Highly trained to safely and effectively administer prescription drugs, pharmacists are an integral and prominent part of the healthcare system.  Pharmacists must be licensed, which means they must first earn their Pharm. D., a doctorate-level pharmacy degree.

To qualify for a rigorously academic 4-year Pharm. D. program, the prospective student must have at least two years of relevant post-secondary education, generally in the form of an associate’s degree or a portion of a bachelor’s degree.  Different Pharm. D. programs require different courses in those two years, but generally the candidate will need to have taken math classes and science classes like chemistry, biology, and human anatomy.

Some 6-year Pharm. D. programs, called "0-6 programs" or "early assurance programs," are open to qualified candidates with a high school diploma or GED.  These programs basically combine the 2 years of related education and the 4-year Pharm. D. degree into one inclusive program.

Pharmacist Career Outlook

Related Careers: PHARMACISTS

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects educated and licensed pharmacists to have a very strong career outlook for 2008-2018; demand for pharmacists is growing as an aging population demands more pharmaceuticals, and new drugs are developed to treat more conditions.

The BLS reports that there were 269,900 working pharmacists nationwide in 2008; that number is expected to increase to 315,800 by 2018.  That’s a growth rate of 17%, twice as high as the projected 8.2% of the entire civilian workforce over the same period.

Projected Growth Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Occupational Information network, a resource of the Department of Labor’s Employment & Training Administration, reports that there will be a total of 105,800 openings for pharmacists from 2008 to 2018.  That figure includes jobs added by occupational growth and positions that open due to retirement or early termination.

Pharmacist Earnings

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median yearly wage of pharmacists was $106,410 in 2008.  The middle 50% of the field made between $92,670 and $121,310, while the bottom 10% made less than $77,390 and the top 10% made more than $131,440.

Annual Earnings Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Pharmacist Skills and Abilities

Pharmacists often have strong science and math skills.  Both retail and clinical pharmacists interact and advise clients and patients, so good communication skills are a plus.  Organizational and computer skills are important, as pharmacists must maintain detailed digital records.

Some pharmacists manage assistants and retail sales persons or own their own pharmacies; these individuals should have excellent managerial and business skills in addition to their medical abilities.

Pharmacist Educational Benefits

Because of the sophistication of the information required of pharmacists, and the life-or-death importance of what they do, pharmacists must complete substantial, rigorous post-secondary education.  All pharmacists must be licensed, and to qualify for the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX), they must complete their Pharm. D.

This is a relatively new development:  there had been a 5-year Bachelor of Pharmacy route that did not grant a doctoral degree, but allowed the graduate to become a Registered Pharmacist (R.Ph.).  That is no longer an option.

To simplify, completion of a Pharm. D. is now the only way to become a pharmacist.  If you know that you want to be a pharmacist, you must qualify for – and earn – your Pharm. D.

For many scientific-minded people, the 6 years will be worth it:  pharmacists are in high – and growing – demand, due in large part to the limited spaces available in Pharm. D. programs.  This can make admission difficult, but if you are qualified for a program and able to complete it, you are almost guaranteed a job on graduation with a starting salary pushing six figures.  (The median salary for a pharmacist was $106,410 in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.)

A Pharm. D. program must teach prospective pharmacists the names, chemical properties, and effects of hundreds of drugs.  They must learn the skills of compounding (mixing different drugs), though this is no longer a large part of most pharmacist’s practice.  Pharmacy students learn the principles of drug therapy, medical ethics, and much more.

Pharm. D. Programs Online

Degree Possible: Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm. D.)

There are a small number of Pharm. D. programs offered online, through accredited universities with successful ground programs.  These programs generally have the same requirements of their ground counterparts, including the rotational requirements in working pharmacies and hospitals.  If admitted to an online Pharm. D. program, you will do your coursework online, and find local pharmacies for your rotations.

As with any serious educational decision, do your research when picking a Pharm. D. program, online or otherwise.

Pharmacist Qualification and Advancement

On completion of a Pharm. D. degree, and a battery of federal and state licensing tests, graduates are qualified to work as PHARMACISTS, at least in retail pharmacies.  If the graduate wants to work in a clinical setting, they are often required to complete a fellowship or a residency at a teaching hospital.

Experienced pharmacists may be promoted to higher-paying supervisorial positions.  Other retail pharmacists may buy part or all of their own pharmacies.

Additional Information

The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy maintains a Web site at http://www.aacp.org.

The American Pharmacists Association maintains a Web site at http://www.pharmacist.com.