A pharmacist could...
|Make sure a 500-gm premature baby gets a smaller drug dosage than a 5,000-gm baby.||Answer a patient's questions and check that he isn't taking any other drugs that will interact negatively.|
|Assign the correct warnings and instructions to drug packaging so patients take medicines correctly.||Create a specialty version of a medication on-site for a patient who requires a modification due to an allergy.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||Pharmacists are the medication experts. They advise doctors, nurses, and patients on the correct drug dosage for a patient's weight, age, health, and gender; on interactions between drugs; on side effects; on drug alternatives; on costs; and on ways to give drugs. They also dispense drugs at pharmacies, according to prescriptions, checking for dangerous drug interactions, and educating patients on how to take drugs, what reactions to watch out for, and how long it should take for drugs to work.|
|Key Requirements||Meticulous, responsible, detail-oriented, logical, with outstanding communication skills, and the ability to explain complex ideas in simple language|
|Minimum Degree||Professional degree (Doctor of Pharmacy, PharmD)|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Biology, chemistry, physics, geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus, calculus, English; if available, computer science, foreign language, biotechnology, statistics|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||More Slowly than Average (3% to 6%)|
Training, Other Qualifications
A license is required in all states and in the District of Columbia, as well as in Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In order to obtain a license, pharmacists generally must earn a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree from a college of pharmacy and pass several examinations.
Education and Training
Pharmacists who are trained in the United States must earn a Pharm.D. degree from an accredited college or school of pharmacy. The Pharm.D. degree has replaced the Bachelor of Pharmacy degree, which is no longer being awarded. To be admitted to a Pharm.D. program, an applicant must have completed at least 2 years of specific professional study. This requirement generally includes courses in mathematics and natural sciences, such as chemistry, biology, and physics, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences. In addition, most applicants have completed three or more years at a college or university before moving on to a Pharm.D. program, although this is not specifically required.
Pharm.D. programs generally take 4 years to complete. The courses offered are designed to teach students about all aspects of drug therapy. In addition, students learn how to communicate with patients and other healthcare providers about drug information and patient care. Students also learn professional ethics, concepts of public health, and business management. In addition to receiving classroom instruction, students in Pharm.D. programs spend time working with licensed pharmacists in a variety of practice settings.
Some Pharm.D. graduates obtain further training through 1- or 2-year residency programs or fellowships. Pharmacy residencies are postgraduate training programs in pharmacy practice and usually require the completion of a research project. The programs are often mandatory for pharmacists who wish to work in a clinical setting. Pharmacy fellowships are highly individualized programs that are designed to prepare participants to work in a specialized area of pharmacy, such clinical practice or research laboratories. Some pharmacists who own their own pharmacy obtain a master's degree in business administration (MBA). Others may obtain a degree in public administration or public health.
Prospective pharmacists should have scientific aptitude, good interpersonal skills, and a desire to help others. They also must be conscientious and pay close attention to detail, because the decisions they make affect human lives.
Nature of the Work
Pharmacists distribute prescription drugs to individuals. They also advise their patients, physicians, and other health practitioners on the selection, dosages, interactions, and side effects of medications, as well as monitor the health and progress of those patients to ensure that they are using their medications safely and effectively. Compounding—the actual mixing of ingredients to form medications—is a small part of a pharmacist's practice, because most medicines are produced by pharmaceutical companies in standard dosages and drug-delivery forms. Most pharmacists work in a community setting, such as in a retail drugstore, or in a healthcare facility, such as a hospital.
Pharmacists in community pharmacies dispense medications, counsel patients on the use of prescription and over-the-counter medications, and advise physicians about medication therapy. They also advise patients about general health topics, such as diet, exercise, and stress management, and provide information on products, such as durable medical equipment or home healthcare supplies. In addition, they often complete third-party insurance forms and other paperwork. Those who own or manage community pharmacies may sell non-health-related merchandise, hire and supervise personnel, and oversee the general operation of the pharmacy. Some community pharmacists provide specialized services to help patients with conditions such as diabetes, asthma, smoking cessation, or high blood pressure. Some pharmacists are trained to administer vaccinations.
Pharmacists in healthcare facilities dispense medications and advise the medical staff on the selection and effects of drugs. They may make sterile solutions to be administered intravenously. They also plan, monitor, and evaluate drug programs or regimens. They may counsel hospitalized patients on the use of drugs before the patients are discharged.
Some pharmacists specialize in specific drug therapy areas, such as intravenous nutrition support, oncology (cancer), nuclear pharmacy (used for chemotherapy), geriatric pharmacy, and psychiatric pharmacy (the use of drugs to treat mental disorders).
Most pharmacists keep confidential computerized records of patients' drug therapies to prevent harmful drug interactions. Pharmacists are responsible for the accuracy of every prescription that is filled, but they often rely upon pharmacy technicians to assist them in the dispensing of medications. Thus, the pharmacist may delegate prescription-filling and administrative tasks and supervise their completion. Pharmacists also frequently oversee pharmacy students serving as interns.
Some pharmacists are involved in research for pharmaceutical manufacturers, developing new drugs and testing their effects. Others work in marketing or sales, providing clients with expertise on the use, effectiveness, and possible side effects of drugs. Some pharmacists work for health insurance companies, developing pharmacy benefit packages and carrying out cost-benefit analyses on certain drugs. Other pharmacists work for the government, managed care organizations, public healthcare services, or the armed services. Finally, some pharmacists are employed full-time or part-time as college faculty, teaching classes and performing research in a wide range of areas.
Pharmacists work in clean, well-lit, and well-ventilated areas. Many pharmacists spend most of their workday on their feet. When working with sterile or dangerous pharmaceutical products, pharmacists wear gloves, masks, and other protective equipment.
Most pharmacists work about 40 hours a week, but about 12 percent worked more than 50 hours per week in 2008. In addition, about 19 percent of pharmacists worked part-time. Many community and hospital pharmacies are open for extended hours, so pharmacists may be required to work nights, weekends, and holidays. Consultant pharmacists may travel to healthcare facilities to monitor patients' drug therapies.
On the Job
- Review prescriptions to assure accuracy, to ascertain the needed ingredients, and to evaluate their suitability.
- Provide information and advice regarding drug interactions, side effects, dosage and proper medication storage.
- Assess the identity, strength and purity of medications.
- Maintain records, such as pharmacy files, patient profiles, charge system files, inventories, control records for radioactive nuclei, and registries of poisons, narcotics, and controlled drugs.
- Compound and dispense medications as prescribed by doctors and dentists, by calculating, weighing, measuring, and mixing ingredients, or oversee these activities.
- Plan, implement, and maintain procedures for mixing, packaging, and labeling pharmaceuticals, according to policy and legal requirements, to ensure quality, security, and proper disposal.
- Teach pharmacy students serving as interns in preparation for their graduation or licensure.
- Advise customers on the selection of medication brands, medical equipment and health-care supplies.
- Provide specialized services to help patients manage conditions such as diabetes, asthma, smoking cessation, or high blood pressure.
- Collaborate with other health care professionals to plan, monitor, review, and evaluate the quality and effectiveness of drugs and drug regimens, providing advice on drug applications and characteristics.
Companies That Hire Pharmacists
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- Antibiotic Resistance
- Big Pieces or Small Pieces: Which React Faster?
- Blood Clotting to the Rescue: How to Stop Too Much Blood from Flowing
- Caffeine and Heart Rate: A Pharmacological Study Using Daphnia magna
- Calcium Carbonate to the Rescue! How Antacids Relieve Heartburn
- Can You Change the Rate of a Chemical Reaction by Changing the Particle Size of the Reactants?
- Coffee Buzz: How Does Caffeine Affect the Physiology of Animals?
- Drug Solubility
- Hitting the Target: The Importance of Making Sure a Drug's Aim Is True
- How Fast Does an Alka-Seltzer® Tablet Make Gas?
- I Love Ice Cream, But It Doesn't Love Me: Understanding Lactose Intolerance
- Make Your Own Shampoo and Test How It Performs!
- Ow, My Tummy Hurts! The Biology and Chemistry of Gas Relief
- Plop, Plop, Fizz Fast: The Effect of Temperature on Reaction Time
- Which Acne Medication Can Really Zap That Zit?
- Why Aren't All Medicines Pills?
- Yeast Busters: Stopping Fungus in its Tracks with Antifungal Medicines
Do you have a specific question about a career as a Pharmacist that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy: https://www.aacp.org/
- American Society of Health-System Pharmacists: https://www.ashp.org/
- National Association of Chain Drug Stores: https://www.nacds.org/
- Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy: www.amcp.org
- American Pharmacists Association: https://www.pharmacist.com/
- O*Net Online. (2016). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved July 1, 2017, from https://www.onetonline.org/
- American Journal of Pharmacy Education. (2007, August 15). Pharmacy: No Longer a "Second Choice" Career. Retrieved January 22, 2010, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1959216/
- YouTube; user: expertvillage. (2008, September 27). Pharmacist Career Information : Pharmacist Pros & Cons. Retrieved January 22, 2010, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h4eS2jw8DA8
- American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. (2009, August 14). UNC Chapel Hill "Is Pharmacy for You?" Retrieved January 22, 2010, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEV3fIzCh7Y
- American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. (2008, February 8). Love Your Job! Careers in Health-System Pharmacy. Retrieved January 22, 2010, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SANWMoTXY-k
Explore Our Science Videos
Colorful Melting Ice Ball Patterns - STEM Activity
Slippery Slopes - STEM activity
How to Make Elephant Toothpaste