Pharmacists are health professionals who, in addition to dispensing prescription medication to patients, also provide information about the drugs their doctors have ordered for them. They explain doctors' instructions to patients so that these individuals can use these medications safely and effectively.
Pharmacists held about 275,000 jobs in 2010. Most worked in pharmacies and drug stores. Others were employed by hospitals and by grocery stores and other retail establishments.
To become a pharmacist one must earn a Doctor of Pharmacy degree, known as a Pharm.D. Pharmacy programs are usually four years long and must be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE). To gain admission one must have at least two years of college study with courses including math, chemistry, biology, physics, humanities and social sciences. Applicants generally have to take the Pharmacy College Admissions Test. Doctor of Pharmacy programs include coursework in pharmaceutics and pharmaceutical chemistry, pharmacology (effects of drugs on the body), toxicology and pharmacy administration.
All states in the US license pharmacists. While each state has its own requirements, all applicants must pass the North American Pharmacist Exam which the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) administers. Most states also require graduates to pass the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE), a test of pharmacy law that is also administered by the NABP. Other states administer another exam that tests knowledge of pharmacy law. Several states also require additional state-specific exams. To learn more about the requirements in the state in which you want to work, you should check with that state's Board of Pharmacy. The NABP maintains a list of Boards of Pharmacy that includes, in addition to US boards, those in Canada, New Zealand and Australia.
Those who want to become pharmacists should bring with them certain qualities that are typically acquired outside the classroom. They should, first of all, have a good aptitude for science. They must also have good communication skills since, in addition to dispensing medication, they also offer advice to customers. Being detail-oriented is imperative since mistakes can endanger people's lives. Pharmacists who run retail pharmacies must have good managerial skills.
Pharmacists working in independent pharmacies may become owners or part-owners after they gain experience and secure the necessary capital. Those in chain drugstores may be promoted to pharmacy supervisors or store managers, then to district or regional managers and eventually to executive positions at the company's headquarters. Hospital pharmacists may be promoted to supervisory positions. Those who work in the pharmaceutical industry may advance in areas including marketing, sales, research or quality control.
Employment of pharmacists is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2020. This is partly due to an increase in the number of older people who tend to use more medication. New drugs will be introduced to the market also causing a need for more pharmacists. In addition the number of medications individuals are prescribed will call for qualified professionals to make sure they are taken correctly.
Pharmacists earned a median annual salary of $113,390 and median hourly wages of $54.51 in 2011.
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A Day in a Pharmacist's Life:
On a typical day a pharmacist will:
- advise physicians and other health practitioners on the selection, dosages, interactions and side effects of medications
- monitor patients' response to drug therapy
- advise patients and answer their questions about side effects and drug interactions
- provide information and make recommendations about over-the-counter drugs
Pharmacists may also
- give advice about diet, exercise, or stress management;
- help patients manage conditions such as diabetes, asthma, smoking cessation or high blood pressure
- advise patients about durable medical equipment and home healthcare supplies
- complete third-party insurance forms and other paperwork
Pharmacists who own or manage drugstores may supervise personnel, as well as have other general managerial duties.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Pharmacists, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/Healthcare/Pharmacists.htm (visited April 26, 2013).
Employment and Training Administration, US Department of Labor, O*NET Online, Pharmacists, on the Internet at http://online.onetcenter.org/link/details/29-1051.00 (visited April 26, 2013).