Pharmacists dispense prescription medications to patients and offer expertise in the safe use of prescriptions. They also may provide advice on how to lead a healthy lifestyle, conduct health and wellness screenings, provide immunizations, and oversee the medications given to patients.
Pharmacists typically do the following:
- Fill prescriptions, verifying instructions from physicians on the proper amounts of medication to give to patients
- Check whether the prescription will interact negatively with other drugs that a patient is taking or any medical conditions the patient has
- Instruct patients on how and when to take a prescribed medicine and inform them about potential side effects they may experience from taking the medicine
- Advise patients about general health topics, such as diet, exercise, and managing stress, and on other issues, such as what equipment or supplies would be best to treat a health problem
- Give flu shots and, in most states, other vaccinations
- Complete insurance forms and work with insurance companies to ensure that patients get the medicines they need
- Oversee the work of pharmacy technicians and pharmacists in training (interns)
- Keep records and do other administrative tasks
- Teach other healthcare practitioners about proper medication therapies for patients
Some pharmacists who own their pharmacy or manage a chain pharmacy spend time on business activities, such as inventory management. Pharmacists must also take continuing education courses throughout their career to keep up with the latest advances in pharmacological science.
With most drugs, pharmacists use standard dosages from pharmaceutical companies. However, some pharmacists create customized medications by mixing ingredients themselves, a process known as compounding.
The following are examples of types of pharmacists:
Community pharmacists work in retail stores such as chain drug stores or independently owned pharmacies. They dispense medications to patients and answer any questions that patients may have about prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, or any health concerns that the patient may have. They may also provide some primary care services such as giving flu shots.
Clinical pharmacists work in hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare settings. They spend little time dispensing prescriptions. Instead, they are involved in direct patient care. Clinical pharmacists may go on rounds in a hospital with a physician or healthcare team. They recommend medications to give to patients and oversee the dosage and timing of the delivery of those medications. They may also conduct some medical tests and offer advice to patients. For example, pharmacists working in a diabetes clinic may counsel patients on how and when to take medications, suggest healthy food choices, and monitor patients’ blood sugar.
Consultant pharmacists advise healthcare facilities or insurance providers on patient medication use or improving pharmacy services. They also may give advice directly to patients, such as helping seniors manage their prescriptions.
Pharmaceutical industry pharmacists work in areas such as marketing, sales, or research and development. They may design or conduct clinical drug trials and help to develop new drugs. They also may help to establish safety regulations and ensure quality control for drugs.
Some pharmacists work as college professors. They may teach pharmacy students or conduct research. For more information, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.
Pharmacists held about 286,400 jobs in 2012. The industries that employed the most pharmacists in 2012 were as follows:
|Pharmacies and drug stores||43%|
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||23|
|Other general merchandise stores||5|
Pharmacists work in pharmacies, including those in grocery and drug stores. They also work in hospitals and clinics. 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 2012. Because many pharmacies are open at all hours, some pharmacists work nights and weekends.
Pharmacists must have a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree from an accredited pharmacy program. They also must be licensed, which requires passing licensure and law exams.
Prospective pharmacists are required to have a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree, a postgraduate professional degree. In July 2012, there were 124 Doctor of Pharmacy programs fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE).
Admissions requirements vary by program, however all Doctor of Pharmacy programs require applicants to take postsecondary courses such as chemistry, biology, and anatomy. Most programs require at least 2 years of undergraduate study, although some require a bachelor’s degree. Most programs also require applicants to take the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT).
Pharm.D. programs usually take 4 years to finish, although some programs offer a 3-year option. Some schools admit high school graduates into a 6-year program. A Pharm.D. program includes courses in chemistry, pharmacology, and medical ethics. Students also complete supervised work experiences, sometimes referred to as internships, in different settings such as hospitals and retail pharmacies.
Some pharmacists who own their own pharmacy may choose to get a master’s degree in business administration (MBA) in addition to their Doctor of Pharmacy degree. Others may get a degree in public health.
Following graduation from a Pharm.D. program, pharmacists seeking an advanced position, such as a clinical pharmacy or research job, may need to complete a 1- to 2-year residency. Pharmacists who choose to complete the 2-year residency option receive additional training in a specialty area such as internal medicine or geriatric care.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
All states license pharmacists. After they finish the Pharm.D. program, prospective pharmacists must pass two exams to get a license. The North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) tests pharmacy skills and knowledge. The Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE) or a state-specific test on pharmacy law is also required.
Pharmacists may also choose to earn a certification to show their advanced level of knowledge in a certain area. For instance, a pharmacist may become a Certified Diabetes Educator, a qualification offered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators or earn certification in a specialty area, such as nutrition or oncology, from the Board of Pharmacy Specialties. Certifications from both organizations require varying degrees of work experience, as well as passing an exam and paying a fee.
Analytical skills. Pharmacists must provide safe medications efficiently. To do this, they must be able to evaluate a patient’s needs, evaluate the prescriber’s orders, and have extensive knowledge about the effects and appropriate circumstances for giving out a specific medication.
Communication skills. Pharmacists frequently offer advice to patients. They might need to explain how to take a medicine, for example, and what its side effects are. They also need to offer clear direction to pharmacy technicians and interns.
Computer skills. Pharmacists need computer skills to use any electronic health record (EHR) systems that their organization has adopted.
Detail oriented. Pharmacists are responsible for ensuring the accuracy of the prescriptions they fill, because improper use of medication can pose serious health risks. Pharmacists must be able to find the information that they need to make decisions about what medications are appropriate for each patient.
Managerial skills. Pharmacists—particularly those who run a retail pharmacy—must have good managerial skills, including managing inventory and overseeing a staff.
The median annual wage for pharmacists was $116,670 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $89,280, and the top 10 percent earned more than $145,910.
In May 2012, the median annual wages for pharmacists in the top five industries in which they worked were as follows:
|Other general merchandise stores||$128,910|
|Pharmacies and drug stores||117,850|
|Hospitals; state, local, and private||114,100|
Most pharmacists work full time, although about 1 in 5 worked part time in 2012. Because pharmacies are often open at all hours, some pharmacists work nights and weekends.
Employment of pharmacists is projected to grow 14 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Several factors are likely to contribute to this increase.
The population is aging, and older people typically use more prescription medicines than younger people. Higher rates of chronic diseases such as diabetes among all age groups will also lead to increased demand for prescription medications. In addition, scientific advances will lead to new drug products. As healthcare continues to become more complex and as more people take multiple medications, more pharmacists will be needed to dispense medications and to counsel patients on how to use their medications safely and effectively.
The number of individuals who have access to health insurance will increase as federal health insurance reform legislation is enacted. As more people have access to insurance coverage, more pharmacists will be needed to fill their prescriptions and to consult with patients about their medications.
Demand is also likely to increase for pharmacists in a variety of healthcare settings, including hospitals and clinics. These facilities will need more pharmacists to oversee the medications given to patients and to provide patient care, performing tasks such as testing a patient’s blood sugar or cholesterol.
The number of pharmacy schools has grown in recent years, creating more pharmacy school graduates and therefore more competition for jobs. Students who choose to complete a residency program gain additional experience that may improve their job prospects. Certification from the Board of Pharmacy Specialties or as a Certified Diabetes Educator may also be viewed favorably by employers.
For more information about pharmacists, visit
For information on pharmacy as a career, preprofessional and professional requirements, programs offered by colleges of pharmacy, and student financial aid, visit
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