How to Become a Pharmacist

Maura Deering, J.D.
by
Updated May 8, 2024
Edited by
A pharmacist degree can put you on track to academic, clinical, retail, research, development, and consulting roles in the pharmaceutical industry.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

If you’re interested in becoming a pharmacist, explore this comprehensive guide. You can find information about pharmacist degree options, educational and licensure requirements, concentration areas, career opportunities, and an interview with a clinical pharmacist.

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Steps to Become a Pharmacist

Becoming a pharmacist requires a doctoral degree from an accredited program and a state license. Learn about the steps to becoming a licensed pharmacist, including completing the prerequisite coursework, earning a Pharm.D., and passing the licensure exam.

  1. 1

    Complete Prerequisite Coursework

    Some pharmacy doctoral programs may require a bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry, healthcare, or a related field. Other Pharm.D programs accept students without a bachelor’s degree as long as they complete 2-3 years of prerequisite courses and labs. Prerequisite topics include anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, calculus, physics, and statistics.

    Many programs require 2.8 undergraduate GPAs and a C or C- in each prerequisite class.

    Other admission requirements may include transcripts, exam scores, application essays, criminal background checks, interviews, and recommendation letters.

  2. 2

    Earn a Pharm.D. Degree

    Pharm.D. program enrollees take pharmacology, pharmacy law, and sciences courses, including chemistry, biology, and health sciences. Specialization options span business, clinical, drug safety, public health, and research. Students complete supervised internships at hospitals and pharmacies.

    Programs vary, from 3-4 years for bachelor’s degree-holders to six years for high school graduates with completed prerequisites. Pharm.D. programs offer on-campus or online coursework and in-person internships. Learners can ensure academic quality by attending programs accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE).

  3. 3

    Pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX)

    After completing their pharmacist degree, graduates register for the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination® (NAPLEX), administered by the National Association of Board of Pharmacy (NABP). Applicants set up an NABP e-Profile, where they apply and pay exam fees, which vary by state.

    The NAPLEX comprises 225 computerized questions and allows six hours for completion. Topics include data and patient information, drug characteristics, treatment plans, calculations, delivery systems, and safety and quality. Examinees receive a pass or fail score and can take the exam up to five times.

  4. 4

    Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination

    The NABP also administers the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination® (MPJE), which tests knowledge of state pharmacy laws and regulations. Test-takers apply through the NABP e-Profile and pay the exam fee according to their state. First-timers order their official transcripts for submission from their school of pharmacy.

    The MPJE allows 2.5 hours to complete 120 computer-based questions. Examinees pass or fail and can take the exam five times. Questions cover licensure/personnel, pharmacy practice, dispensing requirements, and pharmacy operations.

  5. 5

    Earn State Licensure

    Candidates apply for licensure with their state board of pharmacy. Licensure requirements vary by state, but eligibility generally requires a Pharm.D. from an ACPE-accredited program and passing scores on the NAPLEX and MPJE. Some states may require additional exams, specialty credentials, or post-doctoral training hours.

    License renewal requirements vary by state but typically include earning continuing education credits during each renewal cycle.

  6. 6

    Find Employment

    More than 40% of pharmacists worked at pharmacies and drug retailers in 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Hospitals were the second largest employer at 27%. Pharmacists fill prescriptions, check patient records for allergies and adverse reactions to drugs, instruct patients on medication use and side effects, and collaborate with other healthcare providers.

    Resources like the American Pharmacists Association and CareerPharm offer job boards, virtual career fairs, and networking opportunities. The BLS lists a median annual salary of $136,030 for pharmacists.

Doctor of Pharmacy Degree

Students can pursue two types of doctoral degrees in pharmacy: the research-focused Ph.D. and the Pharm.D, which is the professional doctoral degree for pharmacists. The Pharm.D. typically comprises training in fundamentals, pharmacology, pharmaceutical treatments, and pharmacy systems, while a Ph.D. focuses more on research. Both programs have a practical learning component and a required pharmacy residency.

The Pharm.D., which typically takes 3-4 years, builds on prerequisites from high school and undergraduate study, including physics, chemistry, and biology. For entry into a Pharm.D. program, most schools require a minimum of two years of undergraduate study. Some schools may require a bachelor’s degree and scores from the Pharmacy College Admissions Test.

After obtaining licensure, learners can pursue careers as pharmacists, biochemists, or consultants in related industries. Degree-seekers can strengthen or expand their career options with degree concentrations, such as chemical, pharmaceutical, or food and beverage specializations.

Accreditation for Pharmacy Programs

Two types of accreditation are important for students pursuing their pharmacist degrees: institutional and programmatic. The college or university should hold regional accreditation from an accrediting organization recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. The school of pharmacy and program should be accredited by APEC.

Accreditation ensures that schools and programs receive regular evaluations of their academic quality and adherence to educational standards. Students who attend non-accredited schools and programs risk losing financial aid, program admission, licensing, and employment opportunities.

Pharm.D. Concentrations

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    Public Health

    Public health concentrations focus on population-based healthcare, teaching students to evaluate and critique community health programs. They also learn to assess and address emerging concerns in public health, such as the effects of globalization. Some courses may delve into pandemic and disaster preparedness and large-scale immunization programs.
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    Education

    In an education concentration, pharmacy students acquire the skills and knowledge to pursue careers as pharmacy educators. While many graduates choose careers as teachers in colleges and universities, they can also apply the leadership and research skills gained in this concentration to the pharmaceutical field.
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    Pharmacy Business Administration

    Students who pursue this concentration are prepared for careers in pharmacy operations, manufacturing, or even running their own pharmacies. Degree-seekers also gain leadership and administration skills that can be used in management positions.
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    Health Systems and Care Management

    Health systems and care management specializations focus on healthcare systems’ processes, policies, and structures. Students learn how and where pharmacists fit in the system and how they can best provide care to the community. Some programs also explore management technologies.
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    Research

    This concentration teaches students to analyze, critique, and expand on existing pharmaceutical knowledge. They learn advanced research methods and how to use them to examine government policy, solve industrial issues, or develop medical innovations. Research concentrations commonly lead to careers in academia or pharmaceutical development.

Licensing and Certification

After graduation, prospective pharmacists must acquire the appropriate licensure to practice professionally. Most Pharm.D. graduates need to complete two examinations: the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination®, which covers general practice knowledge, and the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination®, which covers laws and regulations.

Licensure requirements vary by state, so some graduates may need to complete an additional examination. Some states also require pharmacists with immunization and vaccine responsibilities to complete Pharmacy-Based Immunization Delivery programs.

Once licensed, pharmacists must regularly update their training and skills through continuing education courses. Every state has its requirements, but most professionals need to complete 15-45 credits every 1-3 years to renew their licenses. Some states require training in specific fields, such as emergency disaster preparedness or drug therapy.

Pharmacists can also pursue post-licensure certifications to bolster their knowledge and credentials in a specific area. For example, the Board of Pharmacy Specialties offers certifications in cardiology, ambulatory care, and critical care pharmacy. The Certification Board for Diabetes Care and Education offers the Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist credential.

What Can You Do with a Pharmacy or Pharmaceutical Sciences Degree?

While the pharmaceutical industry offers the most obvious employment route for Pharm.D graduates, these graduates can also leverage their medical knowledge to access jobs in the medical science industry. Additionally, their chemistry and biology training equips them for positions in the life sciences.

Other career options include education or regulatory affairs, where pharmacy graduates can train the next generation of pharmacists or set research and safety policies for the industry.

Pharmacist

Licensed Pharm.D.-holders often become pharmacists working for drug retailers and healthcare facilities. Community pharmacists find positions in pharmacies and drugstores, filling prescriptions, and administering vaccines.

Clinical pharmacists work on healthcare teams in clinics and hospitals, where they work as a direct part of the patient care team, advise on medication side effects and interactions, and round on patients. Their jobs typically require specialty credentials or additional supervised training.

Consultant pharmacists advise patients, medical facilities, and insurance companies about medication use and prescription management. Industry pharmacists may work for drug-makers in sales and marketing, research, and clinical trials.

Researcher

Pharmaceutical researchers and scientists conduct studies to improve drug efficacy, manufacturing processes, and health outcomes. They typically hold a doctorate in pharmacology, but a master’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences may also qualify.

In addition to the biology and chemistry training that pharmaceutical sciences degrees provide, aspiring researchers should take courses in research and communication. These skills will help them prepare high-quality research grant applications and ensure quality in experiment designs.

Consultant

Pharmaceutical consultants support pharmacists, hospitals, and other care facilities when working with drug-related issues. They may offer hospitals advice on patient medication plans, gather information for insurance providers, or work directly with patients.

Consultants may need a Pharm.D. degree and licensure, particularly if they fill prescriptions. A bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences qualifies graduates for roles in the insurance and manufacturing industries, while graduate degrees lead to management-level roles.

Post-Secondary Professor

Pharmacy professors at four-year colleges and universities hold Pharm.D or Ph.D. degrees. They combine teaching classes with conducting and publishing research in a pharmaceutical subfield or specialty. Post-secondary professors may also work as clinical practitioners.

Post-secondary professors will likely need state licensure, certification, or credentials in their specialty areas, and the support of faculty mentors. Some professors may advance into university administration roles, such as department chairs or college deans.

What Kind of Salary Can I Earn with a Pharmacy Degree?

Pharmacists make median annual salaries of $136,030, according to 2023 BLS data, which projects a 3% employment growth rate for the profession during 2022-2032. The top-paying employers for pharmacists in May 2023 were ambulatory healthcare services, with a $150,110 median annual wage, hospitals at $144,460, and retailers at $131,290-$141,880.

The BLS projects the demand for pharmacists to increase in hospitals and clinics, as these professionals are increasingly integrated into healthcare teams.

Average Annual Salaries for Pharmacists in Common Work Settings
Work SettingAverage Annual Salary Employment
Health and Personal Care Retailers$122,790139,030
General Medical and Surgical Hospitals$138,67089,970
Food and Beverage Retailers $119,34023,600
General Merchandise Retailers$135,42019,950
Outpatient Care Centers$155,7707,570
All Work Settings$129,410325,480

Ask An Expert

Portrait of Dr. Aaron Emmel

Dr. Aaron Emmel

Dr. Emmel has a Pharm.D. from the University of Florida and a master’s from the University of North Florida, plus 10 years of experience as a clinical pharmacist. He is also program director for an online learning program for aspiring pharmacy technicians and was an associate clinical professor for UF’s college of pharmacy.

Why Become a Pharmacist?

Pharmacy is a great career that allows you to play an important role in patient care. These professionals work in many different roles and settings in the field.

How to Get Hired

Day in the Life

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Pharmacist

The time frame for becoming a pharmacist can span 3-8 years, depending on where you are in your education journey and whether you pursue a four-year bachelor’s degree, followed by a four-year Pharm.D. program or another route. Students with enough prerequisite credits can start Pharm.D. study sooner. Ph.D. in pharmacy programs can take longer. Clinical pharmacists may also need to complete a two-year residency.

Pharmacists need either a Pharm.D. or a Ph.D. Pharmacy students interested in a professional degree leading to clinical or retail pharmacist careers usually pursue a Pharm.D. Those aspiring to become drug developers, professors, and researchers typically earn a Ph.D.

Pharmacy degrees can lead to well-paying careers with average job growth prospects. Pharmacists can pursue numerous positions, including clinical pharmacists working with patients, retail pharmacists filling prescriptions and administering vaccines, researchers and drug developers, and pharmaceutical salespeople and marketers.

Pharmacist degree titles range from foundational associate and bachelor’s in pharmacy, advanced master’s degrees in pharmaceutical sciences, professional doctors of pharmacy, and Ph.D.s in pharmaceutical sciences or pharmacology.

A Pharm.D. is a doctor of pharmacy degree that prepares graduates for careers as pharmacists. Pharmacists work in drugstores and retail pharmacies, at hospitals and clinics, and for pharmaceutical and insurance companies.

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