How to Become a Pharmacist

Education, Licensing, and Beyond

Pharmacist giving medication to a patient - tretinoin vs isotretinoin

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Are you thinking about becoming a pharmacist? Pharmacists dispense medications prescribed by healthcare professionals and explain how to use them correctly. They answer questions about prescriptions and over-the-counter products, help patients manage illnesses, and keep track of what drugs individuals are taking. Pharmacists also advise doctors and other health practitioners about drug selection, dosages, and interactions. 

Here's what you have to do to become a pharmacist.

Image shows a woman in a pharmacist's jacket holding a pill bottle by a wall of shelves, there is also a degree on the wall behind her. Text reads: "How to apply to a doctor of pharmacy degree program: meet minimum GPA or SAT/ACT score requirements; students who apply directly to four-year professional programs typically have to take the PCAT, a pharmacy school entrance exam; most programs require applicants to use PharmCAS, an online system that allows applicants to complete a single application for multiple schools"

Marina Li © The Balance 2020

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Degree Requisites

After you earn your high school diploma, it will take six to eight more years of schooling to become a pharmacist. That doesn't include getting licensed, the final step in completing the educational requirements for this occupation.

To become a pharmacist, you'll need to earn a Doctor of Pharmacy degree (PharmD) from a school or college of pharmacy accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education.

PharmD programs typically take four years to complete, but some offer accelerated two- or three-year options. Some pharmacy schools accept students directly from high school, and then they complete all your requirements over six or seven years.

Other programs require you to complete two years of pre-professional college study before admission to the PharmD program. Many schools prefer students to have a bachelor's degree before applying to their PharmD programs.

Some schools also offer early assurance programs in which a student starts directly out of high school. They're guaranteed admission into a pharmacy school after completing at least two years of undergraduate coursework and any other requirements. 

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PharmD Program Requirements

If you haven't completed any college coursework, you can apply directly to a PharmD program that accepts high school students. You'll need to meet the admissions requirements of the college and the PharmD program when you apply, but you don't advance to the professional portion of the program until after you complete all undergraduate prerequisites.

If your preferred program doesn't accept students without undergraduate coursework, apply to a college or university and get your required classes underway.

Students who have completed college or at least two years of undergraduate study can apply to a PharmD program. PharmD programs expect you to have completed certain classes, including biology, general and organic chemistry, physics, math, statistics, English, history, and economics. The Pharmacy College Application Service (PharmCAS) maintains a list of PharmD schools and their required classes.

Many PharmD programs require applicants to take the PCAT, a pharmacy school entrance exam. PharmD programs also consider college GPAs when deciding whether to admit applicants. Admissions requirements vary considerably among schools and colleges of pharmacy. Most programs require applicants to use PharmCAS, an online application accepted by most PharmD programs. 

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PharmD Program Studies

PharmD course work includes typically includes classes in chemistry, medical ethics, pharmacology, health management, and pharmacy law. You'll also intern in various settings like community and hospital pharmacies to gain hands-on training from professional pharmacists. The coursework is rigorous to prepare you for your licensing exams.

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Getting Licensed

All states require pharmacists to be licensed. Licenses are usually transferable from state-to-state, but sometimes require taking additional exams. Check with the new state's board of pharmacy to learn about the requirements. The steps to obtain your license vary depending on whether or not you attended a pharmacy school in the U.S.

Steps to Licensure for Graduates of U.S. Pharmacy Schools

  1. Take the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX).
  2. Depending on the state in which you want to practice, take either the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE)—a test of pharmacy law—or a state-administered pharmacy law exam.
  3. Take any other tests that may be required by your state.
  4. Complete the number of hours of practical experience your jurisdiction requires. Many people meet this requirement while still in school.
  5. Consent to a criminal background check if the jurisdiction requires it.

Steps to Licensure for Graduates of Non-U.S. Pharmacy Schools

  1. Pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL iBT).
  2. Apply for the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Examination Committee (FPGEC) Certification and take the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination (FPGEE).
  3. Pass all exams required by the jurisdiction in which you want to practice, as discussed above.

Once you've gotten your state license, you're ready to find your first official job as a pharmacist.