There are approximately 270,000 pharmacists in the United States. Over 65% work in retail pharmacies while roughly 23% work in hospitals. According to job growth expectations, the field is expected to grow at a faster than average rate of 17%.
In order to become a licensed pharmacist, an individual must graduate from an accredited college of pharmacy and take a number of qualifying examinations. Most students complete three or four years of undergraduate work before attending a pharmacy school, which typically requires a four-year commitment. The bachelor’s of Pharmacy degree has been replaced by a Pharm.D. degree. About 20% of all pharmacists work part-time while pursuing other work or education.
Pharmacists are responsible for packaging and distributing drugs that have been prescribed by a doctor. They provide information on side effects, dosage, food or drug interactions and answer any questions. They also counsel patients to ensure they are taking medication as prescribed. In addition, they answer client questions regarding over the counter medications and offer advice or information about diet, stress management, exercise, vitamins, and other related topics. Pharmacists also explain the uses of durable medical equipment. Many help patients by filling out insurance forms or other documentation. Finally, pharmacists can also mix ingredients to create medications; this is called compounding. However, most medications today are manufactured by pharmaceutical companies and arrive in a variety of doses, so there is little compounding to be done.
Pharmacists work in retail drugstores, drugstore centers located in supermarkets or superstores, or in hospital pharmacies. They generally work a 40-hour week but may be required to work evenings, weekends, and some holidays.
Some pharmacists own their business. Typically, they also sell other merchandise ranging from make up to school supplies. In addition to their pharmacy duties, they hire employees, oversee purchases, sales, billings, supplies, and all other business activities, and supervise pharmacy operations. In some areas, pharmacists are trained and permitted to give vaccines. Others provide services or informational lectures about diabetes, asthma, smoking cessation, weight loss, high blood pressure, or other topics of interest.
Pharmacists who work in hospitals or other healthcare facilities complete the standard duties of retail pharmacists, as well as conferring with doctors and medical team members regarding medication effects. If a patient has difficulty taking pills, the pharmacist can make a sterile solution so it can be given intravenously. In some cases, they will meet with patients prior to discharge to provide advice and information about their medications. Pharmacists can also specialize in areas like intravenous nutrition, oncology, chemotherapy, geriatric pharmacy, and psychiatric medications.
One important duty is the keeping of confidential records to avoid dangerous drug interactions. Ultimately, it is the pharmacist who is responsible for prescriptions being filled correctly. However, most pharmacists employ a number of pharmacy technicians to help fill orders and provide administrative support.
Not all pharmacists are primarily involved in dispensing medication. Many other occupational possibilities exist. Some pharmacists supervise student interns. Others do research for pharmaceutical companies where they help in developing new medications or in testing their effectiveness or side effects. Some pharmacists are employed by health insurers and conduct cost-benefit studies on certain drugs to help the company design the drug portion of their offerings. Still other pharmacists are government workers who manage healthcare organizations, public health services, or the armed services health care. And of course, some pharmacists are educators working as professors or academic researchers.
Most pharmacies are clean, well-lit and well ventilated. Because drugs must be very carefully managed, the work areas are extremely well organized. This is a job that requires long hours of standing and walking. Some products may be dangerous, in which case the pharmacist must wear protective clothing or equipment. This is also true when working with sterile products.
All 50 states, the U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia require future pharmacists pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX), a test of skills and knowledge. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia add the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE), which concerns pharmacy law. These exams are given by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). The states and territories that do not require the MJPE have their own law examination.
Pharmacists must pay great attention to detail and be highly responsible. They need to communicate clearly, listen carefully, and behave compassionately.
Pharmacists in retail pharmacies begin at the staff level. Chain stores might promote a pharmacist to pharmacy supervisor or store manager, or even to district or regional manager. This can lead to an executive position. Hospital pharmacists may be promoted to supervisors and administrators.
The median annual salary for pharmacists is approximately $107,000. Those in the middle 50% in terms of pay earn between $93,000 and $122,000. The lowest paid 10% earn less than $78,000, while the highest 10% earn over $132,000 annually.