How to Become a Pharmacist
Becoming a pharmacist can be a long road. You can fast-track it, and get done in as little as 6 years, but if you go the long way, it can take you 13 years. Whatever route you choose, you must take courses heavy in laboratory sciences and math.
1. Earn a Bachelor's Degree or Pre-Professional Degree (4 Years)
You must major in a field similar to that of pre-med or biology. Some schools offer a Pre-Pharmacy Program that will ready you for the Pharm.D program.
You will be inundated with courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and other sciences to give you all the pre-requisites you need for the Pharm.D program. You can go one of two ways to get into a Pharm.D program:
A. You can go the two-year non-degree, laboratory science prep route which allows you to fill your Pharm.D pre-reqs within a short time period. The program is heavily scheduled with lab sciences and lab prep courses with some general education classes thrown in. The non-degree route also facilitates Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) prep, so you can take the test and move into the Pharm.D program.
B. A bachelor’s degree in a laboratory science. You must major in a field similar to that of pre-med or biology. Some schools offer a Pre-Pharmacy Program that will ready you for the Pharm.D program. You will be inundated with courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and other sciences to give you all the pre-requisites you need for the Pharm.D program. If you go this route, you have more flexibility upon graduation if you want to explore other career options. This path also allows you more time to study for the PCAT.
Pharm.D pre-requisites include the following:
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The Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education recognized 129 colleges and Schools of Pharmacy in 2013. Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degrees are granted by these pharmacy programs.
Typically, a six-year schedule of post-secondary study is required for graduation. This is followed by successful completion of a state board of pharmacy licensure examination in order to practice as a pharmacist.
2. Take the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT)
You must take the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT) to get into Pharmacy School. The PCAT tests your academic ability and knowledge. The test consists of 232 multiple-choice questions and one writing topic.
You have about 4 hours to complete the test, including break and instructional time. The test is broken down into the following:
3. Earn a Doctor of Pharmacy Degree (4 Years)
The Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education recognized 129 colleges and Schools of Pharmacy in 2013. Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degrees are granted by these pharmacy programs. Typically, a six-year schedule of post-secondary study is required for graduation.
This is followed by successful completion of a state board of pharmacy licensure examination in order to practice as a pharmacist. The Pharm.D. program is a four-year program of coursework that requires at least two years of college study before being admitted.
Most students enter pharmacy programs after three or more years of college. The Bachelor of Pharmacy (B.Pharm.) degree was replaced by the Pharm.D. degree. A searchable database of pharmacy programs is available through the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. The Pharmacy College Application Service (PharmCAS) also makes it easy to make multiple applications to pharmacy programs with a single application.
The first year of Pharmacy School focuses on the following:
- Reading and using dosage forms
- Pharmacy law and ethics
- Patient counseling
- Working with physicians
- Pharmacy calculations
- Pathophysiology and drug action
Second and third year courses focus on advancing the principles you learned in your first year. It also introduces you to:
- Institutional pharmacy (IPPE)
- Health management
During this time, you also get your first taste of clinical rotations. These years should be spent deciding on a specialty of study and honing in on your strengths. You should also begin thinking about where you want to work and next steps.
During your last year, you will focus on practical experience where you perform clinical rotations and interact with patients, recommend medications, and learn how to fall into an administrative role in your community. You typically complete seven to ten rotations, that can each last up to 6 weeks.
4. Earn the Required License
After all the schooling, you still need to get your license to be able to practice. The main test you need to take is the North American Pharmacist Licensing Exam (NAPLEX). The NAPLEX consists of 185 questions that tests your knowledge of pharmacy practices.
The NAPLEX tests these key things:
- Identify standards of effective and safe pharmacotherapy
- Optimize medicinal and therapeutic outcomes for patients
- Prepare and distribute medications safely and accurately
- Educate patients on optimal health care
After you pass the NAPLEX, you are a licensed pharmacist and can practice, but in most states, you need to pass the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination (MPJE), also. It's a two-hour test with 90 questions to gauge your knowledge of Pharmacy Law.
5. Consider Earning a Master's or Doctoral Degree
If you want to do lab research or teaching, you can continue your education and complete a Master of Science or Ph.D. program.
This will enable you to build careers teaching or involved in policy making or researching for drug companies or for academic studies.
6. Consider a Residency or Fellowship Program
If you want to specialize in a certain field of pharmacy or what to advance your training, you can complete a one or two year residency or fellowship program.
Residencies are available in post-grad training programs and they are designed to prepare you for lab research. They are good to do if you choose the Masters or Ph.D. path and want to work in research or academics.