How Do You Become a Pharmacist?

Salary, Job Duties, and Education Required for Pharmacists


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A pharmacist is a medical professional who dispenses drugs to patients according to a prescription ordered by a physician or other clinician. Pharmacists have an in-depth knowledge of the chemistry of various drugs and how they react in humans, and also how drugs interact with each other. Pharmacists must accurately measure and package medicine, ensuring its dosage and safety to be administered properly to a patient. While the pharmacist does not typically select or prescribe the medication, the pharmacist educates the patient on how to take the medication and what reactions or problems to be avoided.

How to Become a Pharmacist - Education and Training

Pharmacists graduating from college today are required to have a PharmD or doctorate of Pharmacy degree. College students can start a four-year pharmacy program after successfully completing two years of undergraduate coursework and earning a passing score on the PCAT (Pharmacy college admission test). Coursework in pharmacy and pre-pharmacy includes chemistry, physics, biology, anatomy, and physiology.

Additionally, PharmD students must complete a series of rotations in a variety of clinical and pharmaceutical settings. The length and quantity of rotations vary, but the average PharmD program requires 7-10 rotations, each of which is four to six weeks in length.

If a student knows early in his or her college career that they would like to become a pharmacist, one could graduate with a PharmD in about 6 years. Many college students do not decide until later in college or after college to become a pharmacist; therefore, some pharmacists complete eight years of college.

How Much Do Pharmacists Earn? Average Salary for Pharmacists

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for pharmacists is $120,950, (or, $58.15 per hour) as of 2014, the most recent data available as of 2016. According to Sherrie Nacke, CPC, who specializes in pharmacist recruitment for Hire Dynamics Rx in Atlanta, their average contract (temporary hourly) pharmacist job pays $50.00-$60.00 per hour, which equates to $100,000-$120,000 annualized income, assuming a full-time schedule. Additionally, a signing bonus of $5,000-$15,000 may be offered upon accepting and starting a position. Signing bonuses help keep pharmacists locked into a job for up to three years.

What's to Like about Pharmacist Jobs

Demand is strong and pay is high for this medical career. Therefore, pharmacists enjoy job security and stability, and availability of jobs in just about any location nationwide. A variety of options and work settings are available for pharmacists as well.

What's Not to Like About Pharmacist Careers

As with nursing and some other high-demand medical careers, burn-out can be an issue for some pharmacists. While pharmacists earn a strong salary, the annual salary and job description doesn’t change much over the course of a typical pharmacist's career. Once you become a pharmacist, most likely you will be doing the same thing 15 years from now for the same pay, as what you experience right out of college, unless you take active strides to change your career type or setting.

Furthermore, pharmacists must stand on their feet all day and the work can be repetitive. One other concern for pharmacists is maintaining clean licensure. A single error in dispensing medication can have catastrophic results and damage one's career.

Career Paths and Work Settings for Pharmacists

Once licensed, pharmacists can choose from a variety of work settings and types of pharmacist jobs, including retail pharmacies, hospitals, corporations, long-term care facilities and more. According to Sherrie Nacke of Hire Dynamics Rx, there is not much variation in salary from one setting to the other, but the work schedule and duties vary in each position. Therefore, different roles may appeal to different types of personalities and individuals who become pharmacists.

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