How to Become a Pharmacist: Careers as a Pharmacist

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Pharmacists help patients with medication and therapy.

Becoming a pharmacist requires years of education and training to obtain the necessary knowledge, skills and certifications. Aspiring pharmacists can spend anywhere between six years (fast-track) to thirteen years completing pre-requisites, Pharm.D coursework, clinical rotations and national exams. And while this might seem a straightforward path, anyone pursuing a career in pharmacology should understand (or at least be aware of) the finer details of the process, as well as the critical questions that need to be answered along the way. For example, should I earn a bachelor’s degree before applying to a Pharm.D program? Is my pharmacy license transferable to other states? If I fail the NAPLEX, what’s my next step?

The following “how to” guide serves as a starting point. Not only a rundown of the basic steps to becoming a pharmacist, but a comprehensive yet easily digestible resource to help you answer those important questions when and where they arise. There’s more than one way to the pharmacy finish line. You just need to choose the path that’s right for you.

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what does a Pharmacist do?

Pharmacists dispense medication and other approved remedies, often following a patient visit to a physician. In addition to detailed understanding of dosing, regulation, allergens and chemical reactions, pharmacists need to know how to guide and manage assistants in those areas. Pharmacists should also be mindful of public health and safety, ensuring everyone under their supervision (including themselves) follows safety protocols when it comes to the storage and distribution of medication. Pharmacists can work in a variety of medical environments, including drug stores, hospitals, private businesses and long-term care facilities.

what kind of skills are required ?

Pharmacists tend to be analytical and have great attention to detail, which facilitates pharmacological accuracy and pharmacy organization. Pharmacists must also be good communicators to clearly explain the steps involved in taking medication and avoiding potentially harmful side effects. Pharmacists need strong computer skills to various electronic health record (EH$) systems, as well as strong managerial abilities to guide assistants and other staff in the right direction.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics information from 2012, the median pay for pharmacists was $116,670 or $56.09 per hour, with half the group making more and half making less. The top 10 percent earned more than $145,910, making a career as a pharmacist a great opportunity, especially for those working in department stores and retail pharmacies.

The map below shows details of the 10th, 50th, and 90th percentile earners for each state.

The Steps: Becoming a Pharmacist

Fill Your Pre-Requisites (2 – 4 years)

The pre-requisite courses for future pharmacists lie in the laboratory sciences, most notably biology and chemistry. At the undergraduate level, these help lay the groundwork for advanced pharmacological study down the road. Students working toward entry to a Pharm.D program have a number of options when it comes to early science-related coursework:

  • Two years of non-degree, laboratory science prep. Many colleges have lab science pathways designed to help students fill Pharm.D pre-requisites in a targeted, two-year timeframe. While the schedule is dotted with general university requirements, it’s also science-heavy to facilitate readiness for the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT).
  • A bachelor’s degree in a laboratory science. Many aspiring pharmacists decide to earn a bachelor’s degree in a lab-related science before making the transition to a Pharm.D program. This option allows for more flexibility upon graduation should a student decide to explore other options in addition to a career as a pharmacist. Some students also select this path because it allows for more time to study for the PCAT.

Regardless of the path you choose, certain academic courses will come into play. Examples of common Pharm.D pre-requisites include the following:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Biochemistry for Pharmaceutical Sciences
  • Fundamentals of Biology
  • General Physics
  • Immunology
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Pharmacy Orientation
Earn Your Doctor of Pharmacy Degree (Pharm.D) (4 years)

The Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D) degree is the first professional step toward practicing as a pharmacist. Completion of a Pharm.D usually takes four years of study. The first year centers on the fundamentals of the trade, including reading and using dosage forms, pharmacy law and ethics, patient counseling, working with physicians, diagnostics, pharmacy calculations and pathophysiology and drug action.

The second and third years tend to focus on more advanced principles introduced during year one, but also subject areas such as institutional pharmacy (IPPE), pharmacotherapy, biostatistics, health management and the first steps of clinical rotations. During years two and three, pharmacy students should be honing in on both a pharmaceutical specialty and where they’d like to work after graduation and examinations.

Year four is almost all about practical experience. Students perform clinical rotations to put their acquired knowledge and experience to use. This includes interacting with patients, recommending medication variations and guiding administrative staff to better support customers and the community. Students typically perform seven to ten rotations, each lasting four to six weeks.

Pass Your National Licensing Exams

Every pharmacy student must pass one or more exams to receive a license to practice. The primary test is the North American Pharmacist Licensing Exam (NAPLEX), a 185-question test that measures a candidate’s knowledge of the practice of pharmacy. At its core, the purpose of the NAPLEX is to ascertain the following abilities:

  • To identify positive standards of effective and safe pharmacotherapy.
  • To optimize medicinal and therapeutic outcomes for patients.
  • To prepare and distribute medications safely and accurately
  • To educate patients on optimal health care

For most students, passing the NAPLEX means licensure as a pharmacist. In some states, however, students must pass the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination (MPJE), as well. This two-hour, 90-question test gauges a candidate’s knowledge of pharmacy law.

Finally, graduates of pharmacy schools not in a U.S. state or outlying territory must pass the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Examination Committee (FPGEC) Certification. Some states exempt graduates of Canadian pharmacy schools from this requirement. Many students choose to take practice exams or to take review courses in order to pass the test(s) in as few tries as possible.

If you fail the NAPLEX, or one of the other required examinations, you may be able to apply to retake it. This usually entails an additional exam fee and written approval by a state or national pharmacy body. However, some states have a limit on the number of times you can retake a test. In California, for example, if you fail the California Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination four times, you’ll need to complete an additional 16 semester units before proceeding.

Pharmacist Schools

The first step in learning how to become a pharmacist is completing two years undergraduate training followed by four years in a pharmacy program. The following search tool provides a way to explore the many schools with pharmacy degree programs.

  • School:
  • State:
  • Degree Level:
  • Subject:
Total Results:
Aiken Technical College Graniteville, SC Award (<1 year) Pre-Pharmacy Studies
Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Albany, NY Master's Pharmaceutical Sciences
Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Albany, NY Bachelor's Pharmaceutical Sciences
Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Albany, NY Doctorate/PhD Pharmacy
Allen County Community College Iola, KS Associate Pre-Pharmacy Studies
Alpena Community College Alpena, MI Associate Pre-Pharmacy Studies
Amarillo College Amarillo, TX Associate Pre-Pharmacy Studies
American University of Health Sciences Signal Hill, CA Bachelor's Pharmaceutical Sciences
Angelina College Lufkin, TX Associate Pre-Pharmacy Studies
Appalachian College of Pharmacy Oakwood, VA Doctorate/PhD Pharmacy

Pharmacist Schools Online

If you want to learn how to become a pharmacist in a degree program but have a busy schedule, a flexible distance learning program is a great option. The schools below offer online Pharm.D. programs.

  • School:
  • Degree Level granted:
Total Results:
Cleary University Certificate Certified National Pharmaceutical Representative
Creighton University Doctorate/PhD Doctor Of Pharmacy
Madonna University Certificate Certified National Pharmaceutical Representative
Maryville University of Saint Louis Certificate Certificate Of National Pharmaceutical Representative
Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences Doctorate/PhD Postbaccalaureate Doctor Of Pharmacy Pathway (Pharmd)
Michigan State University Certificate Counterfeit Pharmaceuticals
Michigan State University Certificate Safety Pharmacology
Michigan State University Master's Online Professional Science Masters In Integrative Pharmacology
Michigan State University Master's Online Master Of Science In Pharmacology And Toxicology
Northeastern University Certificate Graduate Certificate In Biopharmaceutical Domestic Regulatory Affairs

what do related occupations make ?

Individuals interested in careers as pharmacists also become biochemists, physicians, nurses or pharmacy techs. Here is data on the salary of pharmacist-related occupations.

Pharmacist and Related Job Salaries

Pharmacist’s salaries differ depending on location. Use our salary comparison tool to learn more about the salaries of pharmacists in your city and state compared to other cities.

Pharmacist Salary Comparison Tool
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  • Select City 1:
  • Select City 2:
Anchorage 2012 MEAN PAY $129,650 per year $62.33 per hour
Fairbanks 2012 MEAN PAY $129,540 per year $62.28 per hour

Job Growth

The Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment projects employment of pharmacists to grow approximately 14 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. There are several factors expected to contribute to this increase, including an aging U.S. population and higher rates of chronic diseases that require medication. In addition, as federal health insurance reform legislation continues to change the landscape, more people will have prescription coverage. As a result, more pharmacists will be needed to fill prescriptions and consult with patients.

Select a state to see more on employment and job growth for pharmacists.

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  • Employed Pharmacists
    1.9% Average Annual Job Growth 205 Annual Job Openings