If you’re considering a career as a pharmacist, you may have a basic understanding of the journey it will take to get there. You know you’ll need to complete some undergraduate credits before you can get into a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) program and become eligible for licensure.
But determining whether a pharmacy career is right for you — and planning your next steps — will take a bit more research. That’s why we’ve pulled together a list of commonly asked questions about becoming a pharmacist.
We enlisted Mark Malesker, PharmD, professor of pharmacy practice and medicine at Creighton University, to help provide the answers you need to learn more about this dynamic medical career path.
“Pharmacists are important members of the healthcare team and there are a lot of factors that make this career path extremely rewarding,” Malesker shares, noting that the profession offers job mobility, stability and flexibility. “The diverse patient care opportunities in multiple professional settings make it a great option for those looking to make a widespread impact in their community.”
There are a number of different elements to keep in mind when analyzing your potential pharmacy career. From basic duties and salary information to the required schooling and other qualifications, consider the following information about becoming a pharmacist.
Most people have a basic understanding of the duties of a pharmacist. While they can work in a range of different pharmaceutical environments, these licensed professionals are tasked with dispensing prescription medications and providing patients with information about the drugs and their use. But they often also work closely with physicians and other providers to determine the proper selection, dosage, interactions and side effects of medications.
“There is no ‘typical day’ for a pharmacist,” Malesker says. “The dynamic nature of the job makes each day interesting and exciting.”
In addition to filling prescriptions and medication distribution, pharmacists also perform the following duties:
Completing a PharmD program typically takes about four years. It’s worth noting, however, that prior to getting into pharmacy school, applicants are expected to have completed two or more years of prerequisite undergraduate courses in subjects like anatomy, chemistry and biology.
Some PharmD grads may also choose to pursue residency or fellowship opportunities after earning their degrees, which can take an additional one-to-two years.
In total, the time it takes to become a pharmacist will depend on your personal situation. But, from start to finish, you can expect to be in school completing undergraduate and post-graduate coursework for around six years.
Now that you have an idea of the timeline to becoming a pharmacist, you’re probably curious about what the actual requirements are. As mentioned, PharmD program applicants will typically need at least two years of prerequisite coursework. Some programs may even prefer applicants who have a bachelor’s degree in science or healthcare. The prerequisites PharmD programs look for include courses in biology, human anatomy, calculus, organic chemistry, English, psychology and economics.
Do note that, in order to become eligible for licensure, you’ll need to complete a PharmD from a program that’s been accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE). Those looking to pursue a more specialized area of practice, such as cardiology or pediatric care, will then partake in the necessary residency or fellowship programs after obtaining their PharmD.
Every state requires practicing pharmacists to be licensed, although specific licensure requirements may vary. Generally speaking, PharmD grads must pass two separate exams to become licensed:
The rigorous educational and licensure requirements to become a pharmacist are in place because the competencies required of these medical professionals are extensive.
Completing a PharmD program will provide you with the knowledge you need in areas like medicine and dentistry, mathematics, chemistry and customer service. It’s also how you can expect to learn important technical skills you’ll need in order to effectively utilize the medical and recordkeeping software you’ll encounter on the job.
But those aren’t the only qualifications employers will be looking for. It’s important to not overlook the “soft skills” that help make high-quality pharmacists so effective. Examples of these include strong analytical skills, strict attention to detail, ethical problem solving and a robust suite of managerial skills.
“Interpersonal and communication skills are essential to directly interact with patients and other health professionals,” Malesker explains. He also stresses the importance of analytical skills to evaluate medication side effects and dosing.
“Great pharmacists must also be compassionate, as they often work with individuals experiencing health issues and must be sympathetic to specific patient problems and needs,” he adds.
Pharmaceutical care is the direct, responsible provision of medication-related care to achieve definitive outcomes that improve a patient’s quality of life. This is no small task, which is why pharmacists are often competitively compensated.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that, while salaries can vary based on individual situations, the average pharmacist salary in 2021 was $128,570. That’s more than double the average for all occupations nationwide.
While the projected growth in the field may not seem noteworthy, projecting just a two percent increase through 2031, it’s important to note that those metrics don’t account for vacancies that will be left by those exiting the workforce. All in all, the BLS predicts an average of 13,600 job openings for pharmacists each year.
When researching different Doctor of Pharmacy programs, one of the primary elements you should be looking for is accreditation. As highlighted above, if you don’t earn your PharmD from an ACPE-accredited program, you will not be eligible for licensure.
Among accredited PharmD programs, it can be most helpful to look for schools that are nationally recognized, offer an industry-relevant curriculum and present students with experiential learning opportunities.
The PharmD program at Creighton University, for example, has been ranked one of the top pharmacy programs in the nation. Students are able to expand their knowledge on disease state management, disease prevention and patient outcomes with a dynamic curriculum that reflects changes in the practice of pharmacy regarding medication therapy management and patient-centered care.
“Creighton trains pharmacists to be competent, compassionate, moral agents of change,” Malesker shares. “The dynamic curriculum allows graduates to comfortably focus on the pharmacy practice setting of their interest. For those who wish to pursue postgraduate clinical training, Creighton has maintained a respectable placement of graduates into pharmacy residency programs.”
Each course focuses on specific competencies you’ll need as an effective pharmacist. Examples of course subjects include:
Another element that has made Creighton’s PharmD program stand out on a national scale is its Office of Experiential Education, which is responsible for managing Introductory and Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences (IPPEs and APPEs) for pharmacy students throughout the curriculum. These are pharmacy practice learning activities that students complete within real-world pharmacy settings.
At Creighton, experiential education comprises approximately 30 percent of the PharmD curriculum, providing grads with invaluable hands-on experience.
You could have the opportunity to improve lives and serve communities with a career as a pharmacist. And now that you know a bit more about what it takes, you’re better prepared for the journey ahead.
“Pharmacists are often the most accessible healthcare professional in the community, playing a crucial role in helping patients get the best results from their medications,” Malesker says. “Not only do patients rely on them to get the best results from their medications, but other health professionals also turn to them for guidance on selecting the right medications.”
If you’re inspired to play this important role in your community and you’re looking for a well-respected PharmD program that will equip you to take on the industry with precision, compassion and innovation, look no further than Creighton University. With on-campus, online and hybrid learning options, pursuing your passion has never been more possible.
Visit Creighton’s Doctor of Pharmacy program page to learn more about your options.