Many people have come in contact with a retail pharmacist – the man or woman in the white coat behind the desk at the drug store, who helps with medication distribution or answering questions about over-the-counter medicine. A clinical pharmacist plays a slightly different role, by working in a healthcare setting and interacting directly with physicians and other health professionals to coordinate medications for patients.
What is a Clinical Pharmacist?
A clinical pharmacist has many duties in the care and coordination of a patient’s health. They collaborate with care professionals, make decisions about medications and interact directly with patients.
Among the duties of a clinical pharmacist, the American College of Clinical Pharmacy lists the following:
The clinical pharmacist has higher level of decision-making functions than that of a retail pharmacist. They are directly involved in choosing and dosing of medication, and evaluating their effectiveness for patients. While a retail pharmacist received information already spelled-out by a physician, the clinical pharmacist may be called upon for consultations, to look over patient charts, or even do patient evaluations, in order to recommend a course of action.
The clinical pharmacist influences patient care at three levels. Before dispensing prescriptions, they may be involved in clinical trials, making drug-related policies, and determining prescription guidelines. After dispensing a prescription, they might evaluate and prepare outcomes, communicate and counsel patients, and train patients about the risks and benefits of particular drug therapies.
Educational Requirements for Becoming a Clinical Pharmacist
The minimum educational requirement for becoming a clinical pharmacist is a Doctor of Pharmacy degree, followed by experience in the hospital setting.
Step-by-Step Educational Path to Becoming a Clinical Pharmacist
Becoming a clinical pharmacist starts at the undergraduate level. Some pharmacy schools do not require that incoming students have a particular degree, or even have completed a bachelor’s degree. But rather, that students have the foundational knowledge they need in the sciences in order to enter further studies. For most, completing a couple of years of undergraduate science courses, and then taking and scoring well on the Pharmacy College Admissions Test, is enough to meet the minimum requirements to become a clinical pharmacist.
Basic pharmacy school prerequisites, include the following courses: Biochemistry, general biology with lab, general chemistry with lab, microbiology, organic chemistry with lab, human anatomy, or anatomy and physiology, calculus, physics, economics, English composition, public speaking, humanities, social science, among others.
As every pharmacy school has their own set of requirements for application and admission, it is important for the undergraduate student to do their research. These requirements may include: Minimum GPA, test scores, and any other necessary items or experience. One of the best places to get the list of programs and requirements is from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.
The Pharmacy College Admission Test is required for students who wish to apply to a pharmacy school. It is a test designed by pharmacists, and reviewed by pharmacy instructors that ensures that the incoming student has the necessary scientific knowledge and skills required to succeed in pharmacy school. The student should be well-prepared, as it is a very important part of the application and acceptance process.
Pharmacy programs at the doctorate level generally take four years, with an option to study at some three year programs. Having a basic knowledge of the sciences is vital to starting pharmacy school, and students should be prepared to dive deep into the science behind the medicines they will be involved in studying, prescribing, and monitoring.
In addition to learning pharmacy practices, students will learn medical ethics and have an opportunity to begin gaining experience in a hospital or retail setting. For aspiring clinical pharmacists, the hospital setting is where they will learn how the healthcare system works, begin to interact with doctors and nurses and other caregivers, and begin supervised patient interaction. During this time, it is important for the student to connect with those who may open the door for any post-doctoral training they will receive through a residency or hospital experience, which is required for becoming a clinical pharmacist.
Clinical pharmacists must gain experience in the hospital setting and with direct patient care after they finish pharmacy school. Many do this through a residency program. Residency programs for clinical pharmacy are generally one-year, followed by at least two years of experience, in order to be classified as a clinical pharmacist.
During this time, the clinical pharmacist establishes trust with doctors and starts to be seen as a vital part of the patient-care team. This relationship allows the clinical pharmacist to experience direct patient interaction in order to provide the highest level of care.
All pharmacists are required to take the North American Pharmacists Licensure Examination – also called the NAPLEX. This test is what determines if the candidate has met the requirements of knowledge and skills to be considered a licensed clinical pharmacist.
In addition to the NAPLEX, each state has their own requirements for licensure, with some requiring the Multi-state Jurisprudence Exam, which further ensures the pharmacist is capable of practicing with the utmost knowledge and care for his or her patients. It is very important that pharmacists know the requirements of their state and adhere to all of the regulations, in order to maintain their licensure and their practice.
Continuing Education Requirements
Most states have continuing education requirements for practicing pharmacists. These continuing education requirements are designed to ensure that pharmacists have the most up-to-date information possible, and are aware of any changes that affect administering medications. Registering with a professional organization can help the pharmacist stay up-to-date with changes, and the requirements they must adhere to, in order to keep their license.
There are several certifications for pharmacists that indicate specialized knowledge. The Board of Pharmacy Specialties lists the following:
Obtaining any of these certifications may help determine job prospects and salary for a pharmacist, as they indicate specialized knowledge and abilities.
Understanding the Career Path
Clinical pharmacists care for patients in all healthcare settings. According to the American College of Clinical Pharmacy they work to, “Optimize medication therapy and promote health, wellness, and disease prevention.”1 By working alongside and coordinating care with doctors and other patient service providers, monitoring and evaluating patient response to prescribed drug therapies, administering drugs when necessary, and providing feedback from evaluations in order to get patients the best care possible, a clinical pharmacist will be well-prepared to meet the needs of his or her patients.
The median salary for a clinical pharmacist is $110,900 annually. Over 50 percent of clinical pharmacists make more than this amount, with the top 25 percent making over $118,531 a year, and the top 10 percent making over $125,479 a year. One of the top determining factors for salary, is number of years of experience. Another top consideration is specialized training or experience, which places the clinical pharmacist in a specific niche of care. For example, post-transplant pharmacy or oncology pharmacy may pay higher, because of the specialized training and knowledge that is required to succeed at these positions.