Pharmacists are medication experts and play a critical role in helping people get the best results from their medications. Pharmacists prepare and dispense prescriptions, ensure medicines and doses are correct, prevent harmful drug interactions, and counsel patients on the safe and appropriate use of their medications. They have specialized expertise about the composition of medicines, including their chemical, biological, and physical properties, as well as their manufacture and use. Other health care professionals rely on pharmacists to select and administer medications that offer the best results and quality of life for a particular patient. Pharmacists may also prepare personalized medications, participate in patient rounds at a hospital, reduce the spread of infections, conduct research or clinical trials, or focus on a specific patient population or disease state (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, asthma, HIV, and pain management). Pharmacists are also the most accessible health care professional, since most people in the U.S. live within 2 miles of a pharmacy! If this sounds interesting to you, then perhaps becoming a pharmacist — a trusted, caring, and knowledgeable health care professional — might be for you.
Traditionally, pharmacists have primarily worked in community (retail) pharmacies, including those located in grocery and drug stores. However, the profession is rapidly changing and more pharmacists are working in a clinical role in hospitals, physician offices, and specialty clinics. Pharmacists can be found in emergency rooms, pediatric departments, oncology centers, cardiac care units, intensive care units, poison control centers, and long term care facilities (e.g., nursing homes). Some pharmacists work for the government and the military. In most settings, they spend much of the workday on their feet.
Most pharmacists work full time, although about 1 in 5 worked part time in 2016. Because many pharmacies are open at all hours, some pharmacists work nights and weekends.
In 2020, 144 colleges and schools of pharmacy were recognized by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. Pharmacy programs grant Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degrees, which require at least six years of post-secondary study. Pharmacy graduates must pass a state board of pharmacy licensure examination to practice in the U.S.
The Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree program requires at least 2-years of specific preprofessional (undergraduate) coursework followed by 4-academic years (or 3-calendar years) of professional study. Pharmacy colleges and schools may accept students directly from high school for both the pre-pharmacy and pharmacy curriculum, or after completion of the college course prerequisites. The majority of students enter a pharmacy program with 3 years of college experience. College graduates who enroll in a pharmacy program must complete the full 4-academic years (or 3-calendar) years of professional study to earn the Pharm.D. degree.
The Pharmacy College Application Service (PharmCAS) makes it easy to apply to multiple schools using a single application.
Students interested in laboratory or research experience can continue their education by completing a Master of Science or Ph.D. degree. Graduates usually go on to careers in research for a drug company or teaching at a university. In the 2019-2020 academic year, 84 colleges of pharmacy offered Master of Science and/or Ph.D. degree programs.
Other options for Pharm.D. graduates who are interested in further training include one- or two-year residency programs or fellowships. Pharmacy residencies are post-graduate training programs in pharmacy practice. Pharmacy fellowships are highly individualized programs designed to prepare participants to work in research laboratories. Some pharmacists who run their own pharmacies obtain a master’s degree in business administration (MBA).
Licensed pharmacists may choose to become board certified as a way to demonstrate pharmacy expertise in a specialty area of practice: Ambulatory Care, Cardiology, Compounded Sterile Preparations, Critical Care, Geriatric, Infectious Diseases, Nuclear, Nutrition Support Oncology, Pediatric, Pharmacotherapy, and Psychiatric.