How to Become a Pharmacist

Education, Licensing, and Beyond

Do you want to become a pharmacist? Pharmacists dispense medications prescribed by doctors and other healthcare professionals, and they explain to their patients how to use these drugs correctly. They answer questions about both prescription and over-the-counter medication, help patients manage illnesses, and keep track of what medications individuals are taking so they can avoid interactions. Pharmacists also advise doctors and other health practitioners about drug selection, dosages, and interactions. Are you interested in this career? Next, see what you have to do to become a pharmacist. Then take the Pharmacist Quiz to see if you have what it takes to succeed in this field. 

1
What Degree Do You Need?

Pharmacist Students
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If you want to become a pharmacist, you need a Doctor of Pharmacy degree (PharmD) from a school or college of pharmacy. The program you attend must be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education

Some PharmD programs include undergraduate coursework and are six years long. Others include only professional pharmacy education and are four years long. Students first complete between two and four years of undergraduate coursework before entering those programs. You can choose from several paths to earn your degree.

If you are graduating from high school soon and are sure you want to become a pharmacist, you can apply to a "0-6" or an "early assurance" program. A "0-6" program combines college and professional studies in one program. An "early assurance" program offers guaranteed admission into a separate pharmacy school after you complete at least two years of undergraduate coursework. 

Don't worry if you didn't decide you wanted to become a pharmacist until you were already in college or even after you graduated. You can apply to a four-year professional pharmacy program after you complete at least two years of undergraduate study, including prerequisite coursework such as biology, general and organic chemistry, physics, math, statistics, English, history, and economics.

Expect to take the following classes, or similar ones, during the professional phase of your pharmacy education:

  • Functional Human Anatomy and Histology
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Introduction to Clinical Pharmacy Skills
  • Pharmacy Skills Lab
  • Principles of Pharmacology and Medicinal Chemistry
  • Immunizations
  • Oncology

All students must complete experiential coursework as well. Through internships, they work in community and hospital pharmacies as well as in other pharmacy practice settings to gain hands-on training from professional pharmacists.

2
How to Get Into a PharmD Program

Future Pharmacists
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High school students who apply to "0-6" or "early assurance programs" must meet the college's admission standards, which may include a minimum grade point average (GPA) or SAT or ACT score. The pharmacy program may have additional requirements. Students advance to the professional portion of the program after completing all undergraduate prerequisites.

Students who apply to four-year professional programs typically have to take the PCAT, a pharmacy school entrance exam. Not all schools require this test, but many do. PharmD programs also consider college GPAs when deciding whether to admit applicants. Admissions requirements vary considerably among schools and colleges of pharmacy. To learn about them, use the Pharmacy School Locator on the AACP's website.

Most programs require applicants to use  PharmCAS. It is an online system that allows applicants to complete a single application for multiple schools.

3
Getting Licensed as a Pharmacist

Studying for Pharmacist Licensing Exam
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In the United States, a pharmacist needs a professional license issued by a state, the District of Columbia, or a U.S. territory such as Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Each jurisdiction's board of pharmacy sets its own requirements and licensees are only allowed to practice in that jurisdiction. Please see the National Boards of Pharmacy for a list of state boards.

Steps to Licensure for Graduates of U.S. Pharmacy Schools

  • Step 1: Take the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX).
  • Step 2: Take the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE), a test of pharmacy law, if you want to practice in a state that requires it, or take the pharmacy law exam that is administered by the state in which you plan to work.
  • Step 3: Take any other tests that may be required by your state.
  • Step 4: Complete the number of hours of practical experience your jurisdiction requires. Many people meet this requirement while still in school.
  • Step 5: Consent to a criminal background check if the jurisdiction requires it.

Steps to Licensure for Graduates of Foreign Pharmacy Schools

  • Step 1: Apply for Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Examination Committee (FPGEC) Certification and take the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination (FPGEE).
  • Step 2: Pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL iBT).
  • Step 3: Pass all exams required by the jurisdiction in which you want to practice, as discussed above.

Licenses are usually transferable from state-to-state, but sometimes require taking additional exams. Check with the new state's board of pharmacy to find out how to transfer a license.

4
Getting Your First Professional Pharmacy Job

A new pharmacist
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After earning your degree and getting your license, it will be time to find your first professional pharmacy job. What qualities will prospective employers will be looking for in job candidates? While they will vary from employer to employer, here are specifications excerpted from job announcements found in job announcements on Indeed.com:

  • "Serve as patient advocate ..."
  • "Excellent verbal and written communications skills and computer proficiency are essential"
  • "Must possess good organizational and problem solving skills"
  • "Uphold service standards for counseling, dispensing, pricing, licensing, managing inventory and record keeping"