What Does a Career in Pharmacy Entail?
Are you interested in pursuing a career in pharmacy? If you feel that you are well-suited for dispensing prescription medication and offering general health advice to patients, this field may be a good choice. Pharmacy professionals can work in many different capacities. Some are employed by community practices, medical hospitals, or veterinarian hospitals, while others find employment in the government, higher education, or pharmaceutical research and development.
A degree in pharmacy can prepare you for a wide variety of employment opportunities, but some of the most common jobs include:Read More
- Community Pharmacist
- Hospital Pharmacist
- Medical Research Scientist
- Clinical Research Associate
- Higher Education Lecturer
- Medical Sales Representative
- Pharmacy Technician
- Product/Process Development Scientist
- Life Sciences Research Scientist
- Science Writer
Healthcare Degree & Career Paths
Components of a Successful Career in Pharmacy
A pharmacy career is not an ideal match for everyone. Professionals in this field require a number of important skills in order to be successful. Whether you plan to become a pharmacist or pharmacist technician, possessing the following qualities will help you thrive in this work setting:
- Analytical thinking skills and a mind for evaluating patient needs and the prescriber’s orders
- Proficiency with both written and verbal communication, especially when providing advice to patients
- Aptitude with computers in order to manage electronic health record systems
- Attention to detail when filling and checking prescription accuracy
- Ability to work well with others, either as a manager or a peer
How to Earn a Pharmacy Degree
Keep the following steps in mind as you begin pursuing a pharmacy career:
Determine the level of education you need to reach your career goals
Research institutions that offer good degree programs
Create, request, and organize the necessary application materials
Submit applications to your preferred programs
Enroll and sign up for courses that align with your interests
Graduate from your college or university
Apply for further education or professional employment
Difference between a Pharmacist and Pharmacy Technician
Two of the most common pharmacy-related jobs are pharmacist and pharmacy technician. These two positions are often confused, as professionals within them work closely with one another. It is important, however, to understand the differences before researching degree options.
Pharmacists are responsible for dispensing prescription medications to patients. They also offer general medical advice and guidance in relation to the medicines they provide. These professionals can work in many different settings, but many manage or own their own retail pharmacy. Others work in hospitals or clinics. Pharmacists may also be trained to research, develop, market, and sell new drugs.
Pharmacy technicians work under the direct supervision of a pharmacist. They help to dispense prescription medications to patients, but do not have the same authority. Their work must be checked and they cannot provide medical advice. Primarily, pharmacy technicians measure medication amounts, package prescriptions, organize inventory, accept payment, take customer information, and answer phone calls.
Typical Pharmacy Degree Requirements
The level of education you need will be dependent upon the type of pharmacy position you hope to attain. Programs are available at every academic level, from an associate degree to a doctorate. While pharmacy technicians can generally find work straight out of high school, pharmacists require significantly more education.
Typical Pharmacy Certifications Needed
In most states, both pharmacists and pharmacy technicians must be licensed. The requirements differ quite significantly for each:
Every state requires that pharmacists are licensed before they can practice, but the specifics vary. After earning a pharmacy doctorate degree, prospective pharmacists must apply for licensure through their state, pass two examinations, and complete a pre-established number of internship hours. Additionally, pharmacists may choose to complete the following certifications:
- Pharmacy-Based Immunization Delivery via the American Pharmacists Association (APhA)
- Certified Diabetes Educator via the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE)
- Various Specialty Certifications via the Board of Pharmacy Specialists (BPS)
Most states also require that pharmacy technicians become licensed, but the specifics vary. Requirements typically include the following:
- High School Diploma or GED
- Formal Education
- Continuing Education
- Criminal Background Check
Even if the state does not regulate pharmacy technician certifications, becoming certified through the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) or the National Healthcareer Association (NHA) is often preferred by employers.
Academic Standards for Pharmacy Degrees
Most colleges and universities have similar academic standards for their students. These vary, but generally include both a minimum grade point average (GPA) requirement and a code of conduct.
GPAs are measured on a 4.0 scale. While institutions do not expect every student to maintain perfect grades, they do have certain academic expectations. If your GPA drops below a designated point, you may be placed on academic probation. Failure to increase your GPA while on probation can result in suspension.
Higher education institutions also expect students to behave appropriately in and out of the classroom. Cheating and plagiarism, for example, are not acceptable. You will need to review the college or university’s student handbook for specific rules and regulations.
Exam / Experience Needed for Pharmacy Degrees
Whether or not you plan to pursue a pharmacy doctorate will dictate your examination and experience requirements. If you do not intend to become a pharmacist but do plan to earn an undergraduate degree, you will be expected to complete a college admission test. Most institutions accept scores from both the ACT and SAT. Additionally, those who plan to enroll in a graduate program will likely need to take the GRE or GMAT. Additionally, employers will be impressed by time spent working or shadowing in a hospital pharmacy, volunteering in a healthcare setting, and working directly with customers in retail.
Requirements for pharmacists vary per state. Generally, the minimum requirements for licensure include a pharmacy doctorate and a certain number of clinical hours earned during a one to two year residency. You will also have to pass a competency examination, as well as a jurisprudence law examination. The North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) and Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE) are standard in most states. You will need to research your state’s regulations regarding licensure for more specific experience and exam requirements.
Most states also have licensure regulations for pharmacy technicians. Generally, the minimum requirements for licensure include an examination. You will need to research your state’s expectations regarding licensure for specific information regarding examination requirements.
Important Questions to Ask
How long does it take to earn a pharmacy bachelor’s degree online?
If you plan to earn your pharmacy bachelor’s degree online, you can expect to graduate in approximately four years. While this is standard, it is worth noting that many distance learning students do not enroll in their program full-time. These programs are ideal for individuals who are already employed or have personal responsibilities that require their time. For this reason, it is not uncommon for part-time students to take five to eight years to graduate.
How much does a pharmacy bachelor’s degree cost?
Every college and university is different, but the College Board’s Trends in Higher Education Series reported that the average in-state tuition for attending a four-year public institution during the 2017-18 academic year was $9,970. Private schools were more expensive, however, with an average tuition of $35,260. You may also be responsible for a higher rate if you plan to attend a school in another state. Colleges and universities charge out-of-state students more.
Does the school have the major(s) you are considering?
It is important to realize that pharmacy degrees are not offered at every college and university. Some institutions do not have the facilities or faculty required to maintain a successful program. Make sure you carefully review the listings of majors available at institutions to ensure the degree you want is offered. You should also consider reaching out to the department directly with any questions.
How many students graduate “on time,” or within four years?
Traditional, on-campus degrees typically take four years to complete. Some colleges and universities have a reputation, however, for requiring classes that are particularly difficult to pass or demand additional work that can cause graduation to be delayed. Make sure to verify the graduation rate and timeframe before enrolling, as well as the program’s employment statistics.
What kind of accreditation does the program hold? How it is regarded in the field?
When looking for a college or university that offers a pharmacy degree option, it is imperative that you pay close attention to the institution’s accreditation status. Accrediting agencies affirm that a program meets established qualifications and education standards. Attending a school that is not properly accredited may leave you unable to transfer credits, enroll in further education, or find employment.
The primary accrediting agency for pharmacy degrees is the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE). ACPE is recognized by both the United States Department of Education and the Council of Higher Education Accreditation. The American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) also accredits pharmacy technician training programs.
Regional accreditation agencies like the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) and the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) may be acceptable if you do not intend to pursue an advanced pharmacy career.
Before you can determine which degree(s) you need, you must decide what kind of career you are most interested in. Many pharmacy technicians, for example, never receive an advanced degree of any kind. Pharmacists, on the other hand, must undergo extensive training; these professionals usually complete two years of an undergraduate degree before applying to pharmacy school to earn their doctorate (a four year time commitment). They must also pass a series of examinations for licensure and may need to complete a residency.
It is also important to consider the cost of your education. The following average tuition rates may help you determine the best course of action:
|Degree Type||Public (In-State)||Private|
If you are interested in becoming a pharmacy technician, an associate degree may be beneficial. While many of these professionals find work straight out of high school and gain experience on the job, an associate’s degree can make you stand out among other candidates. These programs provide an introduction to the field. They usually consist of 60 credit hours of coursework and take most full-time students two years to complete. Graduates are generally qualified for positions as pharmacy technicians, pharmacy billing specialists, and pharmacy records managers.
- Medical Terminology
- Human Relations
- Medical Laws
- Pharmacology Mathematics
- Pharmacy Inventory Management
If you are interested in becoming a pharmacist, you will need to enroll in an undergraduate degree program. These are commonly referred to as a bachelor’s of pharmaceutical sciences. This degree usually consists of 120 credit hours of coursework and takes full-time students four years to complete. It can take part-time students up to eight years to complete, however. Graduates can either continue their education or find employment in entry-level research positions. A bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences can usually find work in drug analysis, drug manufacturing, medicine marketing, and pharmaceutical sales fields.
- Drug Development
- Manufacturing Processes
If you are interested in academic or more advanced pharmaceutical research positions, you should consider earning a master’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences or pharmacology. These programs usually consist of 30 to 60 credit hours of coursework and take full-time students about two years to complete. Those enrolling part-time, on the other hand, may need longer to complete the course requirements. A master degree in this field generally qualifies professionals for employment as a drug evaluation expert, assistant professor, or research assistant.
- Drug Design
- Ethics in Biology
Earning Potential for Pharmacy Degree Fields and Occupations
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), the median annual wage for pharmacists in 2017 was $124,170. This is significantly above the median annual wage of $37,690 for all other occupations in the nation. It is important to note, however, that pharmacists do require extensive education and training. In addition to an undergraduate and graduate degree, they must also earn a doctorate in pharmacy from an accredited program. Pharmacists must also be licensed, a process that requires them to pass both certification and law examinations. One to two-year residencies are sometimes required for professionals seeking advanced positions within the field.
Pharmacy technicians do not earn as much as pharmacists, but they can generally find employment straight out of high school. While a postsecondary education is helpful, it is not usually necessary. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for pharmacy technicians in 2017 was $31,750. This is below the median annual wage of $37,690 for all other occupations in the nation. It is worth noting, however, that the employment rate for pharmacy technicians is expected to increase by 12% from 2016 to 2026, whereas the projected growth for pharmacists is only 6%.
Clearly, the level of education you obtain directly impacts the salary you can expect to earn. The pharmacy jobs that require more training will offer higher salary potential.
Pharmacy Salaries by Field of Study
Not everyone who earns a degree in pharmacy intends to become a pharmacist or pharmacy technician. There are many other fields that you may want to consider. Some other options include:
- Medical Research-Professionals working in medical research positions generally conduct research that aims to improve the overall health of others. They frequently utilize clinical trials to test theories, medications, and technology. Common duties include designing studies, preparing medical samples, collecting data, standardizing drug potency, creating test devices, developing programs to improve health outcomes, and writing research grant proposals.
- Education-Professionals working in education positions generally instruct students in the pharmacy field. They may also conduct their own research on related topics and publish their findings. Common duties include teaching courses, working directly with students to improve performance, developing instructional plans, working with colleagues to enhance the curriculum, assessing student progress, and advising students.
- Government and Law-Professionals working in government and law positions generally ensure that individuals and corporations are complying with established rules and regulations. They often perform compliance and enforcement inspections. Common duties include examining conformity with laws and regulations, checking for licenses and permits, analyzing activities, and reporting infractions.
|Field of Study||Associate’s Salary||Bachelor’s Salary||Master’s Salary|
|Health and Personal Care||$123,670||$124,170||$128,610|
|Government and Law||$50,290||$67,870||$107,010|
Pharmacy Salaries by Occupation
A degree in pharmacy opens many doors. After graduation, you will have the choice to continue your education or pursue employment. Fortunately, there are numerous occupations within the field. Some may require a higher degree, while you may already be qualified for others. Your current education level will significantly impact which jobs you qualify for.
As you research your options, it is important to keep in mind that specific job titles can vary drastically from employer to employer. Some of the most common positions include:
- Pharmacist-Pharmacists are responsible for dispensing prescription medications to patients. These professionals may also offer expertise in prescription safety, conduct health screenings, and provide immunizations. Other responsibilities often include ensuring multiple prescriptions do not interact negatively, advising patients about general health practices, completing insurance forms, overseeing pharmacy technicians, keeping appropriate records, and teaching others about proper medication therapies.
- Pharmacy Technician-Pharmacy technicians are responsible for helping pharmacists dispense prescription medications to patients and/or healthcare professionals. These professionals primarily work in retail settings at pharmacies and hospitals. Other responsibilities often include collecting customer information, measuring medication amounts, packaging prescriptions, organizing inventory, alerting pharmacists to shortages, accepting payment, and answering phones.
- Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representative-Wholesale and manufacturing sales representatives are responsible for selling goods to businesses, government agencies, and other organizations. Those with pharmacy degrees typically focus on the sale of medications. Other responsibilities often include identifying prospective customers, contacting new and existing customers to discuss their needs, helping customers select products, emphasizing product features, negotiating prices, and answering customer questions.
|Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians||$45,520||$51,770||$54,670|
|Wholesale and Manufacturing Sales Representatives||$50,400||$56,970||$63,970|
As you look for a pharmacy degree program that suits your career goals and budget, you should also spend time researching potential scholarships. There are several kinds of financial aid available, but scholarships are one of the best. Unlike loans, this money does not require repayment.
Whether you are pursuing an associate, undergraduate, or graduate degree, finding pharmacy scholarships should be relatively easy. Keep in mind, however, that a single award will rarely cover all of your school expenses. It is a good idea to plan to apply for multiple forms of financial aid to help minimize the amount you owe.
Many professional pharmacy organizations offer scholarships to their student members. The National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA) Foundation, for example, provides the following awards:
- Presidential Scholarships
- J. C. and Rheba Cobb Memorial Scholarship for Excellence in Government Affairs
- Willard B. Simmons Memorial Scholarship for Pharmacy Management
- Partners in Pharmacy
- Neil Pruitt Sr. Memorial Scholarship in Entrepreneurism
Other potential scholarship opportunities include:
APhA Foundation Student Scholarship
The APhA Foundation Student Scholarship is funded by the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) Foundation. Each year, the APhA Foundation Student Scholarship Program provides financial aid awards to APhA student members. Recipients must have completed at least one academic year of pharmacy courses, have a GPA of at least a 2.75, and be a United States or Puerto Rico resident.
ASHP Student Leadership Award
The ASHP Student Leadership Award is funded by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP). Each year, the ASHP Research and Education Foundation awards $2,000 in aid to a maximum of 12 ASHP student members. Recipients must be a full-time pharmacy student and maintain at least a 2.75 GPA.
TYLENOL Future Care Scholarship
The TYLENOL Future Care Scholarship is funded by TYLENOL and has been available to students interested in public health, nursing, and pharmacy for over 25 years. Each year, the program awards $10,000 in aid to 10 students and $5,000 in aid to 30 students. Scholarships are intended to pay for tuition, fees, books, supplies, and course equipment. Recipients must maintain an acceptable GPA, be active in the community, and provide an essay.
Professional Pharmacy Organizations
As a pharmacy student or professional, you will have access to many different organizations, associations, and societies. While some are all-encompassing, others cater to specific sub-fields or specialties. In all cases, these groups offer members a number of benefits, including access to resources, education, training, and idea-sharing. They also value networking and will host seminars and conventions throughout the year. Many provide certification opportunities, as well as discounts for events, services, and products. Some of the most prominent pharmacy organizations, associations, and societies include:
- Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy (AMCP)
- American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS)
- American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP)
- American College of Clinical Pharmacy (ACCP_
- American Heart Association (AHA)
- American Pharmacists Association (APhA)
- American Society of Consultant Pharmacists (ASCP)
- American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP)
- Board of Pharmacy Specialists (BPS)
- College of Psychiatric and Neurologic Pharmacists (CPNP)
- Hematology / Oncology Pharmacy Association (HOPA)
- National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS)
- National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA)
- Pediatric Pharmacy Advocacy Group (PPAG)
- Society of Critical Care Medicine (SCCM)
- Society of Infectious Diseases Pharmacists (SIDP)
American College of Clinical Pharmacy
The American College of Clinical Pharmacy (ACCP) represents clinical pharmacy practitioners, scientists, educators, administrators, students, residents, and fellows from over 60 countries. It offers leadership, education, advocacy, and resources that allow professionals in the field to achieve excellence. ACCP members have access to networking opportunities, national meetings, board certification preparation, and professional development.
American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists
The American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS) represents a community of scientists dedicated to the discovery, development, and manufacture of pharmaceutical products. IAHSS offers regular, graduate/undergraduate student, post-doctoral, and retired memberships. Members have access to reduced registration fees for the AAPS Annual Meeting and Exposition, complimentary access to scientific journals, upcoming and archived webinars, up-to-date information, networking opportunities, mentoring, and the awards, fellows, and travelships program.
Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy
The Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy (AMCP) is intended for professionals involved in the practice of managed care pharmacy. AMCP strives to advance professional knowledge, improve the delivery of pharmacy benefits, and increase patient satisfaction. Members are provided with access to live national conferences, online learning programs, research in peer-reviewed literature, advocacy, and networking opportunities.
Whether you are in high school or already working professionally, it is never too early or late to begin preparing for a career in pharmacy. If you are interested in this field, start making changes now.
As a student, take time to meet with your school guidance counselor one-on-one about your career goals. These professionals are well-connected and will be familiar with the various academic and extracurricular opportunities available. At the very least, they can help you tailor your class schedule so that you will be better prepared when you enter college.
As a professional, discuss your interests with your current employer. This is particularly important for individuals working in similar fields. The company you work for may even provide financial assistance to help you earn your degree. You should also look for relevant seminars and training opportunities. If you plan to enroll in an undergraduate program, consider taking a few pharmacy courses as your local community college. As long as the school is accredited, you should have no trouble transferring the credits you earn to a four-year institution later.
Regardless of your personal situation, keep the following tips in mind as you begin looking for a pharmacy degree program.
Choose an Accredited College
You will have immense difficulty finding employment in the pharmaceutical field if you attend a college or university that is not accredited by either an international or regional agency. Make sure you take the time now to determine the accreditation status of your prospective institutions.
Never assume that a school is accredited. The information should be easily found on official college and university websites. If, however, you have difficulty locating it, contact the admissions department and/or your program of interest directly. If they cannot answer your questions about accreditation, request that they transfer you to someone who can.
On-Campus vs. Online vs. Hybrid Degree Programs
Most professionals with pharmacy degrees opt to attend a traditional, four-year program on campus. This is not, however, a functional option for everyone. If you work full-time already or have obligations at home, you may be unable to make that kind of commitment. Fortunately, there are alternative options available.
Online pharmacy programs can offer you the flexibility you need to maintain current employment and/or take care of personal responsibilities. Many colleges and universities offer both on-campus and distance learning programs that are accredited. Even online degrees in pharmacy will require some time spent at the institution, however.
Whereas most other degrees can be obtained through a strictly on-campus or online program, pharmacy degrees require a significant amount of lab work. As a result, most institutions allow students to complete a significant portion of coursework through distance learning, but require them to report on campus for short periods of time each semester. These residencies allow for face-to-face instruction, peer interaction, and hands-on experience in the field. This is commonly referred to as a hybrid program, which works to bridge the gap between the two extremes.
Post-Graduate Job Placement Assistance
The primary reason people choose to seek a degree is to become qualified for employment. Finding work after graduation, however, can be challenging. Fortunately, many colleges and universities understand this and make an effort to help graduates find jobs after completing their degrees.
While not all institutions offer post-graduate job placement assistance, finding one that does can greatly increase your chance of employment. Of course, no school can guarantee that you will receive an offer immediately after graduating; they can, however, provide you with the skills and tools necessary to enter the workforce with confidence.
It is well worth taking the time to check with potential colleges and universities to see what assistance, if any, is offered to students and graduates. Many will, at minimum, provide help with interview preparation and resume development. Some go as far as to make career coaching services available for free. Others may also organize and host job fairs.
Accreditation Can Affect Your Salary
The accreditation status of an institution is a very important element that you must consider when selecting a pharmacy program. No matter what your career goals are, attending the wrong college or university could cost you a lot of time, money, and frustration. You may face problems transferring credits or enrolling in further education.
Not only could you spend thousands of dollars on a degree that does not qualify you for further education or employment, but some employers will choose to pay you less for the work you do. Because unaccredited colleges and universities do not adhere to field guidelines and standards, it is difficult for employers to assess whether or not you have the knowledge and skills necessary to perform job tasks appropriately. While they may still hire you, it is not uncommon for them to offer you a lower salary than they do your peers who attended an accredited institution. In some cases, companies will refuse to employ graduates of unaccredited programs.