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How to Become a Pharmacist

As a registered pharmacist with over 20 years experience in retail pharmacy there are 2 types of questions that I especially enjoy:

1. Any questions about medication and how to use them safely and effectively

2. Any questions about the profession of pharmacy, and especially how to become a pharmacist.

I have written many articles about the former, but this article is about the later.

Interest in the profession of pharmacy has risen sharply over the past 15 years. This is due, in part, to the expanding need for pharmaceutical services and prescription drugs as our national demographics shift toward an older population. But this is also due to the expanded role of pharmacists in our health care system, thus attracting many into this field who might formerly have leaned toward getting an MD or nursing degree.

I have spoken at many ‘career day’ events at high schools, reviewing the process of becoming a pharmacist to young men and women. I have also answered literally hundreds of email questions about this process. What I am about to share with you is the fruit of all of these interactions and questions. Here are the steps that I recommend. Depending on your age and level of education, they may not all equally apply.

#1: First, realize that pharmacy school is typically a 6 year degree process when going directly from High School into the pharmacy education track. If you have previously studied in college or already have a degree, you may have completed some of the pre-requisites and thus may be able to reduce this by 1-2 years. A pharmacist graduates from pharmacy school with a degree known as a PharmD.

#2: If you are still in High School…focus on getting the BEST grades and SAT scores you can manage. Pharmacy school is a competitive program. You earn your right to pursue this career degree by competing against other students who also want to become pharmacists. There are only so many available seats in a school of pharmacy. You must do you best. Aim for a GPA above 3.5, with a special focus on the science and math courses.

#3: Next, think about WHERE you would like to attend pharmacy school. This may seem a bit premature, but it isn’t. Where would you like to live for these 6 years? How much are you willing to pay? Now is the time to compare costs like tuition and costs of living. You will be making a serious financial investment in this degree. In State vs. Out of State tuition can vary by many thousands of dollars. Consider establishing residency in a state with low in-state tuition, but also remember that such school will likely have higher levels of competition for acceptance.

For help with this step, visit AACP online. Here is a direct link to the Tuition Comparison tables.

#4: Think about where you will get your pre-requisites done. These are the classes that virtually every college degree requires (English, Biology, Economics, Public Speaking, Calculus, etc.). Many pharmacy schools will not accept you until you have completed these classes. Note: These classes are NOT identical for every school of pharmacy. You must be in some form of contact with the school(s) you are considering (see Step #3) to be sure you are taking classes that will qualify. Note: Focus on getting the BEST grades possible during these 2 years, especially in the sciences and math.

#5: During these 2 years of pre-requisites, focus on finding a job in a pharmacy. The easiest way is to begin applying at places like CVS, Walgreens or WalMart for a position as a pharmacy tech.

#6: Prepare for and take the PCAT exam. This is required by more than 75% of pharmacy schools.

#7: Apply to pharmacy school. If you plan to apply to more than 1 pharmacy school, consider using the application services at www.pharmcas.org.

#8: Upon completing pharmacy school you will now need to pass both the national pharmacy exam (known as the NABPLEX) and also a State pharmacy law exam in the state in which you intend to practice.

There you have it. You now understand, in broad strokes, the process involved in applying for and getting accepted to pharmacy school and becoming a pharmacist. Best wishes!

For information one what being a pharmacist is like, see my other article: HERE

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