How to Become a Pharmacist

Education, Licensing, and Beyond

Do you want to become a pharmacist? When doctors and other healthcare professionals prescribe medication, pharmacists not only dispense it, but they explain to their patients how to use the drugs correctly. They answer questions about both prescription and over-the-counter medication, help patients manage illnesses and keep track of what medications they are taking so they can avoid interactions. Pharmacists also advise doctors and other health practitioners about 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. 

What Degree Do You Need?

Pharmacist Students
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To become a pharmacist, you must earn a Doctor of Pharmacy degree (PharmD) from a school or college of pharmacy that has received accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. PharmD programs are four or six academic years long, depending on whether they include only professional education or also pre-professional education.

You will spend four academic years engaged in professional pharmacy education after completing between two and four years of undergraduate coursework. Depending on the type of program you attend, your pre-professional coursework may or may not be part of the same program. You can choose from among several paths to earning your PharmD degree.

If you are a soon-to-be high school graduate who knows you want to become a pharmacist, you can apply to a "0-6" or an "early assurance" program. These programs are similar in that after completing two years of undergraduate coursework, you are guaranteed admission to a professional pharmacy program as long as you maintain the required grades. You will complete your undergraduate prerequisite coursework during your first two years of a "0-6" program before moving on to your professional studies. If you are accepted into an "early assurance" program, you will first attend college for at least two years and then transfer into the pharmacy program that has guaranteed your admission. 

Alternatively, you may decide to become a pharmacist while you are in college or after you have graduated. You can then be admitted to a four-year professional pharmacy program as long as you have completed at least two years of undergraduate study. Many applicants to these programs have a bachelor's degree. Four-year programs consist only of the professional phase of the pharmacy curriculum. You must have completed all your pre-requisite coursework before you enter pharmacy school. Your classes will probably include biology, general and organic chemistry, physics, math, statistics, English, history, and economics.

Here are some common classes you will take 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

In addition, all PharmD programs include experiential coursework, also known as internships. Students work in community and hospital pharmacies as well as in other pharmacy practice settings gaining hands-on training working alongside professionals.

How to Get Admitted to a PharmD Program

Future Pharmacists
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If you are a high school student who is applying to "0-6" or "early assurance programs" you will have to meet the admission standards of the school. They may include attaining a particular grade point average (GPA) or earning certain SAT or ACT scores. You may also have to meet specific requirements of the pharmacy program. You may move into the professional phase of your education after successfully completing all your prerequisites.

Students who apply to four-year professional programs often have to take the PCAT, a pharmacy school entrance exam. Not all schools require this test, but many do. You will also be evaluated based on criteria such as your college GPA. Admissions requirements vary considerably among schools and colleges of pharmacy. Use the Pharmacy School Locator on the AACP's website to find programs and learn about their requirements.

As you begin to explore admission procedures, you will read about something called PharmCAS. This is an online application system that allows you to complete one application to apply to multiple schools. Not all colleges and schools of pharmacy use PharmCas, but most do.

Getting Licensed as a Pharmacist

Studying for Pharmacist Licensing Exam
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Before you can practice as a pharmacist, you will have to get licensed. In the United States, licenses are issued by individual states, the District of Columbia and by U.S. territories such as Guam, Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands. Each jurisdiction's board of pharmacy sets its own requirements. Please see the National Boards of Pharmacy for a list of state boards.

Steps to Licensure for Graduates of US 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 meet this requirement while still in school.
  • Step 5: Consent to a criminal background check if required, as it is in some states.


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.

If you move out of state, you can usually transfer your license. However, you may have to take additional exams. Check with the state board of pharmacy in your new state to find out what you have to do.

Getting Your First Professional Pharmacy Job

A new pharmacist
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Between earning your degree and getting your license, it seems like it will be a while before you have to think about finding your first professional pharmacy job. Don't be fooled. That time will be here faster than you could even imagine. It's a good idea to become aware of the qualities that, in addition to your professional training, prospective employers will be seeking. Of course, this will vary from employer to employer, but just to give you an idea of what they are, here are specifications excerpted from job announcements found in various sources:

  • "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."