What Does it Mean to Study Pharmacy?
Pharmacists fill patient prescriptions for drugs and explain how to use them. As consumers become more educated about health products and have more questions about the treatments physicians prescribe for them, it falls upon the pharmacist to supply the attention and advice the medical consumer desires.
In institutional settings, pharmacists are an integral part of the total healthcare team. No longer do they occupy the basement office, filling prescriptions and answering the occasional question from the physician. The expertise of the pharmacist helps to support physicians and establish policies as drug therapies become more and more complicated.
What Do Pharmacists Do?
Pharmacists often work with physicians and other medical professionals to inform patients and clients about drug dosages, side effects, and interactions with other medications. Decisions made by pharmacists can sometimes mean the difference between life and death for a patient. If a pharmacist is not familiar with the composition of drugs and their clinical effects, or if he does not have enough familiarity with a patient’s needs and reactions, the consequences can be dire.
Planning for a Pharmacy Career
If you are thinking about a career in pharmaceuticals, you might want to ask yourself these questions:
- Are you good at math and science? The necessary coursework for a pharmacy degree program leans heavily towards these subjects.
- Do you enjoy working with people? Most pharmacy jobs require considerable interaction with patients who have serious questions about their health and treatment. If you are not a “people person,” there are also opportunities in lab research.
- Do you pay attention to the details? Your work directly affects the lives and lifestyles of the people with whom you interact. Therefore, it is essential that you closely monitor every aspect of the job.
- Do you enjoy sitting at a desk? If so, pharmacy might not be the right career choice. Pharmacists must meet with patients, physicians, sales reps, and others. Often this means getting out of the office or traveling.
- Are flexible hours appealing to you? Pharmacists can establish their own hours to a large extent, especially if they operate their own business.
Types of Pharmacy Degrees
In college, students should expect to complete courses in math, chemistry, biology, physics, calculus and human anatomy in order to enter a pharmacy program. Courses in the social sciences, humanities, written and oral communication, and economics are among those typically required of the pre-pharmacy student.
About half of the colleges and universities offering online health and medical degree programs in pharmacy studies also require applicants to complete the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT). Many colleges participate in the Pharmacy Application Service, which allows students to enter their applications into a centralized database with a single set of transcripts that can be used to apply to several programs.
Do I Need an Advanced Degree to Be a Pharmacist?
As the profession becomes more complicated, the education of pharmacists has followed suit. Pharmacy training has come to resemble medical school, including additional years of study as well as residencies and fellowships in a variety of specialties. Typically, the bachelor’s degree in pharmacy has been replaced by the Doctor of Pharmacy degree (Pharm.D.), a six-year program that includes at least two years of pre-pharmacy courses.
Some colleges do offer master’s degrees and PhDs that are awarded after the Pharm.D. These degrees are not necessary to work as a professional pharmacist. Pharmacists who intend to do research or teach at a university are more likely to obtain an advanced degree. Pharmacists who want to run their own businesses or advance into management might choose to earn a master’s in business administration (MBA).
What Can You Do With a College Degree in Pharmacy?
Pharmacists held about 286,400 jobs in 2012, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). About 61 percent of those worked in retail settings (community pharmacists), and 23 percent worked in hospitals. A small portion of pharmacists worked for pharmaceutical companies, doctors’ offices, and the federal government. Here are some of the specialized professional areas in which a pharmacist might work:
The community pharmacist role requires people skills in addition to all of the other qualifications. These pharmacists are often a patient’s primary source of health information. Community pharmacists do everything from discussing treatments for simple aches and pains to comforting people with serious afflictions. Community pharmacists can take a more active role in healthcare by earning the certification necessary to vaccinate patients against influenza and pneumonia.
Because the majority of community pharmacies are chain-owned, pharmacists have the opportunity to move into management positions at the regional and district levels. They may even move into corporate-level positions. Here the pharmacist combines professional expertise with business skills to create policies and programs that govern how other pharmacists operate within the chain.
Independent Community Pharmacists
The image of the friendly neighborhood pharmacist seen in old black-and-white movies lives on, at least in part. Many pharmacists own their own businesses, which can be the heart and soul of small communities. For the community pharmacist, this presents the opportunity to call the shots in how the entire business operates and to become an essential part of the community.
Hospital and Institutional Pharmacists
In this capacity, pharmacists are physically much more a part of the healthcare team. They work with physicians, nurses, and other professionals to create a pharmaceutical plan for the institution as a whole and for the patient as an individual. They also design the system for dispensing the appropriate medications and oversee the record-keeping system for each patient. Depending on their size, some institutions might have pharmacists who specialize in areas such nuclear pharmacy, drug and poison information, and intravenous therapy.
Health maintenance organizations (HMOs), preferred provider organizations (PPOs), and other managed care systems have taken on greater roles in the health system during the past quarter-century. This means more opportunities for pharmacists to have input in the design and delivery of pharmaceutical programs. HMO pharmacists participate in research efforts, disease management, drug utilization review, cost analysis, and more. This allows the pharmacist to participate in a comprehensive program to determine the best pharmaceutical treatment for patients.
This professional cohort primarily serves nursing homes and other long-term care facilities such as adult day care, correctional facilities, and individuals confined to their homes. The elderly are an important focus of this pharmacy practice. Pharmacists must be knowledgeable about this segment of the population and the effects of long-term drug therapies, interactions with other medications, and excessive use of medications. Consulting pharmacists might also employ other healthcare professionals such as nurses, dietitians, lab personnel, and others.
More than 3,000 pharmacists work in the nation’s colleges and universities. While their primary function is to instruct an upcoming generation of pharmacists, faculty members can also be engaged in research, publishing, consulting, and public service activities. Colleges report an extreme shortage of people trained to serve in these academic functions.
Large corporations that create and distribute pharmaceuticals need pharmacists for a variety of functions. These can be divided into four broad categories: sales and marketing; research and development; production and quality control; and management and administration.
- Sales and marketing might be the simplest means to a pharmacy career, especially for the non-science-oriented. These representatives are asked to take the product to the public, presenting demonstrations and developing sales plans.
- Researchers work in the laboratory, conducting projects to develop new drug treatments or to improve existing ones.
- Production and quality control follow next in the process, to determine the most effective means of producing a new medication so that it adheres to strict safety standards.
- Pharmacists involved in management and administration must organize the workplace, taking responsibility for the performance of the whole. They may benefit from pursuing extra education in business or law.
While the vast majority of pharmacists work in the private sector, a great many opportunities exist in government work as well. Federal agencies such as the Food and Drug Administration, Drug Enforcement Agency, the National Institutes of Health, the armed services, and others need pharmacists for both research and patient treatment functions. Nearly every state has an agency that employs pharmacists as executive officers.
Pharmacists can apply their expertise in other full or part-time opportunities. Some may research and write for scientific and trade journals, some may join professional organizations or drug information centers, and some may involve themselves with the marketing and advertising of pharmaceuticals. Here are some areas of specialty for pharmacists:
- Compounding Pharmacist
- Drug Information Specialist
- Hospice Pharmacist
- Infectious Disease Pharmacist
- Nuclear Pharmacist
- Nutrition Support Pharmacist
- Oncology Pharmacist
- Operating Room Pharmacist
- Pediatric Pharmacist
- Poison Control Pharmacist
- Psychiatric Pharmacist
- Veterinary Pharmacist
The field of pharmogenomics presents another, more research-based career option for pharmacists. This field involves the study of how a patient’s genetic variations may account for differences in reaction to drug treatments. Developments in this area could cause improvements in how medications are prescribed in the future.
Pharmacy Certification, Licensure, and Associations
A license is required to become a practicing pharmacist in the United States. Students generally take the state examination after graduating from a college of pharmacy that has been accredited by the American Council on Pharmaceutical Education (ACPE). All states require successful completion of the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAFLEX). Potential pharmacists in every state except California must also pass the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE). California requires the California Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam rather than the MPJE. Other requirements may change from state to state, and a license in one state does not always mean that one can practice in another state. Be sure to check state requirements, which can be obtained from each state’s Board of Pharmacy.
Because of critical ethical considerations, pharmacy is among the most regulated of professions. State boards of pharmacy, which usually consist of pharmacists from a variety of practice areas, establish the regulations and standards for those areas and monitor compliance. Some of the important regulations include ensuring that pharmacists conduct patient histories, check current medications, and interact with the patient. The boards also set limits on how drugs are dispensed and on the confidentiality of patient records. For information on pharmacy as a career, preprofessional and professional requirements, programs offered by colleges of pharmacy, and student financial aid, contact:
General information on careers in pharmacy is available from:
Information on NAPLEX and MPJE is available from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.
- Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy
- American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy
- American College of Clinical Pharmacy
- American Pharmacists Association
- American Society of Consultant Pharmacists
- American Society of Health-System Pharmacists
- National Association of Chain Drug Stores
- National Community Pharmacists Association
- National Pharmaceutical Association
- “Pharmacists,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Accessed April 24, 2015, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacists
- “29-1051 Pharmacists,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291051#ind