Pharmacists are valued members of healthcare teams who care for patients, prevent medical mistakes and earn six figures. As a pharmacist, you can own your own business, discover life-saving new drugs or care for patients in a hospital. If you’re wondering “how do I become a pharmacist?” then keep reading.
To become a pharmacist, you’ll need years of higher education, advanced scientific knowledge and the patience to deal with the general public. Most pharmacists work in retail drugstores dispensing prescription medication. Pharmacists are the last safety check for patients and must be vigilant for medication errors or patient allergies. Retail pharmacists supervise pharmacy technicians and work flexible hours. Working at a hospital pharmacy is similar to working in a retail store, but your patients will be sicker and usually on more medication. You’ll need to thoroughly review patients’ charts for adverse medication reactions before filling prescriptions.
If you want to become a pharmacist, you will need at least six years of college education, although most people take eight or more years to earn their pharmacy degree. Some universities offer two year undergraduate pre-pharmacy programs that feed into graduate pharmacy programs. However, most aspiring pharmacists earn bachelor’s degrees in chemistry or biology. Either way, to become a pharmacist you must do well in chemistry, organic chemistry, biology and biochemistry classes, including laboratory classes. You will also need to pass the Pharmacy College Admission Test, shadow pharmacists and volunteer in your community.
Once you’re admitted to pharmacy school, you’ll continue to study chemistry and other topics. Many programs require business, pharmacology, anatomy and toxicology classes. You’ll learn the chemical properties of medicinal drugs and how these drugs affect the body. You’ll also learn how poisons and biological weapons affect humans. You’ll study how to run your own pharmacy, learn pharmacy law, develop skills for communicating with patients and study public health. Some schools teach each class as traditional, self-contained disciplines, while other schools teach the anatomy and pathophysiology of each particular body system as a unit.
In many states, you have an internship experience to become a pharmacist. Most programs offer supervised practical experience during your final year of study, although some programs start sooner. You may have to travel an hour or two from your school, as local hospitals can only support so many clinical students at a time. After your classroom studies and internship are complete, you’ll need to pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination and take continuing education courses throughout your professional life.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for pharmacists in 2011 was $113,390. Pharmaceutical companies paid the most and mail-order stores paid the least, although all employers paid a median of more than six figures. To work as a pharmacist, a current state-issued license is required. Because pharmacists are specialized workers and gain practical experience during their education, it is not hard for them to find employment after graduation. Retail drug stores are always hiring, although new employees may have to start with an undesirable shift. Pharmacy is an exciting, stable career for students willing to put in the work to become licensed.