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What Does It Take to Become a Pharmacist?

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Pharmacist At a Glance

  • What you’ll do: Fill prescriptions, administer shots, educate customers
  • Where you’ll work: Retail pharmacies, hospital pharmacies, labs, clinics
  • Degree you’ll need: Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD)
  • Median annual salary: $128,570

Pharmacist Career Guide

Healthcare technician careers are growing fast in the United States, with a slow but steady need for both pharmacists and pharmacy technicians through 2031. 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. But in-store jobs may decline due to an increase in pharmacy mail order and online pharmacy services.

In this Article

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.

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

Pharmacy Assistant Salaries

Pharmacy Aides

National data

Median Salary: $29,930

Projected job growth: -2.9%

10th Percentile: $22,840

25th Percentile: $27,880

75th Percentile: $37,500

90th Percentile: $51,060

Projected job growth: -2.9%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alaska $29,960 $29,100 $37,250
Alabama $24,290 $18,770 $36,570
Arkansas $24,400 $23,310 $36,390
Arizona $29,430 $27,880 $47,240
California $44,150 $29,750 $70,250
Colorado $29,880 $28,380 $47,240
Connecticut $29,390 $28,920 $35,240
District of Columbia $46,950 $36,780 $59,050
Delaware $28,970 $22,850 $32,160
Florida $36,360 $22,720 $38,630
Georgia $29,300 $22,940 $46,210
Hawaii $29,960 $23,700 $57,490
Iowa $28,770 $22,550 $36,950
Idaho $28,900 $22,810 $37,460
Illinois $29,280 $23,700 $36,690
Indiana $29,790 $23,370 $38,180
Kansas $23,510 $18,480 $36,520
Kentucky $23,380 $22,380 $28,920
Louisiana $23,150 $17,550 $35,100
Massachusetts $30,610 $29,500 $47,880
Maryland $28,990 $24,440 $46,740
Maine $30,800 $28,900 $42,170
Michigan $28,990 $22,880 $37,610
Minnesota $31,590 $27,710 $42,710
Missouri $29,270 $22,900 $36,330
Mississippi $23,210 $22,550 $31,020
Montana $29,780 $22,870 $46,600
North Carolina $34,480 $22,660 $46,210
Nebraska $23,910 $22,340 $36,770
New Jersey $32,670 $29,250 $36,620
New Mexico $29,130 $26,710 $37,090
Nevada $29,730 $23,070 $37,530
New York $29,910 $28,880 $38,370
Ohio $29,270 $22,760 $38,530
Oklahoma $23,270 $17,850 $30,850
Oregon $29,910 $24,810 $47,330
Pennsylvania $31,550 $24,240 $39,690
South Carolina $28,970 $17,850 $36,460
South Dakota $28,980 $22,920 $36,360
Tennessee $23,350 $17,470 $29,760
Texas $27,650 $22,390 $36,770
Utah $37,500 $24,240 $47,430
Virginia $28,580 $22,900 $41,930
Vermont $29,090 $24,710 $37,230
Washington $36,080 $29,620 $46,600
Wisconsin $24,240 $22,760 $30,480
West Virginia $22,740 $19,120 $28,820

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

Pharmacy Technician

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.

Pharmacy Technician Salaries

Pharmacy Technicians

National data

Median Salary: $36,740

Projected job growth: 5%

10th Percentile: $28,740

25th Percentile: $29,460

75th Percentile: $45,850

90th Percentile: $47,580

Projected job growth: 5%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alaska $46,470 $36,650 $59,280
Alabama $30,030 $23,020 $38,830
Arkansas $29,650 $23,450 $45,470
Arizona $37,240 $29,280 $47,150
California $46,760 $36,340 $74,910
Colorado $37,390 $29,310 $47,790
Connecticut $36,640 $29,060 $47,790
District of Columbia $46,550 $36,990 $59,630
Delaware $30,020 $23,190 $46,890
Florida $36,550 $28,840 $46,330
Georgia $35,000 $23,370 $46,190
Hawaii $36,920 $28,610 $58,540
Iowa $36,590 $28,590 $46,210
Idaho $36,910 $28,990 $47,120
Illinois $36,630 $29,040 $46,790
Indiana $36,360 $28,750 $46,150
Kansas $36,630 $28,270 $46,470
Kentucky $30,140 $23,450 $45,620
Louisiana $35,870 $28,280 $45,850
Massachusetts $37,240 $29,560 $55,850
Maryland $36,840 $29,030 $47,790
Maine $36,140 $28,600 $46,250
Michigan $36,590 $28,170 $46,860
Minnesota $39,900 $29,490 $58,250
Missouri $32,050 $26,330 $46,170
Mississippi $35,640 $28,360 $45,640
Montana $36,880 $29,430 $47,150
North Carolina $35,930 $27,260 $46,470
North Dakota $45,410 $29,070 $51,080
Nebraska $36,640 $28,770 $46,700
New Hampshire $36,820 $28,910 $47,160
New Jersey $36,810 $29,100 $46,920
New Mexico $36,690 $28,980 $47,830
Nevada $37,190 $29,230 $47,130
New York $36,790 $29,130 $56,850
Ohio $35,140 $23,250 $46,460
Oklahoma $30,610 $27,930 $46,620
Oregon $46,190 $35,690 $59,390
Pennsylvania $36,290 $23,170 $46,470
Rhode Island $36,820 $29,360 $47,110
South Carolina $36,330 $28,420 $46,450
South Dakota $36,680 $29,080 $46,190
Tennessee $35,520 $28,110 $46,010
Texas $36,900 $29,080 $47,150
Utah $37,390 $29,280 $47,460
Virginia $36,450 $28,790 $47,030
Vermont $36,800 $28,930 $46,470
Washington $46,690 $36,590 $59,540
Wisconsin $36,670 $28,850 $47,000
West Virginia $29,280 $22,970 $45,550
Wyoming $37,510 $29,270 $47,790

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

Pharmacist

Pharmacists are advanced professionals who hold the ultimate responsibility at a pharmacy. In most states, they’re required to check overall 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.

Pharmacist Salaries

Pharmacists

National data

Median Salary: $128,570

Projected job growth: 2.4%

10th Percentile: $76,840

25th Percentile: $121,070

75th Percentile: $143,600

90th Percentile: $164,590

Projected job growth: 2.4%

State data

State Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Alaska $153,920 $121,700 $167,140
Alabama $127,270 $80,230 $162,440
Arkansas $127,240 $80,060 $153,480
Arizona $128,190 $49,290 $162,820
California $155,930 $79,980 $193,120
Colorado $129,090 $57,430 $166,910
Connecticut $127,690 $82,830 $162,190
District of Columbia $128,780 $37,750 $160,920
Delaware $129,580 $100,660 $153,920
Florida $127,240 $77,060 $160,840
Georgia $128,020 $48,730 $160,990
Hawaii $128,690 $101,330 $164,620
Iowa $127,690 $98,680 $152,480
Idaho $127,940 $77,940 $153,480
Illinois $128,580 $48,020 $156,130
Indiana $127,820 $48,730 $157,840
Kansas $127,940 $37,770 $162,010
Kentucky $127,240 $78,850 $162,820
Louisiana $127,240 $76,050 $153,480
Massachusetts $128,160 $48,560 $154,370
Maryland $128,650 $63,160 $160,230
Maine $128,690 $98,290 $163,360
Michigan $127,770 $49,000 $159,820
Minnesota $130,610 $99,510 $165,590
Missouri $128,410 $48,070 $163,360
Mississippi $127,050 $48,730 $152,950
Montana $127,870 $80,290 $134,350
North Carolina $128,360 $96,700 $163,360
North Dakota $128,600 $37,480 $153,070
Nebraska $125,840 $79,220 $153,920
New Hampshire $130,610 $96,420 $163,360
New Jersey $128,030 $99,720 $153,920
New Mexico $128,500 $46,580 $162,810
Nevada $128,600 $99,510 $162,820
New York $128,920 $100,490 $164,030
Ohio $128,190 $64,650 $159,490
Oklahoma $126,420 $77,770 $137,390
Oregon $131,570 $100,670 $167,670
Pennsylvania $127,690 $80,470 $154,620
Rhode Island $122,020 $38,590 $153,920
South Carolina $126,950 $46,830 $161,020
South Dakota $127,930 $99,190 $152,480
Tennessee $127,240 $46,210 $153,040
Texas $128,440 $79,600 $164,070
Utah $128,690 $62,680 $164,070
Virginia $128,340 $59,840 $164,040
Vermont $128,690 $99,500 $161,150
Washington $131,080 $101,340 $166,520
Wisconsin $130,280 $76,050 $167,140
West Virginia $127,080 $41,720 $160,580
Wyoming $128,790 $76,050 $164,150

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

Types of Pharmacy Degrees

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 six to seven 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 as 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 its 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.