How to Become a Pharmacist: Types of Pharmacy Degrees

Learn how to become a pharmacist and the different types of pharmacy degrees you can pursue on your career path.
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Pharmacist Career Facts

Becoming a Pharmacist 101

Pharmaceutical professions are rapidly increasing in the United States because of the projected growth in demand for pharmacists and pharmacy technicians by 2028.

Experts mainly attribute this phenomenon to the increasing number of older adults in the country, most of whom require medication and specialized medical help.

Also, progress in medical research shows that more medication alternatives are more accessible than ever.

Regulations require pharmacists to inform patients regarding these latest medications and ensure that individuals take them safely.

If you’re passionate about assisting other people in the health care department and are incredibly detail-oriented, a career in pharmacy could be an excellent option for you.

This guide will help you understand the basics of becoming a pharmacist, along with several related pharmacy professions in the industry.

Steps to Becoming a Pharmacist

Initially, becoming a pharmacist includes finishing undergraduate courses and shifting to a graduate program after that. Alternatively, aspiring pharmacists can also take programs that integrate all coursework into one curriculum.

States require licensing guidelines for pharmacists. Hence, graduates should consult their local board regarding their specific requirements.

Although some states have mandates that some do not have, the majority involve the following factors:

  • Earn a Doctorate approved by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education.
  • Pass three phases of the license examination series for pharmacists,
    • the North American Pharmacist Licensing Exam
    • the Multi-State Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam
    • the Written and Practical Exam

Should I Become a Pharmacist?

If you are interested in working in a pharmacy setting but not sure if you want to become a pharmacist then don’t worry.

Whether or not you should become a pharmacist will be up to you and as you learn about each of the roles in a pharmacy your decision will become clearer.

Pharmacy staff and technicians also serve a critical function in pharmacies and healthcare institutions but are not required to have advanced education. This often attracts people to getting started in the pharmacy industry.

In fact, some pharmacy assistants begin working with no experience receiving on the job training. While pharmacy technicians can finish their education between 15 weeks and 2 years depending on the program.

Pharmacy technicians assist licensed pharmacists in scheduling prescription drugs, offering valuable customer care, and executing administrative functions in a pharmacy setting.

Likewise, pharmacy technicians are primarily in charge of accepting prescription requests, tracking tablets, and identifying containers under the supervision of pharmacists.

Pursuing a job as a pharmacy technician can be a perfect opportunity to begin a career in healthcare services.

The experience you gain will help you determine if you want to continue down the path to becoming a pharmacist. Plus, serving as a pharmacist technician will also offer you an edge when applying to a pharmacist degree program.

Wherever you choose to begin your career path is up to you, this guide will explain how to become a pharmacy assistant, technician and pharmacist in that order so that you can decide which is the best route for you.

Read on to know more about becoming a pharmacist and how to pursue related pharmacy careers.

Types of Pharmacy Careers

A pharmacy requires several specialists to accommodate their patients and their needs. While some of these positions sound identical, they require different levels of expertise and training.

The Pharmacist is supported by two roles who help keep the pharmacy organized, operating properly, and customers satisfied.

These roles are called pharmacy assistant and pharmacy technician. We will share a bit about each of these pharmacy careers to compare how to become a pharmacist vs pharmacy technician vs assistant.

Pharmacy Assistants & Aides

A high school diploma and on-the-job training are the only qualifications pharmacy assistants need. As they have less education and expertise, they have less responsibility than other pharmacy specialists.

What Are Their Responsibilities?

The responsibilities of a pharmacy assistant, or pharmacy aide, may differ based on their workplace arrangement and the regulations in their state. However, the overall duties may include:

  • Supplies inventory
  • Administrative support to the Pharmacist
  • Operating as the cashier

Salary

The salary of a pharmacy assistant also differs based on the company and the length of service. However, assistants receive less than other pharmacy professionals.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that pharmacy assistants and aides earn an average annual salary of $29,190.

They may receive less when working in facilities such as drugstores, while earning much more in hospitals and private clinics.

Pharmacy Technicians

Pharmacy technicians are educated and trained to assist pharmacists in managing medical drug prescriptions in a pharmacy setting.

Several states and companies demand pharmacy technicians to acquire a Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) certificate.

They are also required to receive a comprehensive training program leading to an associate degree, then undergo and pass background checks and drug tests.

It takes a bit more education and training to become a pharmacy technician but you will have more job opportunities, responsibilities, and higher wages than a pharmacy assistant.

What they do

Pharmacy technicians are responsible for several fundamental tasks in the pharmacy setting. Customer support is among the most significant components of their duties.

Pharmacy technicians are often the first person to communicate with a customer, physician, or another medical professional regarding prescription drugs.

In the past few years, they have also increasingly assumed tasks that are initially executed by pharmacists, and this pattern is expected to expand as the functions of pharmacists and pharmacies develop.

Typical job duties for pharmacy techs include:

  • Gathering data for prescriptions
  • Calculation of adequate medicine
  • Packaging and identifying medications
  • Documenting inventories
  • Processing compensation requests and transactions
  • Recording customer information
  • Responding to phone calls and speaking to clients
  • Arrange appointments for clients to talk to the pharmacist
  • Calling the doctor’s office for medication refills
  • Operating medicine dispensers
  • Preparation of intravenous drugs

Some technician responsibilities differ depending on your state regulations. For instance, some states legally permit pharmacy technicians to call the physician’s office for refills, while others do not.

You and your employer will keep current and familiar with your state’s regulations overseeing pharmacy technicians roles and responsibilities to make sure you stay within your legal practicing scope.

Salary

The BLS estimates that the average annual wage for pharmacy technicians is $32,700. Note that your education level, company, and certification status can influence your salary rate.

Similar to pharmacists, you could earn less by working in a pharmacy, but you might receive higher pay in facilities such as hospitals, outpatient clinics, or clinical laboratories.

What is a Pharmacist?

Pharmacists are advanced practitioners who have the ultimate responsibility at a pharmacy. They are supported by the pharmacy assistants and technicians.

In several states, they will need to verify all prescription medications pharmacy technicians fulfilled to guarantee accuracy. They are also liable for patient education and security.

What Pharmacists Do

Pharmacists have several responsibilities that go beyond prescriptions. Their obligations may vary based on whether they practice in retail drugstores, hospitals, or other healthcare facilities.

Many pharmacists also own pharmacies and have extra management obligations.

Pharmacist duties may include:

  • Administering vaccines (Authorized in 46 States to administer all vaccines)
  • Ensuring that prescription drugs don’t interfere with the other medications of the customer
  • Guaranteeing that the client doesn’t have allergies that could affect prescription safety
  • Teaching clients how to take their medicines appropriately
  • Discussing the best medication approach for a customer with other experts
  • Supervising pharmacy technicians and assistants
  • Performing health and fitness testing in the neighborhood
  • Collaborating with insurance providers to deliver their medication to clients
  • Testing the blood sugar and cholesterol levels of the customer

As medical services develop over the next few years, the function of pharmacists will continue to expand and evolve.


Salary

As per the BLS, pharmacists earn an average yearly salary of around $126,120. Again, this could differ based on your location and level of expertise, though pharmacist rates tend to be equal regardless of location.

Quick Facts: Pharmacists
2018 Median Pay$126,120 per year
$60.64 per hour
Typical Entry-Level EducationDoctoral or professional degree
Work Experience in a Related OccupationNone
On-the-job TrainingNone
Number of Jobs, 2018314,300
Job Outlook, 2018-280% (Little or no change)
Employment Change, 2018-28-100

Types of Pharmacy Degrees

There are 3 types of pharmacy degrees that you can pursue:

  1. Pharmacy Assisting – High School Diploma, sometimes a certificate or associates is obtained but not required.
  2. Pharmacy Technician – Associate Degree or Certificate is usually preferred by employers and sometimes required by states.
  3. Pharmacist – Doctor of Pharmacy Degree (PharmD) is required.

How to Become a Pharmacist

Working as a pharmacist can be a rewarding career for those who are interested in working in healthcare. Knowing how to become a pharmacist is the first step in starting your career in the field.

This section will walk you through the exact steps in detail that you need to complete to become a pharmacist.

1. Decide how you want to get your education

Most degree programs for pharmacists are a dual-degree program to earn a Bachelor’s degree as well as a PharmD degree. This path takes between six and seven years to complete.

However, some programs are only doctoral-level programs, which require the prerequisite of a bachelor’s degree for enrollment, usually in chemistry or biology.

These programs take between three and four years after the bachelor’s degree has already been earned.

2. Take your admissions test

Most pharmacy education programs require a minimum score on the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT).

The minimum score required varies by school. The test assesses topics such as critical reading, quantitative reasoning, and biological processes.

Along with these topics in a multiple-choice section, there is also an essay section in the test.

3. Complete your education program

Whether you are in a dual-degree program or the doctoral-level program, your PharmD courses will prepare you with the knowledge and skills you will need to be successful as a pharmacist.

Some of the courses you will take in the program include:

  • Pathology
  • Biochemistry
  • Biostatistics
  • Chemotherapy
  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacological measurements
  • Healthcare management

Your program will also include an internship at a pharmacy, which will give you valuable hands-on experience prior to your licensure.

The number of hours required will depend on your degree program and your state’s requirements for licensing.

4. Sit for your licensing exams

After completing your education program, you will be required to sit for two separate exams to get your license.

One required exam is the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX). The second exam will be either the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE) or a jurisprudence exam specific to your state.

Your state licensing board will let you know which jurisprudence exam you will need for your license.

5. Apply for your license

After you have passed your licensing exams, you will be able to complete your licensing application. Along with your degree and exams, you may need to provide additional requirements, depending on your state’s licensing regulations:

  • Background check
  • Proof of internship hours
  • Additional training/tests specific to your state
  • Additional post-graduate experience hours

Once you have your license, you will need to adhere to your state’s requirements for maintaining it. Most often, this requires continuing education hours and renewing your background check periodically. Check your state’s requirements so you know what will be needed to maintain your license.

Whether you’re already working as a pharmacy technician or you’re looking for a career as a pharmacist with no pharmacy background, these steps to becoming a pharmacist will prepare you for the process. Once you become a pharmacist, you’ll have everything you need to be successful and have a satisfying career.

Advancing from Technician to Pharmacist

Many people ask, does becoming a Pharmacy Tech make it easier to become a Pharmacist?

There is not a bridge program or formal path for advancing from a pharmacy technician to a pharmacist. However, becoming a pharmacy technician first will help prepare you for the coursework and clinical training required to become  a pharmacist.

Where Can Pharmacists Work?

There are quite a few places that pharmacists may work in addition to drug stores, here are a few of them:

  • Pharmacies inside of hospitals
  • Military and Government Pharmacies
  • Drug research labs
  • Patient care and clinical settings
  • Private practice settings
  • Retail/Consumer Pharmacies and Drug Stores
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