When medicine is prescribed by a doctor, the next stop is the drugstore, where a pharmacist fills the prescription, offers instructions on how to properly take the medication and answers the patient's questions. Becoming a pharmacist typically requires six to eight years of schooling, depending on the college and specific program. A doctor of pharmacy degree is required to become a pharmacist and two state exams must be passed. All the years in the classroom pay off for a pharmacist, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports average annual earnings of $111,570 as of 2010.
Preparatory education with an emphasis on science studies is helpful to anyone interested in a career as a pharmacist. High school courses in chemistry, physics and biology are important, along with mathematics classes, to help prepare students for college-level pharmaceutical course work. Because excellent communication skills are a must for a pharmacist, classes in public speaking will help students prepare for this field.
Bachelor's Degree In Pharmaceutical Sciences or Pre-Pharmacy Program
Four years is standard for full-time students to earn a bachelor of science degree in pharmaceutical sciences. This degree is required by some universities before a student is eligible to enter the doctorate program in the pharmaceutical field; the degree is known as a Pharm.D. In addition to core classes, courses include chemistry, biology, pharmaceutical sciences and anatomy. Some colleges require only two or three years of prerequisite classes in a pre-pharmacy program before advancing to the Pharm.D. program. For instance, Ferris State University has a six-year program that begins with two years of pre-pharmacy course work, followed by four years at the College of Pharmacy. The next step is the Pharmacy College Admissions Test, or PCAT. Admission into the Pharm.D. program at most pharmacy colleges is not granted until a student passes the PCAT. Practice tests and study resources are available online to help students prepare.
Doctor of Pharmacy Program
The final stretch required to become a pharmacist is earning the doctor of pharmacy degree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Pharm.D. program typically takes four years to complete for a full-time student. However, some pharmacy colleges offer a program that can be completed within three years. Pharm.D. students study drugs, diseases, pharmacy law, medical ethics and pharmacology, in addition to gaining on-the-job experience in drugstores and medical facilities. Once the degree has been obtained, two state exams must be passed. One test focuses on state pharmacy laws and the other on general pharmacist knowledge.
Although not required to be a practicing pharmacist, those seeking additional education can pursue a doctor of philosophy, or Ph.D., degree in pharmacal sciences or pharmacy care systems. Another option is the master of science, or M.S., degree in pharmaceutical sciences. Both pathways add another two to three years of schooling for full-time students and open doors for additional careers in the field of pharmacy, such as research.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook: Pharmacists -- How to Become a Pharmacist
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook: Pharmacists -- Summary
- Northeastern University: MS In Pharmacology
- Ferris State University: One of America's Top Doctor of Pharmacy Programs Consistently Ranks Among the Top Pharm.D Programs
- Northeastern University: Pharmaceutical Sciences (PhD): Pharmaceutics and Drug Delivery Systems
- University of Michigan College of Pharmacy: Academic Programs -- B.S. in Pharmaceutical Sciences
- Campbell University: MS in Pharmaceutical Sciences
Kelli Peacock Dunn has been a news editor and photographer since 1998, working at a weekly newspaper in Northwest Florida. Her articles have also appeared in "Panama City Living" magazine and "The Lookout."