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Pharmacist Career, Jobs and Training Information

Pharmacist Career Overview

Pharmacists are responsible for distributing prescription drugs to patients and teaching them how to properly use their medications. They keep a careful watch on patients to make sure they are using their prescriptions properly. They also instruct doctors on the side effects, dosages, selection, and interactions of certain medications. Pharmacists have a good understanding of the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of each drug as well as the clinical effects and proper uses. They are usually employed by a hospital, health clinic, drugstore, mental health institution, or nursing home.
Because pharmacists are knowledgeable about drugs, patients often come to them with questions about their prescriptions including the possibility of dangerous interactions of certain drugs and their potential side effects. Pharmacists also offer advice concerning stress management, eating habits, exercise, and healthcare supplies and equipment. They also answer questions about over-the counter drugs and help a customer decide which drug is right for them. Some pharmacists acquire a certification allowing them give vaccinations. This allows them to provide vaccines, such as the flu shot, to the public. Paperwork, including insurance forms, is often completed by pharmacists. In some pharmacies, programs are offered to help people with certain diseases, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, to better manage their condition. Pharmacists who own their own pharmacy are responsible for managing, hiring, and supervising.

Pharmacists have the authority to purchase medical supplies, concoct sterile solutions, offer advice to other healthcare and medical workers, and dispense medications. They sometimes create drug programs for patients where they assess, observe, and watch drug use patterns and results. Those working for home healthcare prepare medications and infusions to use in a home setting.

Areas that pharmacists typically specialize in include nuclear pharmacy, intravenous nutrition support, psychopharmacotherapy, oncology, and geriatric pharmacy.

Pharmacy aides and technicians often help pharmacists dispense drugs. Pharmacy student interns also work under the supervision of pharmacists to get experience for a license and for graduation. Pharmacists are responsible for the accuracy of every prescription filled; therefore, they supervise the completion of tasks in the pharmacy. Pharmacists also keep a computerized, confidential record of each patient to make sure they are receiving correct drug therapy.

Pharmacists are beginning to work outside of pharmacies. They are working alongside insurance companies to create benefit packages for prescriptions. Some are conducting research and teaching in universities. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are hiring pharmacists to help with drug development and clinical research. Companies are also using pharmacists to market drugs because of their extensive knowledge of drugs and their proper uses.

Pharmacist Training and Job Qualifications

To practice pharmacy in the U.S., a license is required. This is achieved after graduating from an accredited college of pharmacy. The Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE) and the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) must be passed in every state except California, which administers its own exam to obtain a pharmacy license. There are additional exams required for licensure in several states. Continuing education is often required to renew a license. Some states require little to obtain a license if someone is already licensed in another state. California, however, requires intense re-examination.

A graduate from pharmacy school receives a Pharm.D. degree, or becomes a Doctor of Pharmacy. Programs require a minimum of six years of university study and must be accompanied by a passing score on a State board of pharmacy licensing examination. During pharmacy school, students learn how to deliver drug information to patients and how to properly distribute prescription medications. Students are given practical experience in numerous pharmacy locations while under the direction of other pharmacists. According to the American Council on Pharmaceutical Education, there were eighty-five accredited colleges of pharmacy in 2002 authorized to award the Pharm.D. degree.

Before admittance to a pharmacy program, a minimum of two years of college must be completed. Pharm.D. programs last for four years. Prior to applying to pharmacy school, students should take classes in physics, chemistry, biology, social sciences, and humanities. The Pharmacy College Admissions Test, or PCAT, must be passed before admittance to the majority of pharmacy schools.

In 2003, forty-three pharmacy schools began using PharmCAS, the Pharmacy College Application Service started by the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. By using this program, students can apply to a large number of pharmacy programs by completing an internet application and providing a single copy of their transcripts.

Pharmacy students also have the option of completing an additional Ph.D or master of science degree after earning the Pharm.D. degree. These supplementary degrees give further experience in research or laboratory training. After earning these degrees, graduates have the options of teaching at the university level or conducting research for a pharmaceutical company. One or two year fellowships and residencies are also available as further training for someone who wants to conduct laboratory research. A master’s degree in business, or MBA, is sometimes obtained by pharmacists planning to own a pharmacy. Pharmacology, pharmacy administration, and pharmaceutics are offered as graduate study.

To become a pharmacist, you need to be meticulous, have strong communication skills, enjoy helping people, and possess a good understanding of science.
If working for a drugstore chain, pharmacists can advance in their career by becoming store managers, regional managers, and eventually working for store headquarters. Pharmacists working in independent pharmacies frequently start as staff employees, but can become managers or owners. Pharmacists in a hospital setting can move up to administrator or supervisor status. Packaging, sales, production, marketing, quality control, etc. are areas where advancement is possible if working for a pharmaceutical company.

Pharmacist Job and Employment Opportunities

Through 2012, job availability will be high for those seeking work as a pharmacist. Although more people are decided to become pharmacists because of job availability and good pay, there will still be a higher number of jobs available than degrees earned. This is due to people leaving the field or retiring in addition to a growing demand for more pharmacies.

The demand for pharmacists is increasing as the elderly and middle-aged populations are growing in size and demand large quantities of prescribed drugs. The advancement of technology and science will lead the way to the creation of more drugs. Also, more prescriptions will be needed as insurance companies provide better coverage and benefits.

The hiring and training of pharmacy aides and technicians, in addition to automation, is allowing pharmacies to provide services to larger numbers of people.

Mail-order pharmacies could potentially lower job growth for pharmacists. These pharmacies allow the consumer to fill prescriptions by internet or mail. Drugs are shipped after being filled at central pharmacy. This, as well as the automated technology used, lowers the costs of prescriptions for patients.
Because hospitals are increasing the number of outpatient surgeries and lowering the length of inpatient stays, employment in hospital pharmacies is not expected to grow. The highest job growth is projected to be in places such as home care settings, nursing care, and assisted living facilities because of a growing, aging population.

Pharmacists working in managed-care facilities are being used to analyze the cost versus the benefits of certain drugs and to study various patient populations and their medication use. Biotechnological advancement will create research and sales opportunities for pharmacists working for pharmaceutical companies.

Because the cost of medication is often lower than if conditions are left untreated, insurance companies are beginning to cover more prescription expenses. As more prescriptions are being filled, more career opportunities for pharmacists will arise.