Should you become a pharmacist?

The career options for pharmacists might be more varied than you expect. If you're not sure how to become a pharmacist, you might benefit from an insider's perspective.

If you don't see yourself as a doctor, nurse, or physical therapist, you don't have to dismiss your dream of finding jobs in the medical field. Pharmacists work with patients, as well as other health care providers, as they dispense drugs and guide their patients. Through extensive education, they learn about medications and other therapeutic tools that improve their patients' quality of life.

Not sure whether a pharmacy career will suit you?

If you've ever had a prescription filled, you've probably interacted with a pharmacist. Many of these professionals work in drugstores and pharmacies, filling prescriptions for patients and advising them on drug interactions, dosages, and other facets of care. However, health outcomes pharmacist Erin Albert points out that retail pharmacy offers just one career path for pharmacists.

According to Albert, prospects should make themselves "student[s] of the variety of options in pharmacy," adding that "there's a lot more variety than meets the eye." For instance, pharmacists can pursue careers in public health, academia, pharmaceutical science (such as chemistry and biology), health care informatics, and more.

Therefore, pharmacists can experience highly diverse job responsibilities and duties. Albert relates that "[t]here is no typical work week. Because I work in [two] different settings, there is always variety."

Clinical consultant pharmacist Blair Thielemier also enjoys a varied schedule. When asked about her typical work week, she relates that she typically spends three days working as a relief pharmacist, then switches gears to coaching aspiring pharmacists and writing for the fourth day. She also spends one day per week on MTM (medication therapy management) consulting.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Pharmacist?

Before you can apply for jobs as a pharmacist, you'll need state-mandated training. A pharmacist needs a high school diploma or GED, a bachelor's degree (preferably in a science or medical concentration), and a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D) degree.

To get into pharmacy school, you must first pass the PCAT (Pharmacy College Admissions Test), which is administered by the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. Thielemier says she made two attempts at the PCAT exam and studied for about four hours each time.

Additionally, you need prerequisites to get into pharmacy school, such as classes in laboratory sciences, which you can fulfill at just about any accredited university.

Some skills relate less to your formal education and more to your approach to business and learning. According to Thielemier, prospective pharmacists also need "excellent communication, presentation, and educational skills, [as well as an] entrepreneurial spirit and knowledge of current guidelines."

How Much Does a Pharmacist Make?

If you're interested in a career in pharmacology, you're probably curious about your potential earnings. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), pharmacists earn a median salary of $122,500 per year. However, your earning potential will vary depending on the career you choose. For instance, if you work as a consultant like Thielemier, you might have more control over your income.

You can also expect to receive benefits with many employment opportunities, from health insurance coverage to retirement plans. Although the BLS predicts that pharmacist careers will grow at a slower-than-average rate, population increases (and aging populations) will expand the demand for pharmacology professionals who can dispense medications.

What Qualities Do Great Pharmacists Possess?

If you want to rise to the top of your profession, it helps to cultivate personal qualities that lend themselves to career fulfillment and advancement. Albert and Thielemier both agree that a pharmacist must adopt the mindset of a "life-long learner." Additionally, Albert reveals that flexibility and adaptability become key assets in this profession.

If you plan to work in a retail setting, you'll also need excellent people skills. For instance, you might counsel patients about the best way to take a particular medication or about the potential side effects of a new drug. A compassionate, helpful attitude will ensure you connect with your patients and provide them with the information they need to take care of their health.

What Are the Rewards and Challenges Pharmacists Face?

Every career choice comes with certain challenges, but they're balanced by rewards that keep you motivated every morning when you get up for work. According to Albert, it's difficult to keep up with changes in pharmaceutical law and trends, especially in this modern age. As lawmakers create new policies to protect and inform the public, for instance, pharmacists must keep track of those changes and respond to them effectively.

Thielemier expresses frustration with the "lack of acceptance as a formal health care provider." She goes on to say that "pharmacists have doctorate degree[s] and more training in medication use and management than any other health care profession." However, she notes that she's inspired by the positive impact she has on both her patients and her consulting clients.

Can You Take Other Jobs in Preparation for a Career as a Pharmacist?

Many pharmacists start their careers in related professions. For instance, when asked about her work history, Thielemier says, "Since I was 17, I have worked [in] nearly every pharmacy position that exists, from register clerk to technician to intern to pharmacist." She advises that prospective pharmacists should only consider this career field if they're willing to continually improve their education.

Consider following in Thielemier's footsteps and looking for a job as a pharmacy technician. You'll benefit from on-the-job training, as well as the opportunity to work with a credentialed pharmacist who can guide you down the right path. A pharmacy technician job description might involve taking phone calls from doctors and patients, keeping medications organized, filling prescriptions as they come in, and placing orders to maintain the desired pharmaceutical inventory.

Pharmacists play an active role in their patients' health care plans, advising and counseling them through illnesses and injuries. Though you'll need significant education to become a pharmacist, you'll enjoy the rewards of a lucrative career that allows you to make a positive difference in other people's lives.