When you become a pharmacist, you take on an essential role in helping people achieve healthy, fulfilling lives. The path to becoming a pharmacist might not be easy, but it’s an incredibly rewarding career — and it comes with an attractive compensation package.
Keep reading as we break down everything you need to know about how to be a pharmacist, from achieving your PharmD to essential pharmacy skills and crafting a pharmacist resume that recruiters will love.
A pharmacist is a highly trained healthcare professional who specializes in medicine. Their areas of expertise include side-effects and drug interactions.
Pharmacists are indispensable to quality patient care. In addition to interacting directly with patients, they often collaborate with doctors and other healthcare providers to ensure patients are prescribed the most appropriate medication.
Pharmacists dispense medicines, review and verify prescriptions, educate patients on their medication, monitor for potential medication-related issues, and work alongside doctors and nurses to ensure safe and effective patient care.
If they work in an academic or research setting, pharmacists may also work on developing new medications or evaluating the safety and efficacy of existing drugs. As part of this, they will design and conduct clinical trials and analyze data.
Becoming a pharmacist requires studying for a PharmD, passing the North American Pharmacy Licensure Examination (NAPLEX), and applying to your state’s board of pharmacy.
Once you’ve decided to take the step to become a pharmacist, you should start looking at pharmacist education requirements. The many steps to become a pharmacist and achieve your pharmacist qualifications include:
- Undergraduate study: You might not need a full undergraduate degree, but you will need to do at least some undergraduate coursework. Pharmacy school requirements vary, but be prepared to study plenty of biology, chemistry, and math.
- The PCAT exam: The Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) is a standardized test offered six times a year. You’ll have to include your results in your pharmacy school applications.
- Doctor of Pharmacy degree: The PharmD is a four-year course that includes classroom-based study, coursework, and supervised clinical experience. It’s one of the essential qualifications to be a pharmacist.
- The North American Pharmacy Licensure Examination (NAPLEX): Pharmacist requirements are rigorous. After you’ve completed your PharmD, you’ll need to sit this computer-adaptive test in order to get your state pharmacist license.
- Apply for your pharmacist license:** In addition to your PharmD and NAPLEX, you’ll need to demonstrate that you meet the pharmacist requirements of your state. Make sure to apply for your license in the state you wish to live and work in. Don’t forget to look up the details of how to become a pharmacist in your state — the required number of clinical hours can vary.
While these five steps are critical in the journey to becoming a pharmacist, you should also consider:
- Gaining clinical experience outside of your PharmD: Whether you volunteer in a hospital, do an internship, or complete a residency, these clinical experiences can help you hone your skills and become more attractive to employers.
- Write a compelling pharmacist resume: A well-written resume will help you stand out in a competitive field, whether you’re applying for pharmacy school, internships, or your first pharmacy role. Make sure it highlights your skills and experiences, in addition to being machine-readable. Our pharmacist resume templates come with recruiter-approved phrasing for key pharmacy skills so you can write a winning resume.
It takes a minimum of six to eight years to become a pharmacist, assuming that you’ve already graduated high school or achieved equivalent qualifications. In addition to your years of pharmacy school, you’ll need to spend time studying for your PCAT and NAPLEX, as well as waiting for your state board of pharmacy to issue your license.
Gaining your pharmacist qualifications requires a minimum of six years of college-level studies. If your pharmacy school requirements include a full undergraduate degree, it will take at least eight years. When we break down how to be a pharmacist, there’s no denying that pharmacy school is the most important — and most time-consuming — step.
The day-to-day of a pharmacist depends on their workplace. A drug store pharmacist might spend their day verifying prescriptions, checking IDs, dispensing medications, advising patients on how to take their medications properly, and managing inventory.
They will probably provide advice on over-the-counter medications and supplements, too, in addition to providing health screenings. And they might wrap up their day by checking that all the medication orders are processed so that customers can pick up their prescriptions the next working day.
A pharmacist in a hospital, on the other hand, will work with doctors and nurses to ensure each patient receives the medication they need. They’ll need to make crucial decisions about which medication and dosage is best for each patient, based on potential side effects and drug interactions. Managing inventory will become an even bigger priority, since patients in hospitals may not be able to wait for a delivery.
Pharmacists in the US earn $128,570 per year on average, according to US government data. The amount you can expect to earn as a pharmacist depends on numerous factors, including your location, workplace, experience level, and qualifications.
Negotiating and job-hunting skills are also often overlooked factors affecting pharmacist salaries. Asking for a higher starting rate can lead to salary increases over time. Improving your pharmacist resume will help you stand out from other candidates and attract better job offers.
The vast majority of pharmacists in the US earn between $76,840 and $164,590 a year. A deeper dive into the information published by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that pharmacists working in hospitals and ambulatory healthcare services earn slightly more on average than pharmacists working in drug stores and grocery stores.
The average pharmacist salary breaks down to $61.81 per hour, according to BLS data. But with a huge pharmacist salary range in the US, you can expect your hourly salary to be as little as $36.94 or as much as $79.13.
If you have a strong interest in science and medicine, possess excellent analytical and communication skills, and have a commitment to patient care and safety, becoming a pharmacist could be a good fit for you.
There’s far more to being a pharmacist than passing your PharmD. Pharmacists also need to have:
- Strong analytical and problem-solving skills to find solutions to complex patient needs
- Exceptional attention to detail to ensure that medications are dispensed accurately and that patients receive the correct dosages.
- Strong communication skills so they can provide clear instructions to patients and healthcare providers
- A positive attitude to life-long learning
- A passion for science, medicine, and health
- A commitment to patient safety
- Strong ethical standards
If you recognize yourself in this description, then a career as a pharmacist could be highly rewarding.
Pharmacists can build fulfilling careers working everywhere from drug stores and hospitals to pharmaceutical agencies and academia. Some of the most popular career routes for pharmacists include:
- Retail pharmacies: pharmacists dispense medications, provide advice, and offer health screenings for members of the public
- Hospitals: pharmacists support doctors and nurses by advising them on medications, doses, and side-effects
- Clinics: pharmacists play an essential role in outpatient clinics
- Long-term care facilities: pharmacists work in assisted living facilities to ensure that patients receive the medication they need
- Home health care: pharmacists work alongside nursing and social services teams to prevent medication errors
- Pharmaceutical companies: from R&D to marketing, there is a wide range of roles for pharmacists in drug companies
- Government agencies: working for the FDA, NIH, or CDC can be a highly rewarding and stable career for a trained pharmacist
- Academia: pharmacists in academia train the new generation of pharmacists while spearheading non-commercial research
Successfully applying for pharmacist roles requires a strong resume and cover letter, as well as good interview technique. It’s the last stage in the journey to becoming a pharmacist, but don’t overlook its importance — it’s an essential step to become a pharmacist and embark on your working career.
So, let’s break down the final part of how to be a pharmacist: achieving that coveted offer of a role. Assuming you’ve already checked off all the stages in our above section on “how to become a pharmacist”, you’re ready to job hunt. Online job sites are a great starting place for finding roles that interest you, especially industry-specific ones such as the American Pharmacists Association. Don’t overlook the value of networking events, either!
You’ll need a strong pharmacist resume that highlights your education, work experience, and skills to catch a recruiter’s eye. Be sure to include any relevant coursework, internships, or other pharmacy-related experience you have. You may also want to include professional affiliations, awards, or other relevant achievements.
Our pharmacist resume templates will help you get started. They feature recruiter-approved phrasing for the most important pharmacist skills and qualifications. Plus, they’re all machine-readable, professionally laid out, and easily customizable to your background.
You should also create a draft cover letter that you can adapt to each job application. This is your chance to explain your motivation for the role.
Once you’ve submitted your resume and cover letter, it’s time to start brushing up on your interview technique and practicing answers for common interview questions.
Pharmacist education requirements are rigorous, with pharmacists in the US required to have a minimum of a PharmD or Doctor of Pharmacy. You’ll also need to pass the North American Pharmacy Licensure Examination (NAPLEX), in addition to your Bachelor’s degree and Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT).
Most aspiring pharmacists require six to eight years of college-level education to achieve the necessary qualifications to be a pharmacist. Your PharmD will take at least four years, in addition to two to four years of undergraduate study.
Being a pharmacist is a challenging but rewarding profession. You may face long hours and high pressure, in addition to the need for constant learning. As well as a thorough understanding of medications and their effects, you need excellent communication skills and strong attention to detail. But you benefit from knowing that you’re helping to improve people’s health and well-being.
Becoming a pharmacist involves six to eight years of college-level education, plus the time spent passing your licensing exams and — if required by your state — accumulating additional clinical hours. At a minimum, you'll need to complete undergraduate studies over two to four years, followed by a four-year PharmD program, to qualify as a pharmacist.
Pharmacists in California make $133,478 a year on average, with the majority of pharmacists earning between $108,000 and $165,000. The highest pharmacist salaries in California exceed $200,000.
Walmart pays its pharmacists $116,817 on average, with its highest-paid pharmacists earning $247,000 a year. However, Walmart’s pharmacist salaries vary depending on the location, job title, and more.
CVS pharmacists earn $124,459 on average, including bonuses. The majority of CVS pharmacists make between $102,000 and $152,000 a year, with salary offers reflecting experience, location, job title, and more. The highest CVS pharmacist salaries exceed $182,000 a year.
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