A pharmacist plays a vital role in the health and wellness of patients. As experts in the field of the ingestion, effects and interactions of life-sustaining medications; pharmacists are highly trained to fill prescriptions as well as provide information to patients regarding the use of the medications physicians and other health care professionals have prescribed to them. In the past, students earned a Bachelor of Pharmacy (BPharm) degree, which is no longer an option in the United States. Today, individuals enter a Pharm.D. program to become a pharmacist after completing at least two years of undergraduate coursework in a pre-professional capacity; followed by four academic years of professional study. Individuals engaged in the research of pharmacy programs will discover a variety of schools offering Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Ph.D. tracks in Pharmaceutical Sciences. However, to become a pharmacist, a doctoral or professional degree is required.
Earning Your Associate Degree
The most basic educational opportunity for an individual with an interest in a pharmacy career is to earn a certificate or associate of science (AS) degree at a vocational school or community college. Completing this type of program qualifies a graduate to become a pharmacy technician. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that employers may hire an individual with a high school diploma as a pharmacy technician as long as on-the-job training provides adequate groundwork for the field. However, earning a certificate or degree increases job and salary prospects, as well as qualifies a job applicant to work in a state that requires pharmacy techs to have received formal education and training. Employers tend to choose employees with the most education.
The typical program for pharmacy technicians provides at least 15 weeks or longer of classroom instruction and training. In addition to completing coursework centered on pharmacy mathematics; dispensing medication; sterile products; recordkeeping and pharmacy-related computer systems; students must also achieve a minimum of 600 hours contact time to complete a program. In order to apply to a program, applicants must possess a high school diploma (or its equivalent), and meet the entrance requirements as set by individual schools. According to the BLS, there were 213 fully accredited programs for pharmacy technicians in 2012, including a few offered through retail drugstore chains.
Upon completion of training, a pharmacy technician may take the certification exam administered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCE) or the Institute for the Certification of Pharmacy Technicians (ExCPT). After passing the exam, a graduate becomes a Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT), and now increases his or her chances of being chosen for open job positions and earning a higher income. The job prospects are good for pharmacy technicians, especially those with formal training, certification, as well as retail experience.
Pharmacy technicians are expected to fulfill continuing education (CE) requirements in order to maintain their certification credentials in the United States. Every two years, a tech must complete 20 CE hours with one hour centering on Pharmacy Law. Various states may expect their pharmacy technicians to satisfy additional requirements.
A pharmacy technician with aspirations to become a pharmacist may transfer associate degree credits to a bachelor’s degree program, and complete at least two years of undergraduate coursework, which is one of the requirements for earning a PharmD degree.
The majority of students that enter a pharmacy program have three or more years of undergraduate college study under their belt. However, it is only a requirement to have completed at least two years of pre-pharmacy coursework before applying to a pharmacy school. Not all undergraduate schools will offer a pre-pharmacy program; therefore, it’s commonplace to see students taking anatomy, biology, microbiology, physiology, mathematics (statistics and calculus), chemistry (general and organic), and physics as prerequisites.
One of the methods that the admission committee of a pharmacy school uses to measure the attractiveness of an applicant is assessing their PCAT (Pharmacy College Admission Test) scores. Measuring a student’s knowledge of the sciences and academic ability, the exam is offered on one or more dates in the months of January, July, September, October, and November. Some pharmacy schools require applicants to take the test, while others do not.
It is not a requirement for pharmacists to complete a master’s degree program in order to enter a Pharm.D. program. However, pharmacists with aspirations to run their own pharmacy may opt to obtain a master’s degree in business administration (MBA). Other master’s degrees that benefit a pharmacist include programs related to public health and/or public administration.
Pharmacists are required to earn a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree from an accredited program before they are able to work in the United States. It generally takes a student four years to complete their doctorate studies. However, there are a handful of schools that offer accelerated Pharm.D. programs that allow a student to earn his or her degree in three years instead of four.
Some schools also provide curriculum options which prepare a student to enter a specific career field upon graduation. Pathways may include the following educational tracks: Pharmaceutical Care; Health Services & Policy Research; and Pharmaceutical Sciences. Students typically learn scientific and clinical foundations; practice-based learning; population-based care; how to sharpen their interpersonal skills; and how to conduct themselves as a professional.
The first and second years of a Pharm.D. degree program centers on classroom instruction that builds a students’ knowledge of biological, physical, and chemical sciences as they relate to pharmaceutical sciences. The curriculum for a typical pharmacy program often touches upon medical law and ethics, pharmacology, biostatistics, therapeutics, genetics, drug metabolism, biochemistry, and applied drug information.
During the third year of a program, students generally start to gain hands-on clinical experience (known as ‘rotations‘) under the guidance of licensed professionals. These supervised sessions take place in hospitals, local pharmacies, outpatient care clinics, and other health care settings. The fourth year of study is spent applying classroom training to real-life patient care situations that span acute-, ambulatory-, long-term care-, and community settings.
Rotations prepare students to work in a range of clinical and pharmaceutical settings, and may include seven to 10 rotations which vary in length (typically lasting 4-6 weeks each).
Upon completion of a Pharm.D. degree program, graduates must obtain a license before they can accept a position as a pharmacist.
Before a graduate can accept a position or establish their own pharmacy, they must gain licensure by passing exams, such as the NAPLEX (North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination), which tests the knowledge and skills of a pharmacist. The majority of states also require a graduate to pass the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination, which centers on legalities related to the field of pharmacy. In addition to the above-mentioned exams, several states require graduates to pass state-specific exams in order to become licensed.
Pharmacists with an interest in concentrating on the laboratory and research aspect of the field may pursue additional or advanced training after completing a PharmD degree. Many colleges of pharmacy accommodate students with an MS or PhD program that qualifies a graduate to conduct research for drug companies, or teach on the university level.
One- or two-year pharmacy residency programs provide postgraduate training that typically centers on completing research. Pharmacists who pursue a two-year residency generally receive training in a specialty area, such as geriatric care. According to the 2012-2013 American Medical Association’s Health Care Careers Directory, there are more than 700 residency programs in the U.S. available to pharmacists.
On the other hand, professionals looking to work in a specialized area of pharmacy may choose to complete a fellowship, which provides a highly individualized curriculum. Those with an interest in working in a research laboratory, or who wish to go into clinical practice often pursue a fellowship.
In conclusion, pharmacists are health care professionals belonging to a career field with high-paying positions; job security; employment opportunities found in a variety of settings; and an increasing availability of open positions across the United States. Equipped with an in-depth knowledge of various drugs, pharmacists not only educate patients on how to take their medications, but can also conduct research, teach, consult, and use their training and education to develop their own entrepreneurial pursuits.