How to Become a Pharmacist
As with any profession you consider, the first step is to ask yourself, “Is this job right for me?” Take into account these pluses and minuses of a career in pharmacy.
On the plus side, the demand for pharmacists remains strong. As life expectancy, the incidence of chronic diseases, increasing prescribing of medications, the number of medications, and patients’ access to health care increase, we also see growing importance of the pharmacists’ role in health care. Because the demand for pharmacists remains strong, job security and stability are high. Pharmacists may work a very flexible schedule, such as days; nights; weekends; no weekends; or seven days on, seven days off.
On the minus side, annual salary and the job description don’t fluctuate much throughout your pharmacy career. In many pharmacy roles, pharmacists are on their feet all day. The work can be quite repetitive, yet it requires a consistent high level of attention to detail, as even a single error in dispensing medication can result in severe consequences, including damage to your career. The flexible schedule mentioned above, though appealing to some, may not appeal to others who are looking for a more traditional 9-to-5 position.
You also want to ask yourself if you have these other qualities so necessary for the successful pharmacist. Do you have the self-discipline to check your work? Do you like talking to people? Are you willing to serve them no matter what their mood? Are you willing to maintain high ethical standards when dealing with dangerous and habit-forming drugs? Do you have some knowledge of management? Are you willing to maintain accurate and complete records?
When you decide to pursue a career in pharmacy will affect your education path. If you make the decision in high school, taking math and science courses at the secondary level will help prepare you for your pharmacy studies. When you are ready to enroll in college, you can choose to complete the first two years of pre-professional studies in a pre-approved community college or university, or at a professional college with an integrated curriculum for all years of study. In either case, the first two years should include courses in chemistry, physics, biology, anatomy, physiology. Since literature, history, government and social studies are not part of the pharmacy curriculum, you should be sure to take those courses in high school or in the first two years of your college studies. Strong written and verbal communication skills are very important in a pharmacy career, so taking speech and composition classes is also a good idea before entering a pharmacy program.
You must pass the PCAT (Pharmacy College Admission Test) to be admitted into a pharmacy program. This test may be taken in high school or college. The results are one of several factors used to determine admission; some others are your GPA and, at some schools, an interview.
Over the next 4 years you will take the courses necessary to earn your doctorate of Pharmacy degree, including pharmaceutics and pharmaceutical chemistry, pharmacology, toxicology, and pharmacy administration. In addition to your Pharm.D. degree, to become a licensed pharmacist in the U.S. you must also pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam administered by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). Most states also require that you pass the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE), a test on pharmacy law. Other states require other exams regarding pharmacy law and/or state specific exams. All states, except California, grant license transfers from other states.
Prior to June 14, 1997, anyone with a B.S. in Pharmacy or a Pharm.D. degree could become a licensed pharmacist. However, on that date the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) deemed the Pharm.D. degree as the sole professional practice degree in pharmacy. The transition to the new policy was completed when the last B.S. in Pharmacy degree candidates graduated in 2005.
While those pharmacists who graduated with a B.S. in Pharmacy prior to 2005 were “grandfathered,” many feel that to stay competitive, they need to earn a Pharm.D. degree. Despite many years of work experience, they lack the credentials and advanced clinical skills that newer graduates have. Looking toward retirement, more seasoned pharmacists want to hold the Pharm.D. to ensure they will stay on an upward career track and income level they envisioned when they first attended pharmacy school.
Degree programs for working professionals, such as the Working Professional Doctor of Pharmacy Distance-Learning Degree program at the University of Florida, provide a flexible non-traditional option for bachelor’s-degree holding pharmacists. The online component of the degree is carried out in the student’s home via the Internet, while a clinical component is done through a network of local preceptors who work in the student’s community and through periodic meetings and assessments by UF faculty. The advanced knowledge earned in the WPPD program will empower graduates to be better pharmacists for their own satisfaction and for their patients’ well being.
Since 1994, the UF WPPD program has grown to be the largest and most sought after pharmacy program for employed pharmacists to earn the Pharm.D. degree. The program saw its first class of graduates in 1997. Since then, more than 1,700 graduates have earned the UF Pharm.D. distance-learning degree.