How to Become a Pharmacist
Have you ever thought about becoming a pharmacist? Pharmacists play an essential role in America’s healthcare system by ensuring their patients receive the proper medications prescribed to them by their doctors. They also explain to patients how to use those medications safely and effectively.
As a pharmacist, you can work in hospitals, nursing homes, corporate settings, retail drug stores, or other healthcare settings. You could even get a job with a pharmaceutical company.
It takes a lot of schooling and licensure to become a pharmacist, but it can be a rewarding and lucrative career.
Here’s how to become a pharmacist:
7 Steps to Becoming a Pharmacist
Although these steps to becoming a pharmacists start at the high school level, don’t worry if you’ve already graduated high school. Keep reading and start the process at whatever step makes the most sense for you.
Step 1: Take AP Courses in Math and Science
If you’re a high schooler who is already considering a career in medicine or healthcare, then taking AP classes in math, biology, and chemistry is an awesome first step.
Yes, these classes can be challenging, but they will prepare you for college. You may even be able to earn college credit by doing well in these classes.
Step 2: Get Your Bachelor of Science Degree
Before you can pursue a career as a pharmacist, you’ll need to earn your four-year Bachelor of Science degree from an accredited university or college. Many schools offer a pre-pharmacy track, including the University of Utah.
If your university doesn’t offer a pre-pharmacy program, then talk with your college’s career advisors about the appropriate course of study. Most likely, you’ll be encouraged to pursue a major in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, science, or mathematics.
Step 3: Gain Experience in the Healthcare Field
You can start working and gaining experience in the healthcare field before earning your degree.
You can often get a part-time job as a pharmacy assistant or a pharmacy technician with just your high school diploma and some additional training. You may also search for internship programs offered at hospitals or pharmacies in your area.
And remember, local hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities are always looking for capable volunteers. Volunteering can be an excellent way for you to gain the experience needed.
Pursuing these types of experiences will go a long way in helping you determine if you want to become a pharmacist.
Step 4: Passing the PCAT Exam
To become a pharmacist in the United States, you must obtain a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree from a pharmacy school. Before you get accepted to a pharmacy school, you must take the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT).
The PCAT is a standardized test that will take about 4 hours to compete. It consists of 192 multiple-choice questions and one writing section. It costs $210 to take the test.
PCAT scores range from 200 to 600, with 600 being considered a perfect score. Your PCAT score is just one factor that pharmacy schools consider when reviewing your application. Scores of 400 to 415 are considered acceptable to most schools. Scores of 415 and above are required by more elite institutions.
The PCAT is offered at testing centers around the country multiple times per year, so you’ll have ample opportunity to take the exam.
Step 5: Go for Your PharmD
Once you’ve passed your PCAT and have gotten accepted to a pharmacy program, you’ll then be working toward your Doctor of Pharmacy degree, or PharmD.
It typically takes four years for most people to earn their PharmD. During those four years, you’ll complete the required coursework, take elective classes, and gain practical clinical experience while being supervised by professional pharmacists.
Your coursework may include classes such as biochemistry, medicinal chemistry, pharmacology, the ethics of medicine, and more. Classes and requirements can vary depending on which school you decide to attend. Be sure to research each school’s required coursework carefully.
Step 6: Consider a Residency Program
Pharmacists aren’t required to complete residency programs. Many pharmacists start their careers without going through residencies, while others find their residency experience to be invaluable.
It’s best that you speak to your teachers and advisors who can help you come to a decision about whether or not you should attend a residency program.
If you decided to pursue a residency, your school should be able to match you with the right program. During your residency you’ll work as a pharmacist under some supervision, for at least two years.
As a resident you’ll earn a salary, but it’s not as much as you’ll make as a fully licensed pharmacist. The salary of a pharmacy resident is $45,000 per year on average.
Step 7: Get Your Pharmacy License
You cannot practice as a pharmacist without a license. You’ll first need to pass North American Pharmacy Licensure Examination(NAPLEX) before you obtain a license.
Once you pass the exam, you will apply for a license through your state’s board of pharmacy. Each state will have its own list of requirements for you to gain licensure. However, each state will want to see that you’ve graduated from an accredited school and have passed the NAPLEX.
Keep in mind that if you become licensed in one state, then decide to move to another state, you’ll need to re-apply for licensure in the new state.
Costs of Becoming a Pharmacist vs. Salary Expectations
Now that you know how to become a pharmacist, it’s important to consider how much it will cost to earn a PharmD.
It can cost anywhere from $70,000 to $250,000 to complete pharmacy school. And that’s on top of what you’ll have paid to get your undergraduate degree.
However, many people believe the investment in their education is worthwhile because pharmacists make attractive salaries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median annual salary of a pharmacist is $129,000.
Out of all 50 states, pharmacists earn the most in California with a median salary of $151,000. Other states with the highest earning potential for pharmacists include Alaska, Oregon, Washington, and Minnesota.
Consider a Career as a Pharmacist
There are good reasons pharmacist appears on the U.S. News and World Report’s list of 100 best jobs. It’s a growing profession that’s expected to be in demand for decades to come. Pharmacists earn a high salary and the current unemployment rate among pharmacists is very low.
Once you’ve completed your education requirements and are ready to apply, you’ll need a strong resume that highlights any intern experience, residency, and projects that you may have to give you the best opportunity to find employment.
If you have aptitude for math and chemistry, want a job in healthcare, and have the tenacity to complete years of schooling, then consider a career as a pharmacist. You’d be an essential part of our nation’s healthcare system, helping people get the medications they need to live healthier, happier lives.
Maria Gold is a Content Manager/Writer for Empire Resume. She is dedicated to helping educate and motivate people with the latest career articles and job search advice. Her interests range from writing to programming and design. She is also passionate about innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology.