How to Become a Pharmacist: Education & Licensing

Read what you’ll do in a pharmacy career, then find the right pharmacy degree program.

The Basics

What you’ll do: Pharmacists fill prescriptions, inspecting the orders and all related information for accuracy. You’ll instruct patients on how and when to take a prescribed medicine, and relate any contraindications and side effects that may be experienced. You’ll also advise patients on general health topics like diet, exercise and managing stress, and on the proper equipment and supplies to help manage health conditions.

Where you’ll work: Pharmacies and drugstores, hospitals, department stores, other general merchandise stores.

Degree you’ll need to practice: Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.)

Median annual salary: $124,170*

Pharmacist Education

All pharmacists must earn a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) from an accredited school in order to practice. Postsecondary courses in your studies will include chemistry, biology and anatomy. Most students have three years of college experience or a bachelor’s degree upon entering pharmacy school.

For most programs, you’ll need to take and pass the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT). Your Pharm.D. program will take four years to complete. Typical courses in year one and two include:

  • Biopharmaceutics
  • Biostatistics
  • Pharmaceutical Calculations
  • Physical Chemistry
  • Immunopharmacology
  • Applied Drug Information

In many programs, years three and four are transitional, combining intensive curriculum with clinical orientation and supervised pharmacy rotations. Sample courses from these years are:

  • General Pathology
  • Chemotherapy
  • Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experiences

A program like the Pharm.D. at University of California, San Francisco, offers pathway options in the final year. Theirs allow you to specialize in Pharmaceutical Care, Health Services & Policy Research or Pharmaceutical Sciences.

Licensing and Certification

A license to practice pharmacy is required in all 50 states. To obtain a license, you must successfully complete an accredited Pharm.D. program and pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX).

One portion of your exams will deal with pharmacy skills and knowledge, while the other is in pharmacy law specific to the state you’ll gain licensure in. Check requirements with the medical or health board in the state you plan to work in.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2018-19 Occupational Outlook Handbook; Pharmacists.

*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and other factors.  National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.

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