What do you need to become a pharmacist? From pursuing pre-pharmacy degrees to passing final certification exams, this article strives to provide the basic information you need to start your pharmacy journey in the right direction and continue on your way to a highly rewarding career. 

What Do I Need to Know About Becoming a Pharmacist? 

You may have heard something about the attractive rewards of a career in pharmacy. Or perhaps you have been watching your pharmacist fill prescriptions for years, wondering “can I do that?”. No matter how familiar you are with the pharmacy field, you can get a far clearer picture by reading on. 

What Does a Pharmacist Do? 

Before learning how to become a pharmacist, you should educate yourself about the basic responsibilities and functions of the profession. After all, pharmacists do far more than simply filling prescriptions. Their daily duties may range from property storing and organizing medications to conducting clinical pharmaceutical research. Compounding pharmacists even create customized medication from scratch by mixing prescription ingredients. 

Of course, patient guidance and education are also incredibly important components of pharmacy work. As a pharmacist, you will likely be tasked with counseling patients about the medications they are taking. For example, pharmacists must tell patients which drugs may interact badly together, what kinds of side effects to expect, when to take specific medications, and whether to take those medications on a full or empty stomach. 

Your Schooling Path 

If you are firmly committed to the profession, you can begin investigating the necessary education to become a pharmacist. This typical first step in this process is to choose a pre-pharmacy degree program that works for you (see the “Find Your Pre-Pharmacy Degree Program” section below). Common pre-pharmacy areas of study include biochemistry, general chemistry, microbiology, physiology, physics, and mathematics. 

After you earn your bachelor's degree, it is time to apply for graduate school. While some institutions of higher learning around the world offer master’s degrees in pharmacy, aspiring pharmacists in the United States generally pursue a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) after securing a prerequisite undergraduate degree. 

Of course, both entry and graduation requirements tend to vary significantly from Pharm.D. program to Pharm.D. program. However, the majority of these programs cover subjects such as pharmaceuticals, compounding, pharmacy law, metabolism, cell biology, and community practices. 
All told, you can expect to complete at least eight years to schooling and training beyond high school before you can begin working professionally as a pharmacist. 

Personality and Career Alignment 

Across all fields, professions, and industries, it is essential that people pursue career paths that align with their natural personality traits and basic sociopsychological characteristics. This is key, not only to worker happiness but to workplace productivity.

Fortunately, a March 2023 study in the International Journal of Pharmacy Practice directly addressed the issue of personality and career alignment for pharmacists. Based on a cross-sectional survey of 546 pharmacists and students, this study determined neuroticism was the least compatible personality trait with the pharmacy profession. Conversely, the most common personality traits among pharmacists are agreeableness, conscientiousness, and openness. 

What Steps Should I Take to Become a Pharmacist? 

Do you have the right temperament to become a pharmacist? And are you committed to completing long years of necessary training? While it may seem daunting, the road to a career in pharmacy can be readily broken down into a series of straightforward steps. 

STEP ONE: Find Your Pre-Pharmacy Degree Program 

From accreditation and faculty quality to cost and convenience, countless factors should go into the pre-pharmacy degree program selection process. The University of the Cumberlands offers two Pre-Pharmacy Degree Program paths that are excellent options for any high school graduate who wants to become a pharmacist or a pharmaceutical researcher. Whether you choose a chemistry or biology track, the pre-pharmacy degree programs bridge the gap to graduate studies with an advanced focus in natural science as well as basic fields of the humanities such as English and sociology. Students graduate with the well-rounded background in the natural sciences that is favored by most schools of pharmacy. 

STEP TWO: Apply for a Pharmacy School 

As you transition to the graduate school stage of your pharmacy education, you can generally expect stricter admission standards and slimmer acceptance rates. Beyond entrance exam concerns (which we will discuss in the “What Certifications Will I Have to Take?” section below), pharmacy school applicants must typically have certain prerequisite courses on their undergraduate transcripts as well as a compelling personal statement and letters of recommendation. Many Pharm.D. programs also require applicants to pass an entrance interview process. 

STEP THREE: Graduate with a Pharmacy Degree 

To earn your Doctor of Pharmacy, you will need to do much more than complete multidisciplinary coursework in the classroom. A good Pharm.D. program will incorporate a variety of hands-on training including qualifying Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experiences (IPPEs) and Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences (APPEs). Students generally complete IPPEs early in their graduate studies and complete APPEs shortly before graduation. Most APPEs involve logging a series of clinical rotations with an approved professional pharmacy organization. 

STEP FOUR: Find Your Job Path 

While pursuing your Pharm.D. and afterward, you should take care to build a record of experience in the specific areas of pharmacy practice that interest you the most. As a pharmacist, you can work in a wide variety of clinical, hospital, and outpatient settings. Other positions that you can pursue as a pharmacist include clinical researcher, laboratory director, and chemist. 

The rewards of any pharmacy career path include supporting the health and well-being of the patient population. Pharmacists in the research sector drive the development of important drugs that can relieve symptoms and even cure disease. No matter what career path you want to take, you need to tailor your education and your on-the-job training to get you closer to your intended professional destination. 

What Certifications Will I Have to Take? 

Beyond earning a pre-pharmacy degree and a Pharm.D., the typical aspiring pharmacist must also pass multiple industry tests and certification standards before entering into professional practice. The first common test in the world of pharmacy training occurs before graduate school, while the other two occur at the end of your Pharm.D. education. 

About the PCAT 

The Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) is designed to evaluate a student's ability to succeed in the average Pharm.D. program. Testing both academic ability and scientific knowledge, it is comprised of five sections: Chemical Processes, Biological Processes, Quantitative Reasoning, Critical Reading, and Writing.

While this exam was long a standard component of the Pharm.D. program admission process, fewer and fewer schools have continued to require the exam over the years. In 2022, the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) reported plans to officially retire the PCAT. By 2024, this exam will no longer be available. 

So what do you need to know about the PCAT? Unless you plan to apply to a Pharm.D. program in the immediate future, you don’t need to concern yourself about this exam as the AACP will soon faze it out. Of course, it is extremely important to contact the right university officials for a full list of all Pharm.D. program requirements before you apply. 

About the NAPLEX 

To become a licensed pharmacist in most states, candidates are required to pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX). Created by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy this exam is specifically designed to evaluate the fundamental pharmacy practice knowledge and skills of each candidate who takes it. 

Candidates who pass the NAPLEX demonstrate the core competencies needed to practice safely and effectively as entry-level pharmacists. NAPLEX specifically tests candidates in areas including the assessment of medical data and patient information; a thorough understanding of various drug characteristics; the development and management of treatment plans; the performance of pharmacy-related calculations; the development and management of medication-use systems; and the compounding, dispensing, and administration of drugs.

NAPLEX candidates have a total of six hours to complete 225 questions that take a variety of structures. The exam is graded on a pass/fail basis, and candidates can take it up to five times. 

About the MPJE 

In addition to passing the NAPLEX, the majority of Pharm.D. graduates must pass the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination (MPJE) if they want to become licensed to work at a pharmacist in the United States. While the NAPLEX focuses on clinical knowledge and skill, the MPJE focuses on the laws and regulations that relate to pharmacy practice. 

In addition to demonstrating a familiarity with relevant legal statues, MPJE candidates must know how those statues are applied as well as how they relate to practice operations. Because pharmacy laws and regulations differ from state to state, many of the questions on the MPJE are regionally specific. 

The MPJE consists of 120 questions, and candidates have a total of two-and-a-half hours to answer them. Just like NAPLEX, candidates have five attempts to pass the MPJE, and scores are assessed on a pass/fail basis. 

What Skills Should I Have as a Pharmacist? 

By now, you should have a better understanding of what a pharmacist does, what it takes to become one, and what personality traits are most compatible with the profession. While it might be difficult to change your basic human characteristics, you can certainly build upon whatever natural capabilities that you have to develop and hone useful skills. But what specific skills are most important in the world of pharmacy? 

To grasp essential subjects that relate to medicine and medication, pharmacists need to possess solid science and math skills as well as the “people” skills needed to work effectively with healthcare teams and provide exceptional patient guidance and customer service. Other critical skills for pharmacists include problem-solving, assertiveness, observation, and attention to detail. Pharmacists also need to be able to communicate effectively to different audiences and work calmly even when under considerable pressure. 

What Is the Job Outlook for a Pharmacist? 

There is little doubt that pharmacy is an attractive career field. In fact, the US News & World Report currently ranks the pharmacist position 20th on its list of the “Best Paying Jobs,” 22nd on its list of the “Best Health Care Jobs,” and 89th on its list of the “100 Best Jobs” in the United States. 

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics echoes this sentiment, reporting a median pay of $128,570 per year for pharmacists and predicting a two percent employment growth for pharmacists between 2021 and 2031. Although this growth rate is slower than the national average for all US occupations, it means that an estimated 7,700 jobs should open up before the beginning of 2032. 

According to the US News & World Report, the increasing number of support roles played by pharmacists also guarantees them a secure professional future. The publication quotes Washington, DC-based pharmacist Heather Free, who confirms that “pharmacists are becoming a more integral part of the health care team.” 

Pursue Your Pre-Pharmacy Degree at the University of the Cumberlands 

To help students lay the educational foundation in biochemistry that is critical to future success in pharmacy, the University of the Cumberlands offers two Pre-Pharmacy Degree Program paths. Take a look at both our Bachelor's Degree in Chemistry and our Bachelor's Degree in Biology options. Then click here to request more information about these or any other University of the Cumberlands degree programs.