Becoming a Pharmacist: Job Description & Salary Information

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The median annual salary of pharmacists is $121,000, but is it worth the lengthy education requirements? Read real job descriptions and see the truth about career prospects to decide if becoming a pharmacist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Pharmacist

Pharmacists prepare and distribute prescription drugs, counsel patients on medical issues and assist physicians with medication questions. Review the pros and cons below to see if a career as a pharmacist might be a good option for you.

Pros of Becoming a Pharmacist
Solid job growth (14% growth predicted between 2012 and 2022)*
High earning potential (median annual salary of $121,000 in 2014)*
Excellent job prospects (due mainly to an aging population)*
Work in a variety of settings (retail stores, hospitals, research labs, etc.)*

Cons of Becoming a Pharmacist
Requires extensive schooling (at least six years of postsecondary training)*
Extensive licensing requirements (at least two board exams in most states)*
May work long or odd hours (including nights, weekends and holidays)*
Often spend the entire day on your feet*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Essential Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Most pharmacists work in either retail or medical settings, and each setting has a slightly different set of job duties. In 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that about 43% of pharmacists worked in pharmacies and drugstores, while 23% worked in hospitals.

Retail pharmacists often find themselves dispensing medications directly to patients, giving medical and product advice, administering vaccines and helping patients complete necessary insurance paperwork. Pharmacists in medical facilities also dispense medications, though they may serve either patients or physicians. They also advise medical staff on the selection and dosage of drugs, and they may prepare and administer intravenous medications.

In addition to these two common options, some pharmacists choose to become pharmaceutical researchers. They generally work for drug manufacturers, creating and testing new drugs and measuring their effects. Pharmacists can also work as prescription drug sales representatives, government advisors or college professors.

Job Growth and Salary Information

Thanks to the rapidly aging population and an onslaught of new drug therapies, pharmacists are in greater demand than ever before. Over the 2012-2022 decade, job prospects are expected to grow as fast as average. In fact, the BLS predicted that job growth for pharmacists would be about 14%. Earnings for pharmacists are above average, with the BLS reporting an annual median salary of $121,000 in 2014.

Education and Training Requirements

In order to work as a pharmacist, you must have a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree. Some job postings list a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy as an acceptable degree, but this is an old standard, and accredited schools no longer offer this degree. Earning a Pharm.D. requires two years of pre-pharmacy courses in math, science and humanities. Once these two years are completed, you may apply to a college of pharmacy. A Pharm.D. program takes approximately four years, with at least one year of clinical rotations doing the work of a pharmacist in a real-world setting.

Upon graduation from a Pharm.D. program, you must be licensed as a pharmacist in the state where you want to work. The licensing process varies from state to state, but all 50 states and U.S. territories require applicants to pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX), a 185-question test that measures your ability to safely and effectively perform the duties of a pharmacist. Most states also require applicants for licensure to pass the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE), a test of your knowledge of pharmacy laws. States and territories that don't use the MPJE have tests designed specifically for their laws and regulations.

What Employers Are Looking For

In addition to a Pharm.D. degree, many employers look for applicants who are good communicators and will relate well to both patients and colleagues. Pharmacy experience is also frequently listed as a preferred qualification. Below are a few real job postings from Monster.com in March 2012:

  • A suburban hospital in Pennsylvania seeks a licensed pharmacist with a B.S. in Pharmacy or Pharm.D. degree. Candidates with previous hospital pharmacy experience or residency training are preferred.
  • A private specialty pharmacy in Florida is looking for a pharmacist with I.V. compounding experience and other specialty pharmacy skills. A B.S. or Pharm.D. degree is required, along with at least two years of related experience and a valid Florida pharmacist license.
  • An Arizona grocery store chain needs a pharmacist to prepare and dispense medications, counsel patients and contribute to a team environment. The ideal candidate will have excellent pharmacy skills, knowledge of regulations, good verbal communication, clear focus on quality and strong attention to detail. Participating in continuing education and professional development is required.
  • A university health system in Maryland seeks a pharmacist to prepare and deliver medication, counsel patients and monitor technicians in an acute-care setting. Applicants should hold a B.S. in Pharmacy or a Pharm.D. degree and a valid pharmacist license, have prior hospital pharmacy experience and be willing to work rotating shifts, including weekends and holidays.

How to Stand Out in the Field

For recent Pharm.D. graduates who are looking for entry-level jobs, the experience gained in clinical rotations is extremely important. Many schools offer students the option to choose several elective rotations. You should select rotations in the fields in which you wish to work. For example, if you want to work in acute care environments, at least a few of your clinical rotations should be in hospital or urgent care settings. This will give you practical experience and an edge with potential employers.

More established pharmacists can further distinguish themselves from their peers by participating in continuing education and professional development activities. Training classes are often available through professional organizations and associations, and they generally focus on care of specific populations, treatment of particular conditions or use of new drugs and drug therapies. Staying current with trends in the field will help experienced pharmacists stay marketable.

Get Specialized

The American Pharmacists Association (APhA) also offers specializations through its Board of Pharmacy Specialties (BPS). Licensed pharmacists must train, pass an exam and meet set requirements of the BPS to gain certification in each specialization area. Potential areas of specialization include:

  • Nuclear pharmacy
  • Nutrition support pharmacy
  • Oncology pharmacy
  • Pharmacotherapy
  • Psychiatric pharmacy
  • Ambulatory care

These specialized certifications can speak to a pharmacist's abilities in certain areas, and can increase the likelihood of being hired for highly specialized positions in hospitals and research facilities.

Other Careers to Consider

If the extensive public relations aspect of a pharmacist's career does not appeal to you, consider becoming a medical scientist. Like pharmacists, medical scientists must go through extensive schooling, attending college for up to 12 years to earn their Ph.D. or M.D. degrees. In fact, the BLS indicates the best job opportunities in medical science will be for those who hold both Ph.D. and M.D. degrees. Medical scientists spend their days conducting biomedical research to find cures and better understand disease processes. Their work forms the foundation for new drugs, vaccines and treatment procedures. The BLS predicted very strong job prospects in this field, with 36% growth projected between 2010 and 2020. The BLS reported the median annual wage for medical scientists was $76,000 in 2011.

On the other hand, if extensive schooling is not your cup of tea, a career as a pharmacy technician might be right for you. The primary downfall is lower earnings; the BLS reported that the median annual income for pharmacy technicians was $29,000 in 2011. On the positive side, however, there is no formal training required in most states. Short-term training courses - usually ranging from six months to two years - are available though, and can improve job opportunities. Pharmacy technicians accept prescription requests, count tablets, label bottles and speak with patients. Their final work is checked by a licensed pharmacist to ensure accuracy, but they otherwise perform many of the same duties that a pharmacist does. In addition, the demand for pharmacy technicians is high, with the BLS predicting a 32% job growth between 2010 and 2020.

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University of Delaware

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Herzing University

  • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership

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Keiser University

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The University of Scranton

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Grand Canyon University

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Colorado State University Global

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Saint Joseph's University

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