Pharmacist Career Guide

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What Is a Pharmacist?

A pharmacist specializes in the science of medications, which is called pharmacology. While doctors prescribe medications, pharmacists are the ones who prepare and dispense them. Doctors often consult pharmacists on which medications are the best choice for their patients.

Pharmacists are experts in knowing the side effects, drug-to-drug interactions, and other important information necessary to ensure that millions of Americans are both safely prescribed and safely taking their medications.

Pharmacists are specialized healthcare providers who are experts in everything related to prescriptions and medications. They have advanced training and education and are an invaluable resource to physicians, other healthcare providers, and the people and communities they serve.

Did you know that pharmacists are in demand and needed all over the United States? Plus, their career growth is only expected to increase. Over 13,000 more pharmacists will be needed each year to keep up with demand.

Does this specialized and important career interest you? Keep reading - we’ll go over what you need to get started, what degree you need to be a pharmacist, how to get a pharmacist license, and everything else you need to know!

What is the Difference Between a Pharmacist and a Pharmacy Tech?

Pharmacists work closely with pharmacy technicians, but there are many critical differences between them. First, let’s review the differences in these two careers.

  • Pharmacists must have a doctoral degree in pharmacy. They have advanced training in pharmacology, chemistry, and biology, and have greater responsibility over pharmacy operations.
  • Pharmacy technicians work under the close supervision and direction of a pharmacist. They can often be trained on the job, or begin working after completing a pharmacy tech training program.
  • Becoming a pharmacy technician can be a great step toward becoming a pharmacist. Some pharmacists start as techs and later go on to achieve their doctoral degrees in pharmacy.

What Does a Pharmacist Do?

As a pharmacist, you will be an expert in an extensive range of pharmacy skills and duties. The general pharmacist job description includes the following:

Verify medications. After a doctor prescribes a medication, it must be verified and dispensed by a pharmacist. Sometimes, a pharmacist will note a side effect or interaction that makes a specific medication not the best choice for someone. In this case, the pharmacist will consult with the ordering physician.

Prepare medications. You will fill medications accurately and safely. A pharmacy tech can often help with this process, but you will be responsible for verifying that the medications and dosages are correct.

Provide education to patients. Your patients must know when and how to take their medications safely, what side effects to watch for, and when to contact their physician.

Be a resource to healthcare providers. Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers recognize you as the expert in everything medication-related. They will contact you with questions and for consultations and advice.

Pharmacy organization and inventory. You will keep the thousands of medications commonly dispensed organized and in stock.

Oversee the work of pharmacy technicians. And much more! Modern pharmacies are constantly adapting to better meet their customers' needs. Pharmacists provide health screenings, vaccinations, and health education and outreach.

How Do You Become a Pharmacist?

To become a pharmacist, your first step is to achieve a high school diploma. Once you have completed your high school education, here are your next steps:

Complete a Bachelor’s Degree or Pre-Pharmacy Program

Either a four-year bachelor’s degree or a two-year pre-pharmacy program is necessary before you can begin your doctor of pharmacy degree. During these programs, you will take classes in math, pharmacology, biology, chemistry, toxicology, and anatomy and physiology.

Complete a Doctor of Pharmacy Degree

Next, you will need to get into and complete a doctoral degree in pharmacy. Take care not to confuse this doctoral degree with medical school. Doctors go to medical school, while pharmacists complete doctoral degrees in pharmacy. Competition to get into doctoral pharmacy programs can be high! Be sure to take care and study hard in your undergraduate classes.

A doctor of pharmacy degree will take you four years to complete. In this program, you will learn about the science of medications and how they interact with the human body in much greater detail. In addition to coursework, you will receive clinical training under the supervision of an experienced pharmacist.

Obtain Licensure as a Pharmacist

Pharmacists must pass a national licensure exam before working independently as pharmacists in the United States.

Complete a Pharmacy Fellowship Program

Pursuing additional pharmacy training isn’t always required but is recommended. Fellowships are often one to two years long, and help you gain more experience in the individual type of pharmacy career you wish to pursue. Fellowships prepare you to work in community, clinical, hospital, or other pharmacy specialties.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Pharmacist?

Undergraduate and doctoral training programs, plus a fellowship, means that it can take anywhere from eight to ten years to become a licensed pharmacist who can work independently.

FAQs About Pharmacists

What skills does a Pharmacist need?

Pharmacists need strong skills in science, chemistry, math, and pharmacology. In addition to this, they also should have excellent communication skills to effectively educate their patients and healthcare providers who rely on them for information.

In addition to knowledge, pharmacists must be technologically savvy, as most modern-day healthcare facilities use computer software programs to assist in medication inventory, preparation, and dispensing.

Pharmacists also need strong technical skills. They are responsible for ensuring intravenous (IV) medications are prepared safely and sterilely. Pharmacists also prepare high-risk medications such as chemotherapy and other specialized IV infusions.

Work Settings For a Pharmacist

Pharmacists can work in a wide range of settings! You have the ability to find a pharmacist job that works with your individual lifestyle and needs. Your role as a pharmacist will vary slightly depending on which environment you choose to work in. Here are some options:

  • Hospital pharmacies
  • Compounding pharmacies
  • Community pharmacies
  • Long-term care, clinic, and outpatient care pharmacies
  • Pharmacy schools and education programs
  • Mail-order or internet pharmacies

Pharmacies are often open during the evenings and weekends, and hospitals need pharmacists to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You will have the opportunity to work varied shifts and hours.

Common Cases a Pharmacist Encounters

Here are some common cases and responsibilities you will have as a pharmacist:

  • Medication verification, preparation, and dispensal.
  • You will work with medications in pill and liquid form. Depending on your work settings, you may specialize in intravenous (IV) or other routes of medication administration.
  • Provide education to patients about the medications they are taking.
  • Provide education and consultations to other healthcare providers about the medications they are prescribing or administering.
  • Work closely with insurance companies and answer questions related to billing and reimbursement of prescribed medications.
  • Be responsible for the inventory and organization of hundreds to thousands of medications, depending on your work environment.

How To Advance Your Career as a Pharmacist?

Once you begin a career as a pharmacist, the sky is the limit! You will have plenty of opportunities to advance your career. Here are some options:

  • Specialize in an area of pharmacy
  • Obtain certification in a specialty area of pharmacy
  • Become a pharmacy supervisor, manager, or administrator
  • Become a professor of pharmacy
  • Participate in the training and mentorship of new pharmacists

Education Requirements & Helpful Certifications for a Pharmacist

To become a pharmacist, you will need to start with a high school diploma. Following that, you must complete a bachelor's degree or pre-pharmacy program, followed by a doctoral degree in pharmacy. You then have the option to continue your education through a fellowship or other advanced training.

There are many additional pharmacy certifications that you can obtain as you choose to specialize in an area of pharmacy or advance your career.  The Board Certification through the Board of Pharmacy Specialists (BPS) offers board certification in fourteen different areas. Here are some examples:

  • Board Certified Ambulatory Care Pharmacist (BCACP)
  • Board Certified Critical Care Pharmacists (BCCCP)
  • Board Certified Geriatric Pharmacist (BCGP)
  • Board Certified Pediatric Pharmacy Specialists (BCPPS)
  • Board Certified Nuclear Pharmacists (BCNP)
  • Board Certified Psychiatric Pharmacists (BCPP)
  • Board Certified Oncology Pharmacists (BCOP)

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