Guide to Becoming a Pharmacist

Become A Pharmacist is the official nonprofit resource for the promotion of the study of pharmacology.

By informing prospective future pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, chemists, scientists and other individuals in the field of pharmacology about what their educational options are we hope to encourage more students to study in this valuable and often under-appreciated field.

We frequently update How To Become A Pharmacist with new information, but if you’d like to see your question answered on our site, please email me, and we’ll post the question and answer in the following week.

1) What Types of Pharmacy Degrees Exist and What are They Called?

The most common degree used when becoming a pharmacist is the Doctor of Pharmacy degree. This education closely resembles medical school, which includes additional years of study beyond the undergraduate. Becoming a pharmacist might also require residencies and fellowships in a variety of specialties.

There are less stringent educational requirements for becoming a pharmacy technician or aide. Although no national standard is required, due to the demand for qualified pharmacy workers, an appropriate education and relevant training are required. Below are just some of the pharmacy degrees available.

  1. Pharmacy Technician Certificate (Cert. P.T.)
  2. Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT)
  3. Associate of Arts in Pharmacy (A.A. Pharm.)
  4. Associate of Science in Pharmacy (A.S. Pharm.)
  5. Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy (B.S. Pharm.)
  6. Master of Science in Pharmacy (M.S. Pharm.)
  7. Master of Healthcare Administration – Pharmacy
  8. Doctor of Chemistry – Pharmacy (Pharm.D. Chem)
  9. Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.)

Because each type of pharmacy degree and certificate has its pro’s and con’s, be sure to look into each to see which is right for you. For example, a certification in pharmacy can be obtained in as little as six months but requires more on the job training and fewer job opportunities. A Doctor of Pharmacy can have an impressive median and even starting salary but takes more time to earn.

2)Where Can I Find Online Pharmacy Rankings?

In order to become an official pharmacist, a doctorate or graduate degree is needed. Be wary of pharmacy schools that only offer a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy, as that degree was replaced by the Pharm. D. as the standard. When narrowing schools or degrees for pharmacy, remember that ranking is not as important as accreditation.

One of the main institutions specifically tasked with accrediting and ranking pharmacy schools is the Accreditation Council of Pharmacy Education. This is where a school should be considered if looking to get an accredited Doctor of Pharmacy degree. Simply click on “Students” to get a list of the current accredited programs. They also have resources for those who want to become a pharmacy technician.

Another good place to look for pharmacy school rankings is the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. They actually have a pharmacy school locator that can help you find an accredited program in your area. There is also a Student Center and pharmacy school newsfeed with the latest information.

If you know which pharmacy school or program you would like to attend, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy has accreditation, license verification, and testing program information all on one site. Also of interest is the information for students in all 50 states and even information for foreign pharmacy students.

3) How Do I Transfer Pharmacy School Credits?

If you have completed a degree or even just a few college level classes, you may qualify for transfer credits. These can be applied towards the completion of an associate’s, bachelor’s, or even doctorate degree in pharmacy. The number of transfer credits allowable depends on both the school transferring from or to.

In order for credits to be transferred, the schools must be accredited in most cases. In the case of a nationally accredited pharmacy school versus a regionally accredited one, transfers may not be allowed. Because every school is different, check with the counseling or admissions office of the school you wish to transfer from to see which pharmacy schools will accept your college credits before deciding on one.

You do not need to necessarily transfer credits from one of the nationally or regionally accredited schools in pharmacy. For example, if you have a Bachelor of Art or Science in anything other than pharmacy, you may still be allowed to apply at the graduate level to a nationally or regionally accredited pharmacy school. Other qualifications for admission can include test scores, GPA, proficiency in healthcare, or many others depending on the school.

There are also limitations to the credits you can transfer for your pharmacy degree. Some schools ask that you score a “C” (3.0) or better in each of the classes you attend to transfer. Many pharmacy programs will only allow you to transfer up to half of the degree credits with the remaining specialty classes required to be taken at the institute you have transferred to. For example, if you have a qualifying Bachelor of Science, need 60 credits for a master’s, and have had 30 hours of relevant graduate classes, it may only take a year to get a master’s degree in pharmacy.

4) What Sorts of Careers Are Possible With a Pharmacy Degree?

Of course, a pharmacist is the first career to come to mind with a pharmacy degree. However, there are many other careers available in pharmaceuticals in addition to the traditional one.

  1. Pharmacist
    The most thought of in pharmacy careers, this person dispenses medication, answers patient questions, and needs to know all about drugs and how they interact with each other.
  2. Pharmacy Technician
    Working alongside pharmacists, they usually fill out orders, attend to patients, and have other office related duties.
  3. Pharmacist Aide
    This is one of the entry positions in pharmacy, who can perform tasks such as taking prescription orders and working the register while they learn the business.
  4. Staff Pharmacist
    If picking up a prescription at your local pharmacy, you might pick it up from them and have them answer common questions on a prescription.
  5. Long Term Care Pharmacist
    These pharmacists are generally employed in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other long term care where they get to know their patients on a daily basis.
  6. Pharmaceutical Sales
    These professionals work on the sales end of the pharmaceutical industry and can be in charge of organizing and managing orders for companies, manufacturers, and pharmacies.
  7. Pharmacy Manager
    Often working in a leadership position, they supervise the pharmacists, techs, and aides working in their local, hospital, or other pharmacy.
  8. Clinical Research Pharmacist
    This type of pharmacist works outside the local or national chain store and in the research and development side of pharmaceuticals.

Because the demand for healthcare is on the rise, it is impossible to guess exactly where the need for pharmacists will fall but it is there and will continue to be. With career prospects listed as excellent in the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, loads of careers are possible as a pharmacist.

5) How to Become a Pharmacist?

As with just about any career, a high school diploma or equivalent is required. One of the quickest ways to get a career in a pharmacy is to earn a certification in the field. One of the most nationally recognized ways to do this is through the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board. The PTCB offers a CPhT exam that offers a national certification. Requirements include a high school diploma, no felonies or drug related convictions, and the passing of a two-hour exam.

To become a pharmacy technician or aide, an associate’s degree may also be asked. This degree usually takes two years of post-secondary or collegiate education to complete. If looking for a four year degree, a bachelor’s in one of the healthcare fields or pharmaceuticals can be obtained. This generally requires 120 credit hours or four years of study. However, if you already have a bachelor’s degree or some applicable college credit, it can take less.

To become a pharmacist in the traditional sense, a PhD or doctorate degree is required. This can consist of the same four years of undergraduate studies, plus an additional four in pharmacy school. For those who already have a healthcare degree such as an RN, healthcare degree, or nurse practitioner license, a Doctor of Pharmacy degree can be easier to come by and the lessons more easily learned.

Finally, once an accredited degree is earned, a license is required in all 50 states and the District of Columbia to become a traditional pharmacist. This includes taking and passing the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam, also known as the NAPLEX. A complex exam, only those who have graduated with a doctorate in pharmacy can even apply to take it. In addition, 44 states require the successful completion of the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam, which focuses on pharmacy law. Each state also has its own requirements for pharmacy technicians, so be sure to check. Students from overseas who want to become pharmacists in the U.S. can apply for certification from the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Examination Committee, which is accepted by all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

6) What is the Salary of a Pharmacist?

Those who do complete a Doctor of Pharmacy and obtain a license can look to get a starting median salary of about $111,570 (BLS.gov). The median salary of a pharmacy technician or aide depends on the number of hours worked. Some can work overtime where they earn time and a half for each hour over 40 per week worked. Others, such as those who are working their way through pharmacy school, can work part time and not earn as much. If starting as a pharmacy technician, the median hourly pay is $13.65 (BLS.gov).

If looking to go into the business side of pharmacy, the salary can be better. The base salary for a sales representative in pharmaceuticals according to salary.com is $94,970 (BLS.gov), with pay being significantly higher for those who have some experience.

Program outcomes vary according to each institution’s specific curriculum, and employment opportunities are not guaranteed

7) Where Can I Find Pharmacist Scholarships and Grants

Because the time taken to become a pharmacist can be up to and beyond eight years of schooling, paying for an education can be an overwhelming process. Make it a little easier and a lot cheaper by having a look at the below scholarships and grants available to pharmacy students.

  1. Pell Grants
    The purpose of Pell Grants are to provide need based funding to students who come from low income families to help pay for school. The site has more answers on eligibility and how to apply.
  2. Hope Credit
    Similar to the above, this is another tax break for college students. Although they may not be able to be combined, they are both worth a look when filing taxes.
  3. Wal-Mart Pharmacy Scholarship
    Each year, this mega-store and pharmacy hosts hundreds of pharmacy students in their internship program, along with many scholarships. You can even apply directly online if you are attending an accredited pharmacy school and have a valid intern license if your state requires it.
  4. FastWeb
    A good stop for any scholarship search, they have access to information on over three billion dollar’s worth of scholarships for both undergraduate and graduate students. You can also get information on loans, internships, deadlines, and much more.

And those are just some of the scholarships available to pharmacy students. No matter if you are in your first or last year of studies, there is financial assistance available. Remember that while scholarships and grants do not have to be paid back under most circumstances, such as maintaining a decent grade point average, student loans do. The benefit of loans is that they are money upfront that does not have to paid back until after graduation. After that, they usually have low interest rates and a loan officer will work with you on a reasonable payment plan.

A good option whether doing undergraduate or graduate studies for pharmacy or any other degree is to apply to many schools. If you get accepted into more than one, ask an admission or financial aid representative how much out of pocket your education will cost. They are required to tell you if you have turned everything in by deadlines and you may be surprised as to how much you can save.