What is the Best Degree Path for Becoming a Pharmacist?

An image of a pharmacist for our FAQ about the Best Degree Path for Becoming a Pharmacist

If you have strong analytical skills, pay close attention to details, and desire a career in healthcare, a role as a pharmacist might suit you. Pharmacists are healthcare professionals who fill prescriptions and dispense medication prescribed by doctors to patients. They offer expertise and consultation to patients in the safe use of prescription drugs. Pharmacists need an advanced education to:

  • recognize potentially hazardous drug interactions
  • explain to patients how to take medicines
  • fill out necessary insurance paperwork
  • provide general health advice

Pharmacists earn high salaries, but they must spend years getting the proper education required for the career path.

Below, we discuss:

  • the best major for pharmacy professionals
  • the degree path required to achieve this career
  • other important information associated with the profession

Education: The Doctor of Pharmacy Degree

Aspiring pharmacists should be prepared to spend a good deal of time in school before they can embark on their new career. Students typically spend at least six years studying pharmacy at the college level. Pharmacists must acquire a specific education, which includes a Doctor of Pharmacy or Pharm.D. degree. Pharmacy programs typically require four years of study, and students must have completed at least two years of undergraduate college education before they are eligible for such a program.

Some Doctor of Pharmacy programs require that students earn a bachelor’s degree in a subject such as pre-pharmacy, anatomy, biology, or chemistry prior to admission. Students are also required to take an examination called the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT). There are also some six-year Doctor of Pharmacy programs intended for high-school graduates with no college credits.

The Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education accredits well over 100 Doctor of Pharmacy degree programs across the country. It is essential when applying to a pharmacy program to make sure that it is accredited by the ACPE. All ACPE-accredited programs adhere to national standards and ensure that the proper curriculum is delivered to students.

While enrolled in an ACPE-accredited pharmacy program, students should expect to take courses in:

  • chemistry
  • disease management
  • drug absorption rates
  • medical ethics
  • patient care
  • pharmacology
  • toxicology

During their education, Doctor of Pharmacy students also complete work experiences that involve internships in various settings, like hospitals and retail pharmacies.

Licensing and Training

Pharmacists in every state must earn a license to be able to work in this field, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In addition to possessing a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from an accredited program, aspiring pharmacists must pass both the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX). They also must pass  either the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE) or another state-required test that measures their knowledge of pharmacy law.

Some pharmacists aspire to attain advanced positions in research or in clinical pharmacy. Some ways pharmacists can advance their careers are completing a residency experience or earning certification from organizations like the Board of Pharmacy Specialties. Residency experiences in the field of pharmacy can last between one and two years. The also allow the resident pharmacist to develop background in a specialty.

An image of pharmacy students for our FAQ about the Best Degree Path for Becoming a Pharmacist

Earnings Potential for Pharmacists

A pharmacist’s job is both important and lucrative. The occupation is listed among the top healthcare professions to pursue. One reason that this occupation is lucrative is its earnings potential.

According to the BLS, the median annual wage for pharmacists is $128,710, though earnings fluctuate with:

  • experience
  • industry type
  • geographic location

The lowest 10% of workers in this occupation earn less than $85,210, while the highest 10% earn more than $164,980.

Certain factors impact earnings. Where you work is one of the biggest factors that can affect your earnings. Particularly high earnings for pharmacists are found in four different industries. The highest-paying industries for pharmacists are:

  • ambulatory healthcare services
  • hospitals
  • food and beverage stores
  • pharmacies and drug stores

According to the latest wage reporting published by BLS, ambulatory healthcare services offer the highest wages for pharmacists. In this industry, pharmacists can expect an average annual wage of $137,820. The second-highest-paying industry for this occupation is hospitals. In hospitals, pharmacists see average earnings of $131,290. Food and beverage stores are the next-highest industry for pharmacists. In this industry, pharmacists see average earnings of $131,200. The fourth-highest-paying industry–drug stores and pharmacies–offers pharmacists a median annual wage of $125,740.

In addition to industry type, a factor that impacts earnings for pharmacists is geographic location. According to the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics data published by BLS, certain states and cities rank as high-paying areas for pharmacists. BLS reports that the five top-paying states for this occupation are:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Oregon
  • Maine
  • Vermont

In Alaska, pharmacists can expect annual mean wages of $147,040, nearly $20,000 more than the average earnings for all workers in this occupation. Some other high-paying states and the corresponding pharmacist salaries are:

  • California ($146,070)
  • Oregon ($136,700)
  • Maine ($134,100)
  • Vermont ($131,910)

For pharmacists, earnings are high in certain metropolitan areas. According to BLS, the highest-paying metro area for pharmacists is Madera, California. In the Madera metro area, pharmacists earn an annual mean wage of $165,350, which is higher than the average for this occupation. Other high-paying metro areas for pharmacists include:

  • Santa Maria and Santa Barbara, California ($162,540)
  • Vallejo and Fairfield, California ($161,120)
  • Fresno, California ($156,830)
  • Appleton, Wisconsin ($155,990).

Pharmacists don’t have to live in metropolitan areas to earn high wages, though. Above-average earnings can be made in non-metropolitan areas, too. In fact, BLS reports that pharmacists in the top five high-paying non-metro areas earn average wages far above the median annual wage of $128,710.

The Alaska non-metropolitan area is the highest-paying non-metro location for this occupation. In this area, pharmacists earn an annual mean wage of $165,050. Other high-paying non-metro areas for pharmacists include:

  • North Valley and Northern Mountains region of California ($163,570)
  • Eastern Utah, ($159,070)
  • The border region of Texas and Northeast Maine also offer higher-than-average wages for pharmacists, between $146,500 and $147,990.

An image of a pharmacist for our FAQ on Best Degree Path for Becoming a Pharmacist

Job Outlook for Pharmacists

In recent years, the job outlook for pharmacists has shown a slight decline. The  (BLS) projects a two percent decline in employment for pharmacists through 2030. But some job openings are still expected, despite the decline. According to BLS, approximately 11,300 job openings for pharmacists are projected each year over the next decade.

BLS projects that job openings will be a result of the growing need to replace workers who exit the workforce through retirement or transfer to other occupations. When job vacancies arise, workers will need to be replaced.

Certain industries will see employment growth for pharmacists, while others will show a decline. BLS anticipates job loss for pharmacists working in retail pharmacies and drug stores. This loss is due to the growing number of individuals filling their prescriptions online or via mail order. Also as a result of these growing numbers of online prescriptions, pharmacy chains are responding by reducing the number of their retail locations. Due to budget constraints and profit loss, pharmacists are being replaced by pharmacy technicians in retail chains. Pharmacy techs are hired to perform the tasks previously carried out by pharmacists, but since they earn lower wages, they can carry out these tasks in a more cost-effective manner.

Outside retail chains, employment growth is expected for pharmacists in some healthcare settings. According to BLS, demand is expected to increase for pharmacists in:

  • clinics
  • doctor’s offices
  • hospitals

With the growing number of patients admitted to hospitals and treated by doctors and other healthcare professionals, more pharmacists will be needed to administer drugs and medication to patients. As a result, job growth is expected for pharmacists working in healthcare facilities such as hospitals.

According to BLS, pharmacists held approximately 322,200 jobs last year. The top industries employing these professionals were:

  • pharmacies and drug stores
  • hospitals
  • food and beverage stores
  • ambulatory healthcare services

The largest employer of pharmacists is pharmacies and drug stores, employing about 42% of all pharmacists. Hospitals at the local, state, and private levels are the second-largest employer of pharmacists, employing about 27% of all workers in this occupation.

Other Important Qualities Pharmacists Must Have

The job of a pharmacist requires unique skills, but not all of these skills may be learned in the classroom. There are several important qualities pharmacists should possess to be successful on the job. These skills and qualities include the following:

Ability to lead a team: Managerial skills are a must for pharmacists working in retail pharmacy. In this industry, pharmacists must be able to:

  • lead a team
  • oversee staff members
  • manage inventory

Analytical skills: Pharmacists should be highly analytical by nature. The role requires extensive knowledge of:

  • drug interactions
  • drug effects
  • the appropriate circumstances for administering a specific medication

To carry out this role, analytical skills are needed.

Detail-orientation: In combination with analytical skills, being detail-oriented is also important for the pharmacist role. Accuracy is highly important when administering drugs and filling prescriptions. Pharmacists must be able to make decisions based on literature and research, note important drug interactions, and identify health risks associated with medications. To carry out these tasks, a pharmacist needs to pay attention to details.

Effective communication skills: Pharmacists work with the public. They:

  • communicate possible side effects and drug interactions to patients
  • provide instruction to pharmacy technicians and interns
  • explain to patients how a specific medication works

To carry out these tasks, pharmacists must be able to effectively communicate.

Technological skills: In order to access electronic health records that an organization or healthcare facility uses, certain computer and technological skills are necessary. Pharmacists also use computers to:

  • look for interactions
  • research literature
  • track important criteria

An image of pharmacy students for our FAQ on the Best Degree Path for Becoming a Pharmacist

Types of Pharmacists

While pharmacy’s origin can be traced back to Greek and Roman mythology, it has grown out of plants, herbs, mortar, and pestle, and into a dynamic profession. Today, there are over 150 accredited pharmacy schools in the United States. Once you’ve completed the best major for pharmacy and earned your degree, you’ll need to know which pharmacy jobs are available to you. Below are the different types of pharmacist jobs.

Clinical Pharmacists
Clinical pharmacists work in:

  • doctor’s offices
  • hospitals
  • other healthcare settings

Instead of dispensing prescriptions, they spend their time:

  • making rounds at hospitals
  • overseeing dosages and medications
  • directly working with patients

They are often involved in counseling patients on new medications.

Community Pharmacists
Community pharmacists mostly work in retail chain drug stores like CVS, Target, and Walgreens, as well as in independently owned pharmacies. Their job is to dispense medication and answer questions that patients have about prescriptions. They often administer shots and address some healthcare concerns patients have.

Consultant Pharmacists
Consultant pharmacists provide consulting services to healthcare facilities and insurance providers. They discuss ways to improve pharmacy services and provide advice on patient medication. In some cases, consultant pharmacists may work directly with patients, providing advice to seniors on how to better manage prescriptions.

Nuclear Pharmacists
Nuclear pharmacists are some of the highest-paid pharmacists. As a result, the field is highly competitive. Nuclear pharmacists typically work in labs, preparing radioactive materials that will be used to diagnose and treat diseases through nuclear medicine.

Pharmaceutical Pharmacists
Pharmaceutical pharmacists work in the pharmaceutical industry, conducting clinical trials or developing and designing new drugs. They may help to ensure drug quality control and establish safety regulations.

In addition to the above pharmacists, some may choose to go into academia. These pharmacists work as college professors at the undergraduate level or in professional pharmacy schools. As pharmacy professors, they teach pharmacy students important skills necessary for their career. In academia, pharmacy professors also conduct research and pursue publication.

BDP Staff
November 2021

Related articles:

This concludes our article on the best degree path for becoming a pharmacist.

Brenda Rufener
Author

Julie McCaulley
Expert

Carrie Sealey-Morris
Editor-in-Chief