What Is the Best Degree Path for Becoming a Pharmacist?

If you are good with computers, pay close attention to details and have strong analytical skills, you might wonder how to prepare for a career as a pharmacist. Pharmacists are the healthcare professionals who fill and dispense medication described by doctors to patients. They need an advanced education to recognize potentially hazardous drug interactions, explain to patients how to take medicines, fill out necessary insurance paperwork and provide general health advice. Pharmacists earn high salaries, but they must spend years attaining the education required for the career path.

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. That’s because pharmacists need a specific education, a Doctor of Pharmacy degree. These academic programs typically require four years of study, and students must have completed at least two years of undergraduate college education before they can gain acceptance into 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 enrolling. Students also need to take an examination called the Pharmacy College Admissions Test. 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. No matter which program a student attends, he or she should expect to study pharmacology, toxicology, chemistry, medical ethics, disease treatment, patient care and drug absorption rates. During their education, Doctor of Pharmacy students will also gain hands-on experience in the field through internship opportunities in pharmacies and hospitals.

Licensing and Training

Pharmacists in every state in America 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 school, aspiring pharmacists must pass both the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) and either the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE) or another state-required test that measures knowledge of pharmacy law.

Some pharmacists aspire to attain advanced positions in research or in clinical pharmacy. Some ways pharmacists can advance their careers is by 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 and allow the resident pharmacist to develop background in a specialty.

Pharmacists have a job that is both important and lucrative. They earn a median annual salary of $116,670, according to the BLS. Pharmacy degree programs at the master’s level are among the top 10 highest-paying master’s degrees. Pharmacists also enjoy a positive job outlook, with the BLS expecting job opportunities for this profession to increase 14 percent over a decade.

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