How to become a pharmacist
In order to become a pharmacist, it is necessary to graduate from a college or a university in the field that allows candidates to receive the Doctor of Pharmacy degree (Pharm.D.). How long your education will last and what degrees and certificates you may receive will depend on the field in pharmacy you wish to work in.
So, how hard is it to become a pharmacist? Since this profession is about providing treatment to people, the education necessary for it is very demanding and thorough. A pharmacist-to-be is expected to know natural sciences, especially chemistry and mathematics. Therefore, in this job you will find primarily people who possess STEM skills as they are ready to study thoroughly and are committed to continuous professional development.
This is extremely important for those pharmacists who work in pharmacies (even at lower positions, such as pharmacy technicians) as they have direct contact with patients. They have to apply their knowledge on a daily basis when administering appropriate medicine. That presents an immense responsibility so it is vital that a pharmacist interprets the information provided by a patient in the right way. It is achievable only thanks to comprehensive study programs, professional development and internship. Having completed these, a pharmacist is ready to take responsibility and make decisions independently.
How long does it take to become a pharmacist?
The length of training for a pharmacist depends on the selected education path. Traditional undergraduate education means at least two years at the study program, prior to entering Pharm. D. program.
It should be stressed that “undergraduate program” does not actually mean classical program but a combination of subjects providing a certain level of previous knowledge necessary for further education. Regarding that, the focus is on the pharmacy-relevant subjects, such as biology, chemistry, and others from the field of natural sciences. Because of that, this program is often called a “pre-pharmacy program”. Thanks to it, candidates acquire knowledge necessary for application to the Pharm. D. program organized by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE).
Some colleges/universities offer “early assurance” type of training that guarantees admission to students after completion of two years of undergraduate studies. Those candidates interested in continuing education upon receiving their high school diploma (“0-6/7” pharmacy program”) and/or interested in “early assurance” can apply through the Pharmacy Direct Entry Application Service (PharmDirect).
A large number of undergraduate students decide on a bachelor’s degree that requires 4 years to receive as that study program provides better conditions for further professional development, while, additionally, a lot of institutions favor students who have this kind of knowledge. It is possible to enter the Doctor of Pharmacy degree program (which lasts two to three years) that is followed by residency, lasting at least a year. Other professional development courses could be added, which in total means that the education for a pharmacist may take even 10 years to complete.
What are pharmacy school requirements?
College application for the Pharm. D. program is typically completed through the PharmCAS website. It enables candidates to make a comparison among different college/university curricula, as well as to learn about registration deadlines. Though there are colleges /universities which are not linked to the PharmCAS institution, it is still possible to acquire basic information on a particular program. Although the prerequisites for enrollment may differ from one college/university to another, there are some basic things a candidate has to provide.
When applying for postgraduate, Master or Ph.D. programs offered by a pharmacy college or a university, the application is sent through the Pharmacy Graduate Application Service (PharmGrad). Regardless of the level of education a candidate is applying to, prerequisites are similar:
Many colleges do not insist on a minimal GPA as a prerequisite for enrollment. Though high GPA brings a considerable advantage, the grades from key subjects are the most important and the grades from required courses have to be no lower than C. These courses are:
- General Chemistry
- Organic Chemistry
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Communication or Public Speaking
- English Composition
- Psychology or Sociology
It is worth noting that those interested in pharmacy are the students who have chosen the most varied majors, from psychology and business management to the English language. Though the selected majors do not need to be closely related to pharmacy, still it is necessary to attend subjects required for the Pharm. D program.
Letters of recommendation
Letters of recommendations (also known as letters of reference) are very often an indispensable element of the admission process. These evaluations are not only insisted upon, but there should be several of them. These are usually recommendations by (key subjects) teachers, academic advisors, but also by pharmacists (in case a candidate did internship during training or recommendations from lectures). Up to four letters of recommendations are often sent through PharmaCAS website in the process of application.
Having in mind the specific nature of this profession, pharmacy is not insisted upon when it comes to stating experience. What is important is to state personal experience that will demonstrate important skills needed for the job of a pharmacist: community work, leadership, communication skills, patience etc. But, of course, if you have healthcare-related experience, this should be incorporated in your application.
All of the above indicate that knowledge is crucial for being a pharmacist, but also having certain skills without which a successful career cannot be accomplished. Regarding that, volunteering or working in healthcare institutions, which brings experience in treating patients, can be a significant advantage.
An interview is an integral part of the application process, which provides a college/university/school with more information about you and your reasons for selecting this profession. The conversation will encompass various topics, but it will predominantly test your determination to enter pharmacy.
In many ways this interview resembles the one for a job. A college/university is usually represented by members of teaching staff, but current students as well. What is evaluated on this occasion is your resolution to become a pharmacist, your presentation skills, key areas of knowledge, problem solving, team work etc. The interviews are mostly conducted online, through Skype or Zoom.
The Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT)
Very often one of the prerequisites for further education is taking the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT). Though it is not mandatory, many colleges/universities insist on candidates taking that exam. This test helps establish the level of candidates’ general knowledge and familiarity with key profession related areas, predominantly the subjects necessary for Phartm. D. program. The PCAT covers these five areas:
- Critical reading
- Quantitative Reasoning
The final result is obtained by adding up correct answers given to multiple-choice questions. The test usually lasts around 3.5 hours and is meant for candidates applying to pharmacy colleges and universities. It is interesting to know that there is no minimum score required to pass the test. However, each college/university defines their own minimum admission requirements.
English language proficiency
International students often have to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) if it is necessary to prove that a foreign candidate is capable of attending the lectures. Some colleges/universities organize English lessons as a form of support to foreign students, upon their enrollment.
Public or private school?
You should bear in mind that some colleges/universities have a quota for out-of-state (non-resident) students they can enroll. Public pharmacy schools generally favor resident students, while there is a limited number of places for out-of-state (or foreign) students.
Furthermore, some schools do not have a defined number of places for out-of-state (or foreign countries) students. On the other hand, private colleges/universities offer more places for out-of-state and foreign students, as these institutions are not funded by the state.
What to do after graduation?
Upon completion of the Pharm.D. program, it is possible to apply for the pharmacist licensure exam, in order to get a work license. This is the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) through which the knowledge in the field of pharmacy is checked. Apart from that, it is necessary to take the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE), which is a specific test which is defined by a particular state you want to work in as a pharmacist. Further specializations within certain areas require further professional development and acquiring other certificates (for example, a pharmacist license for vaccine administration to patients).
Besides, it is necessary to accumulate a certain number of hours as an intern, which is defined differently by each federal state. Apart from that, it is possible to enroll even in the Ph.D. program and proceed with further professional development and continuing education in order to enter pharmaceutical sciences.
Does it pay off to be a pharmacist?
Training to become a pharmacist may require many thousands of dollars. The total price depends on the selected college/university (public or private), as well as on the fact whether you are a resident or an out-of-state (or a foreign) student. Still, it is believed that the acquired knowledge offers a great opportunity for a successful pharmacist career, which encourages many people to invest in their education.
Student debt is an important issue for the US students when planning not only their schooling but also a career as a pharmacist, as high income enables paying off the debt sooner. According to the official data, provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for full time pharmacists was $128,710.
Where can pharmacists work?
- Ambulatory care pharmacy
- Clinical pharmacy
- Compounding pharmacy
- Home care pharmacy
- Hospital pharmacy
- Regulatory pharmacies
- Pharmaceutical companies
A pharmacist job is a very dynamic and challenging, but also a noble one. An immense responsibility lies in working with patients as giving even the most common medication carries some responsibility (understanding the prescription, taking into consideration patient’s health, providing appropriate answers to the questions asked etc.) Very often pharmacists’ work is stressful as it implies encountering people who are ill regardless whether they happen to be in a pharmacy, hospital or home care environment. All of the above requires additional patience and understanding, especially during stressful situations.
On the other hand, this is a profession with excellent job growth, which means finding a job is easy and a salary is excellent. That especially refers to working in pharmaceutical companies that appreciate professionals’ expertise a lot.