What Degree is Required to Become a Pharmacist?

Details on pharmacy education requirements

Doctor looking out office window with diplomas behind him
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A pharmacist is a medical professional who dispenses drugs to patients according to a prescription ordered by a physician or other clinician. Pharmacists have an in-depth knowledge of the chemistry of various drugs and how they react in humans, and also how drugs interact with each other. Pharmacists must accurately measure and package medicine, ensuring its dosage and safety to be administered properly to a patient.

While the pharmacist does not typically select or prescribe the medication, the pharmacist educates the patient on how to take the medication and what reactions or problems to be avoided.

Duties of Pharmacists

Pharmacists typically do the following:

  • Fill prescriptions, verifying instructions from physicians on the proper amounts of medication to give to patients
  • Check whether prescriptions will interact negatively with other drugs that a patient is taking or any medical conditions the patient has
  • Instruct patients on how and when to take a prescribed medicine and inform them about potential side effects they may experience from taking the medicine
  • Give flu shots and, in most states, other vaccinations
  • Advise patients about general health topics, such as diet, exercise, and managing stress, and on other issues, such as what equipment or supplies would be best to treat a health problem
  • Complete insurance forms and work with insurance companies to ensure that patients get the medicines they need
  • Oversee the work of pharmacy technicians and pharmacists in training (interns)
  • Keep records and do other administrative tasks
  • Teach other healthcare practitioners about proper medication therapies for patients

What Degree is Required to Become a Pharmacist?

Pharmacists graduating from college today are required to have a PharmD, or doctorate of Pharmacy degree.

College students can start a four-year pharmacy program after successfully completing two years of undergraduate coursework and earning a passing score on the PCAT (Pharmacy college admission test). Coursework in pharmacy and pre-pharmacy includes chemistry, physics, biology, anatomy, and physiology.

Additionally, PharmD students must complete a series of rotations in a variety of clinical and pharmaceutical settings. The length and quantity of rotations vary, but the average PharmD program requires seven to 10 rotations, each of which is four to six weeks in length.

If a student knows early in his or her college career that they would like to become a pharmacist, one could graduate with a PharmD in about six years. Many college students do not decide until later in college or after college to become a pharmacist; therefore, some pharmacists complete eight years of college.

Average Salary for Pharmacists

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary for pharmacists is $120,950, (or, $58.15 per hour) as of 2014, the most recent data available as of 2016. According to Sherrie Nacke, CPC, who specializes in pharmacist recruitment for Hire Dynamics Rx in Atlanta, their average contract (temporary hourly) pharmacist job pays $50.00-$60.00 per hour, which equates to $100,000-$120,000 annualized income, assuming a full-time schedule.

Additionally, a signing bonus of $5,000-$15,000 may be offered upon accepting and starting a position. Signing bonuses help keep pharmacists locked into a job for up to three years.

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