Pharmacists dispense prescription medication to patients and advise them on how to use their medication safely and wisely. Some pharmacists offer additional services, such as offering health and wellness screenings, providing immunizations or counseling customers on how to create a healthy lifestyle. At the end of the day, the goal of a pharmacist is helping their customers live active, healthy lives with or without medicine.
A Day in the Life of a Pharmacist
As the Bureau of Labor Statistics notes, nearly half of pharmacists work in a pharmacy. Pharmacies are often standalone businesses, but they also commonly reside inside grocery stores and drug stores.
A pharmacist career can also be spent working in hospitals and clinics, which provides a different work environment. While pharmacists who work in pharmacies may deal with a wide range of consumers, pharmacists who work in hospitals tend to have less contact with consumers.
Either way, the basic job duties of pharmacists are the same. Here are some of the main tasks these workers do on a daily basis:
- Filling prescriptions and verifying customers are getting the exact amount of medication they need
- Checking prescriptions for customers to make sure medicine won't interact with other drugs the patient is taking
- Counseling patients on how to take their medications
- Telling patients about potential side effects from the medication
- Giving flu shots and other immunizations
- Teaching other health care practitioners about medication
- Keeping records of patient medication details
- Overseeing pharmacy technicians who work with them
- Completing insurance paperwork regarding the coverage of prescribed drugs
- Advising patients about their general health and how to improve it
Some pharmacists may also be business owners. In that case, they may spend time managing the more practical aspects of running a business. They might balance their business accounts, work on advertising or marketing, or deal with inventory.
In either case, it is important to note that most pharmacists spend the bulk of their time dealing with patients and various types of medicine. Their day might be different depending on whom they come in contact with, but their duties are mostly the same.
Important Characteristics for Pharmacists
Beyond the pharmacist education they acquire before becoming licensed, pharmacists need an array of important skills in order to provide medications both safely and efficiently. They need analytical skills and extensive knowledge of various medical topics, for example. They need communication skills in order to speak with patients and co-workers, and they need extreme attention to detail so they don't make any mistakes.
Most pharmacists also need computer skills and managerial skills in order to run their offices efficiently.
Typical Steps for Becoming a Pharmacist
Because pharmacists need to be highly skilled and knowledgeable to do their jobs, they spend many years in school before they can get started in this profession. Here are the typical steps required to break into this line of work:
1. Earn a high school diploma. Before you can move on to earn an undergraduate degree or pursue a degree at pharmacy schools, it is essential to earn a high school diploma.
2. Earn an undergraduate degree in a related field. While it is possible to earn an undergraduate degree in pre-pharmacy, not all schools offer this option. In that case, you can choose to earn an undergraduate degree in a related field such as general sciences, chemistry or microbiology.
3. Take required postsecondary courses. The majority of pharmacy programs require students to take undergraduate courses in related topics like chemistry, biology and physics.
4. Earn a pharmacy degree. Pharmacists are required to have a pharmacy degree, or a Pharm.D. You can earn this degree and start your pharmacy career at one of the 128 pharmacist schools that offers Doctor of Pharmacy programs fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE). Pharm.D. programs typically take three or four years to finish, and that is in addition to all undergraduate education.
5. Become licensed in your state. All pharmacists need to become licensed to work in their state, typically by completing two licensing exams: the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) and the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE). Some states also require pharmacists to work as an intern for a length of time that varies from state to state. Some pharmacists may choose to earn additional certification in a specific area of knowledge, such as diabetes, nutrition or oncology.
- Pharmacists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-24 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacists.htm
- Pharm.D. Frequently Asked Questions, Oregon State University, http://pharmacy.oregonstate.edu/pharm-d-frequently-asked-questions