, but generally, assistants earn less than other pharmacy professionals. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that pharmacy assistants earn an average annual salary of $29,030. They may make less working in settings such as drugstores and more in hospitals and the offices of physicians.

Pharmacy tech

Pharmacy technicians are healthcare professionals who have received specialized training to assist pharmacists. Many states and employers require that pharmacy techs earn the credential of Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT). Additionally, many pharmacy technicians complete a formal education program that leads to a certificate or associate’s degree. Pharmacy technicians also usually need to pass background checks and drug screenings.

What they do

Pharmacy techs are responsible for many vital duties in a pharmacy or hospital.  One of the most important aspects of a pharmacy technician career is customer service. A pharmacy tech is often the first person that a patient, doctor, or other medical professional talks to about prescriptions. In recent years, pharmacy technicians have been increasingly taking on responsibilities, including ones previously only performed by pharmacists. This trend is likely to continue as the roles of pharmacists and pharmacies evolve.

Common job duties for pharmacy techs include:

  • Collecting information from customers to fill prescriptions
  • Measuring the appropriate amount of medication
  • Packaging and labeling prescriptions
  • Organizing inventories
  • Processing insurance claims and payments
  • Entering customer information into databases
  • Answering phone calls and talking with customers
  • Arranging for customers to speak with the pharmacist when needed
  • Calling doctor’s offices for medication refills
  • Operating medication dispensing equipment
  • Preparing intravenous medications

There are some technician duties that vary depending on your state. For example, only certain states legally allow pharmacy technicians to call doctor’s offices for medication refills.

Salary

The BLS reports that the average annual salary for pharmacy technicians is $33,060.Keep in mind that your education, employer, and certification status can all make an impact on your salary. Again, you might make less by working in a drugstore, but could earn a higher salary in settings such as hospitals, outpatient care centers, or medical labs.

Pharmacist

Pharmacists are advanced professionals who hold the ultimate responsibility at a pharmacy. In most states, they’re required to check over all prescriptions that have been filled by pharmacy technicians to ensure accuracy. They’re also responsible for patient safety and education.

What they do

Pharmacists have many duties beyond filling prescriptions. Their responsibilities can change depending on whether they work at a retail pharmacy, hospital, or in another setting. Some pharmacists also own their own pharmacies and have additional business management responsibilities. Other important job duties might include:

  • Giving flu and other vaccination shots
  • Making sure prescriptions won’t negatively interact with a customer’s other medications
  • Ensuring the customer doesn’t have allergies that could impact medication safety
  • Educating customers on how to take their medication properly
  • Talking with other professionals about the best medication course for a customer
  • Overseeing pharmacy technicians and aids
  • Conducting health and wellness screenings in the community
  • Working with insurance companies to get customers their medication
  • Testing customers’ blood sugar or cholesterol

As healthcare shifts over the next several years, the role of pharmacists might continue to grow and change.

Salary

According to the BLS, pharmacists earn an average annual salary of $121,710. Yet again, this can vary depending on your location and level of experience, though pharmacist salaries tend to be similar across different settings.


Types of Pharmacy Degrees

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Your degree will vary depending on your role. There are different options for pharmacy assistants and technicians, but all pharmacists must earn a doctoral degree.

  • Pharmacy assistants: These roles require a high school diploma or GED. Some pharmacies might also hire high school students to work part time in a pharmacy assistant role.
  • Pharmacy technician: These roles require a high school diploma, certificate, or associate’s degree. Having formal training from a certificate or associate’s program is preferred by many employers. Pharmacy technicians can also pursue specialty training certifications in areas such as IV medications.
  • Pharmacists: These roles require a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree. All aspiring pharmacists need to complete an accredited PharmD program in order to become licensed.

How to Become a Pharmacist

You’ll need to complete education and testing requirements before you can apply for your pharmacist license. The steps you’ll take might vary depending on your state, but the basic requirements are discussed below.

Choose a degree path

Many pharmacy schools are dual degree programs, meaning you’ll earn your bachelor’s degree alongside your PharmD over a period of 6–7 years. You can enter one of these programs with only a high school diploma. Other PharmD programs are for doctoral-level training only. These programs accept students who have earned bachelor’s degrees in subjects such biology or chemistry and generally take 3–4 years. Having previous experience as a pharmacy assistant or technician can also be beneficial for admission.

Take the Pharmacy College Admissions Test

The Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT) is a requirement for most pharmacy programs across the country. It’s broken into multiple-choice sections covering topics such as biological processes, critical reading, and quantitative reasoning, and also includes an essay section. Each school determines their own passing score for admission.

Complete your education

Your PharmD program will consist of classes in subjects such as:

  • Biochemistry
  • Pharmacology
  • Healthcare management
  • Pharmacological measurements
  • Chemotherapy
  • Biostatistics
  • Pathology

You’ll also need to complete a formal internship at a pharmacy during your program. The hours needed in your internship will depend on your state’s licensing requirements.

Take licensure exams

Pharmacists are required to take 2 licensing exams after successfully completing a PharmD program. You’ll need to take The North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) and either the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE) or a jurisprudence exam specific to your state. Your state’s licensing board will let you know which exam you need to take.

Apply for a license

You’ll apply for licensure once your education and exams are complete, but there may be other requirements depending on your state. Some common examples include:

  • Passing a background check
  • Submitting internship proof to your state’s board
  • Completing additional postgraduate experience hours
  • Taking additional training or tests for certification in areas such as vaccination

You’ll probably also need to take steps to maintain your license, such as completing continuing education credits and renewing your background check.


Does Becoming a Pharmacy Tech Make It Easier to Become a Pharmacist?

While there’s no formal path for advancing from a pharmacy tech to a pharmacist, it can be a beneficial step. In addition to being an advantage on PharmD program applications, your work as a pharmacy tech can better prepare you for the classes you’ll take as you’ll already have basic knowledge of many of the concepts that you’ll study.

Your advantage might be even greater if you’ve earned a certificate or associate’s degree as a pharmacy tech and have taken certification exams. Having formal training as a pharmacy technician will give you a strong foundation for your PharmD classes.


Where Can Pharmacists Work?

Pharmacists can find work in a number of different locations. Many of these might also employ pharmacy assistants and technicians. Some common employers include:

Retail pharmacies  

Retail pharmacies employ pharmacists, pharmacy techs, and assistants. This can include independent pharmacies, mail-order pharmacies, and pharmacies in grocery and drugstores, which together, make up the largest employers of all pharmacy professionals.

Hospital pharmacies

Hospitals employ pharmacists to prepare medication for current patients. Pharmacists in these settings might consult with doctors and nurses, prepare injections or IV bags, and ensure medication dose accuracy. This is usually done with the assistance of pharmacy techs. Some hospitals might also employ pharmacy assistants.

Government and military facilities

Military facilities employ pharmacists for a few different reasons. A pharmacist employed by a government facility might conduct community wellness programs that educate people on topics such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Pharmacists might also work in military hospitals or veterans care centers to handle medication. Some facilities also employ pharmacy techs.

Research labs

Labs employ pharmacists with specialized training to look into the effectiveness of medications and develop new therapeutic interventions. Pharmacists might need additional certification for a laboratory role.

Clinics and other patient care settings

Clinics can employ pharmacists to do a wide number of jobs, such as patient education, cholesterol testing, and immunizations. Clinics are likely to be an increasingly common employer for both pharmacists and pharmacy techs in the future.

Other employers

Some pharmacists also serve as consultants to other healthcare providers. These roles are often done in private practice. Another possible role for pharmacists might be teaching classes to pharmacy technician students.


Ready to Get Started?

If you’re interested in helping others by joining the pharmaceutical field, first becoming a pharmacy technician is a great option to get you started. You can use the Find Schools button to explore programs in your area that can set you on the path toward your career.