How to Become a Pharmacist
Becoming a Pharmacist
As more and more retailers add pharmacies to their services, job opportunities for pharmacists are also increasing. Grocery chains and big box retail stores like Target and Walmart now employ as many pharmacists as traditional chains and hospitals. The new emphasis on speed in retail pharmacy has also added fuel to the fire, and an aging population and boom in new births mean that there will be even more jobs for pharmacists in the future.
Becoming a pharmacist used to be the quick way into a job in medicine, though changes in pharmacy procedure mean that pharmacists are less like “doctors” and more like retail workers. Today, a career in pharmacy is one of the best ways to ensure that you can work in any part of the country (or part of the world) you live in.
Because there are many different ways to work as a pharmacist (retail, hospital, private practice pharmacy service, etc.), coming up with an “average salary” for pharmacists is complicated. According to Salary.com, the average income for a pharmacist is about $100,000 a year. The salary earned by a pharmacist depends as much on the type of pharmacy they work in as any other factor. Here’s a quick guide to pharmacist’s salaries:
Retail Pharmacy – Retail pharmacists work for big name retailers or chain drugstores. Their salary depends on where they live, and ranges anywhere from a low of $70,000 (in low-income parts of the country) up to well over $130,000 in bigger urban areas. Retail pharmacists have less of a say in the daily operations of their pharmacy and must adhere to fairly strict retail rules for pharmacists on top of restrictions placed on pharmacists by federal law. Many retail chains offers pharmacists a “signing bonus” of several thousand dollars when they start their job, to compensate for the slightly lower pay.
Private Pharmacy – Pharmacists who open their own shops can earn more cash but have to deal with the headaches involved in running a small business on top of the trials and tribulations faced by pharmacists in general. People who run their own pharmacies earn anywhere from $100,000 up to $300-400,000 depending on the market they work in and deals they make with local doctors, hospitals, and medical clinics.
Hospital Pharmacy – Pharmacists who work in hospitals or large private practices earn money similar to first-year doctors. These salaries depend on pharmacy experience and the wealth of the local population more than anything else. Pharmacists working in hospitals or clinics earn between $120,000 and $300,000 depending on factors like experience, certification, and the median income in their community.
Training to Become a Pharmacist
Pharmacists attend school nearly as long as doctors. An expansion in the scope of pharmacy and new drugs appearing on the market mean that pharmacists must get continuing education as part of their commitment to their customers.
In 1992, a major change to educational requirements for pharmacists means that pharmacists now train for even longer before receiving their license to practice pharmacy. A Doctor of Pharmacy degree (also known as a Pharm.D.) is required before you can begin work as a pharmacist. This degree must come from a specific list of accredited college or pharmacy school entities. Before the year 1992, pharmacists only had to have a Bachelor of Science degree from any college or university–this is no longer the case. This degree requires at least six years of school, and in some cases requires as much as eight years of coursework and training.
In fact, to get into the best Pharm.D. programs, you’ll probably have to have a bachelor’s degree (in science or pre-med) as well as a few years of postgraduate training in the medical field. Some schools require only an associate’s degree or pre-med certification, but these are rapidly disappearing in favor of schools that require work towards a postgraduate degree.
Prospective pharmacists will have to pass a test called the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (or PCAT) before they can enter pharmacy school. Pharm.D. programs last a total of four years, for a total of six years of post-secondary education or postgraduate education.
What this means for people who want to become pharmacists is that getting your Pharm.D. degree is more expensive than ever. According to the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education, pharmacy school now costs:
- Between $14-82,000 for public pharmacy training in the state where the student has residency
- Between $40-131,000 for public pharmacy school for non-residents
- Between $75-180,000 for private pharmacy school
The cost of earning a pharmacy education means that competition for the best jobs is fierce, and people are less and less inclined to start their own pharmacy practice, preferring to sign up with a retailer that offers high signup bonuses and long-term benefits.
Careers as a Pharmacist
Before you can begin applying for work as a pharmacist, you have to meet certain job requirements.
Most Pharm.D. programs require you to work in an internship setting at a local pharmacy before you graduate with your pharmacy degree. Just to get in the door for an internship, you have to earn what is called an “intern pharmacist license” that requires testing and a background check and drug screen.
Every state in America requires a license in the form of an exam to practice as a pharmacist. Some states actually require two exams in order to get your license. These are the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) which is a test of pharmacy knowledge and retail skill, as well as the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE) which tests a student’s understanding of the laws regarding pharmaceutical operations.
Once you are properly licensed, you can find jobs at pharmacies simply by walking in the door of retailers and local pharmacies and inquiring about work. Because many pharmacy jobs are at retail stores like CVS or Walgreen’s, applying for these jobs is very similar to applying for a part-time job as a checker or janitor. It seems strange, but most pharmacists get their first jobs by simply walking into a retail pharmacy and filling out an application.
Work as a pharmacist is steady and can offer some of the best compensation in any retail environment. As a pharmacist, you’ll be helping people take medication properly and assisting their doctors in providing medical care.