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Pharmacists typically provide medications that have been prescribed by a doctor and also counsel patients on the appropriate use of such medications. They also work to identify dangerous drug interactions and may also educate the public about healthy lifestyles and conduct health and wellness screenings. Additionally, pharmacists sometimes provide immunizations and facilitate some other closely related health care responsibilities. As with many professionals in the health care field, they may be asked to respond to a wide variety of questions about health and they may also need to assuage health concerns of patients.

This discipline has become increasingly important in the nation's health care system. FDA regulations have tightened and competition between drug companies and their generic counterparts has become increasingly robust. Therefore, pharmacists help their patients navigate the complex process of choosing the right medication to fill a prescription.

Pharmaceutical companies sometimes also hire pharmacists to help them develop and test new drugs. Some pharmacists decide to leave the counter and use their knowledge to market new medications to doctors and their patients. Other pharmacists obtain teaching degrees to help share their knowledge at pharmacy colleges.

Expected pharmacist coursework

Pharmacy Degree Programs

Basic pharmacy education typically requires a strong foundation in chemistry, anatomy and physiology, as well as pharmacy law and drug interactions. Pharmacy students also learn basics of diagnosing illnesses in order to collaborate with doctors more effectively. A Doctor of Pharmacy Degree is the typical requirement for becoming a pharmacist, but individuals may work in a closely related position with a less advanced degree. The doctorate degree typically takes four years to obtain after at least two years of undergraduate coursework.

Pharmacists must also be licensed to practice. Pharmacist licenses are earned through two separate exams. Pharmacists are also expected to continue their education throughout their careers to maintain current knowledge about developments in the pharmaceutical science and medical fields.

All pharmacy students pursuing health programs must spend at least a few semesters as interns in professional pharmacies. All states require licensure for pharmacists, who must graduate from an accredited pharmacy program and pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam. Forty-three states also require students to pass a national pharmacy law exam.

A number of pharmacy education programs prepare students for nationally certified pharmacy certificates. These health care certificates authorize pharmacists to directly oversee patients' drug therapy in place of or in addition to a primary care physician.

What can I do with a pharmacy degree?

Pharmacy programs are typically designed to educate future pharmacists, but this isn't the only career path available to graduates. The profession can be extremely rewarding and lucrative. Keep in mind a Pharm. D. degree will allow an individual to pursue work as a pharmacist, but a bachelor's degree or master's degree in pharmacy or related field may offer other options as well.

The following are a few potential alternatives along with common career training requirements and occupational outlook projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Pharmacists: Pharmacists dispense prescription medications and advise patients in proper use. They may also counsel patients on how to lead health lifestyles, provide immunizations and oversee prescribed medications. According to the BLS, all states require pharmacists to earn Pharm. D. degrees, pass a national licensing exam and meet any additional state or federal licensing requirements before entering the field.
  • Pharmacy technicians: Pharmacy technicians help licensed pharmacists dispense prescription medications to customers and health care professionals. The BLS states that although pharmacy technicians are not always required to earn degrees, most states do require the completion of some type of formal pharmacy program and successful completion of a licensing exam. This career is a potential fit for students who want to work in the pharmacy industry without committing to a postgraduate pharmacy degree program.
  • Pharmaceutical sales representatives: Pharmaceutical sales reps often meet with pharmacists, physicians and other health care professionals to educate them about certain prescription medications. Working on behalf of drug manufacturers, pharmaceutical sales people hope to encourage physicians, physicians' assistants and nurse practitioners to prescribe a particular type or brand of medication more frequently.

These are just a few of the jobs those with pharmacy degrees might consider. With the right training, a person with a background in pharmacy can also become a biochemist, teacher or medical scientist.

Students can learn more about their options by visiting the BLS and the ACPE online, or by contacting schools that offer pharmacy programs directly.

Pharmacist salary and career outlook

BLS numbers from 2013 place pharmacist median annual wage at $119,280 annually. BLS projections predict that demand for pharmacists will grow by about 14 percent between 2012 and 2022, about as fast as average for all occupations nationally.

Median annual income for pharmacy technicians was $29,650 as of 2013. The BLS projects that demand will grow by 20 percent between 2012 and 2022, faster than the national average for other jobs.

Demand for sales reps is expected to grow by about 9 percent across the board between 2012 and 2022, though the BLS does not offer projections for pharmaceutical sales representatives specifically.

According to the BLS, the average salary for a pharmacist is $84,900, while some senior pharmacists earn as much as $110,000. Pharmacists that volunteer for unusual shifts can earn pay differentials of up to 35 percent. Many pharmacists may have the opportunity for lucrative profit sharing incentives.

The following industries hold the highest levels of employment for pharmacists based on BLS data:

IndustryEmploymentPercent of industry employment
Health and Personal Care Stores126,35012.39%
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals63,8701.21%
Grocery Stores23,0300.90%
Other General Merchandise Stores16,5000.93%
Department Stores13,0400.93%

The BLS expects job openings for pharmacists to grow faster than average since statistics show that more pharmacists will be retiring in the next few years than there are students pursuing pharmacy degrees. New online and part-time pharmacy education programs, combined with local internships and certifications, make it easier than ever to launch a career as a pharmacist.

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