Becoming a pharmacist certainly isn't an overnight pursuit and takes years of study, but it's a high-demand position with good job security. The aging baby boomer generation and medical advancements make pharmacists a nearly priceless commodity. Advanced coursework, specialized degrees and pharmaceutical certifications can lead you down a rewarding path to that coveted white lab coat.
Taking undergraduate courses in biology, chemistry, physics, anatomy and physiology helps prepare you for a Doctor of Pharmacy program. If you don't love the sciences, becoming a pharmacist might not be the best career option. You'll interact and advise patients on a regular basis, but much of your time will be spent using your knowledge of how chemicals interact to prepare and label prescriptions. According to the University of Florida, literature, history, government and social studies are not part of a pharmacy curriculum, so you should take those courses in high school or during the first two years of your college studies. A pharmacist also needs strong written and verbal communication skills, so writing and speech classes are beneficial. Undergraduate studies usually take two to four years in preparation for pharmacy graduate school.
You must pass the PCAT, or Pharmacy College Admission Test, to be admitted into a pharmacy program, referred to as a Pharm.D. program. If you've passed advanced courses in high school, you might be eligible to take the test right out of high school. However, many students take the test after two years of undergraduate studies. In addition to the PCAT, your GPA, coursework and admissions interview influence your admission into a graduate program. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that most Pharm.D. programs take four years to complete, but a few schools offer a three-year option. Pharm.D. programs include courses in pharmacology and medical ethics and require supervised work experiences in hospitals or retail pharmacies. Pharmacists seeking clinical jobs or advanced research jobs must also complete a one- or two-year residency.
After all that hard work, you still aren't a certified pharmacist until you obtain a state license to practice. According to the BLS, all states require pharmacists to obtain a state license. You must pass a pharmacy skills and knowledge test and a state-sponsored pharmacy law exam. A pharmacist's top priority is to advise and administer medications safely and effectively, so a state license offers assurance to customers and clients that a pharmacist has completed and passed all necessary requirements.
The BLS states that employment of pharmacists is expected to increase by 25 percent through 2020, faster than the average for all occupations. Due to the high demand, finding and keeping a pharmaceutical job shouldn't be difficult. Since the median wage for pharmacists in 2010 was $111,570 and the top ten percent earned $138,620, six or more years of study might be well worth the investment, according to BLS statistics. And don't worry, that highly-prized white lab coat only runs about $40.
2016 Salary Information for Pharmacists
Pharmacists earned a median annual salary of $122,230 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, pharmacists earned a 25th percentile salary of $109,400, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $138,920, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 312,500 people were employed in the U.S. as pharmacists.
- Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images