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The Breakdown

Pharmacists are a vital cog in the healthcare machine. They fill much needed prescriptions and help to educate customers and patients. Moreover, they also use their expertise to advise physicians and even help establish drug policies. The work they do directly impacts the well being of the individuals they serve. Certainly, pharmacy is a serious pursuit and one that demands stringent academic preparation. There’s just one small complication: you can’t become a pharmacist directly out of college.

To become a full-fledged pharmacist, you will need to attend an accredited pharmacy school and earn a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD). Most pharmacy schools require at least two years of undergraduate work before you can gain admission. Some colleges offer pre-pharmacy programs, acting as a feeder into graduate study (though entrance into the program does not always guarantee acceptance into pharmacy school). A number of students also choose to pursue a bachelor’s degree in a related field, making sure they complete the necessary pre-requisites before graduation. It will likely take a minimum of six years to earn your PharmD.

As a future pharmacist, you will channel your inner Marie Curie or Louis Pasteur during your coursework. Your pre-reqs will include several intro chemistry courses along with organic chemistry and biochemistry. Naturally, you will also need to know about the body and human development so expect to load up on biology, physiology and anatomy classes as well. Quantitative analysis is also important; get ready to cozy up with calculus and statistics.

It should be noted that after completing your graduate work, you will also need to pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) along with state tests (regarding local pharmacy law) in order to become a licensed pharmacist.

While pharmacists clearly require a strong foundation in the sciences, they should also bring a number of soft skills to the drop-off counter. Indeed, it’s extremely important to be detail oriented, lest the wrong medication be filled. You will also need to be able to digest and analyze information quickly. Finally, communication skills are paramount as you’ll be interacting with a wide variety of people on a daily basis.

Nuts and Bolts

Pre-pharmacy programs are likely to have required classes such as: Principles of Chemistry, Calculus, Introduction to Chemical Practice, Genetics, Organic Chemistry, General Microbiology Lab, Anatomy and Physiology, Principles of Quantitative Analysis, Immunology, Health Care Systems and Clinical Toxicology.

Decisions, Decisions

Pharmacy majors tend to have an interest in science in general and the human body in particular. Therefore, they also might consider studying biology, chemistry, biochemistry, neuroscience, psychology, genetics, pharmacology, nursing, nutrition, physical therapy, physician’s assistant, human development and gerontology.

What's Next

All right, so there’s a high likelihood that if you attend pharmacy school you’ll become a pharmacist. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your career options are laid out for you. Indeed, pharmacists can work in a variety of settings. Some graduates choose to work in an independent drugstore or retail chain, dispensing medication to customers and offering over the counter advice. Others work in hospitals, preparing medications and counseling doctors on the best drugs to prescribe their patients. Of course, those with a PharmD can also specialize in pharmaceutical research and help to develop new drugs and treatment plans. And for those pharmacists who are also business-minded, opportunities exist for working in the marketing and sales departments of various drug companies.


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Don Munce