Pharmacists help people with their health problems without having to set bones or take out sutures. If this sounds good to you, and you can handle tough science courses, pharmacy may be just your ticket. The outlook for pharmacist hiring looks good, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which predicts a 25 percent increase in jobs between 2010 and 2020. However, pharmacists need a lot of preparation, and the work has some disadvantages.
Pharmacists study for at least six years before earning their first paychecks. Typical pharmacy programs require a minimum of two or three years of undergraduate college before you start, and some require a bachelor's degree. After that, you must complete a doctor of pharmacy, or Pharm.D., program, which usually takes four more years. However, some programs for high school grads combine undergraduate studies with pharmacy school in six years. In any case, pharmacy school isn't a piece of cake. It includes difficult topics such as immunology, hematology and medicinal chemistry.
After completing all that education, pharmacists still can't practice until they meet state licensing requirements. Pharmacists must pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam, a 185-item computer-based test. It covers knowledge of health-care information and standards of drug therapy and pharmacy practice and costs a hefty $485 at time of publication. Pharmacists also need to pass a second exam on pharmacy law. Many states use the MPJE, or Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination, a 90-item test costing an additional $200. Once licensed, pharmacists must meet state continuing education requirements to keep working.
Once you're a pharmacist, you'll be on your feet most of the time. The majority of pharmacists work a full-time week, and some work overtime. Many work evenings and weekends because hospitals are always open, and retail pharmacies have long hours. In fact, according to "The Next-Generation Pharmacist Profile," a study reported in "Pharmacy Times" in 2010, the main complaint of pharmacists is the work hours. Even if your feet hold up, you'll be exposed to dangerous chemicals on the job and need to wear a mask and gloves as protection.
According to the report in "Pharmacy Times," the second-most common gripe of pharmacists was spending too much time on administrative and clerical work and too little time counseling patients. Some pharmacists say that dispensing drugs eats up too much of their time, and under-staffing adds to their excessive work load. If you become a pharmacist, you may also get a tension headache. Pharmacists say that the pressure of having to be 100 percent accurate is very stressful because they know a tiny error could harm a patient.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Pharmacists -- Job Outlook
- American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy: Frequently Asked Questions about Pharmacy Admissions
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: How to Become a Pharmacist
- National Association of Boards of Pharmacy: NAPLEX
- University of Pittsburgh: PharmD Student Handbook -- Course Descriptions
- National Association of Boards of Pharmacy: MPJE
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Pharmacist
- Pharmacy Times: The Next-Generation Pharmacist Profile -- Vision for the Future
- Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education: Continuing Pharmacy Education Requirements
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