Have you considered a career in pharmacy? Pharmacists work as part of a health care team that includes the doctor and any specialists a patient may currently see. This is the professional who fills patient prescriptions, answers any questions patients have regarding their medication, and ensures that pills, ointments, and other prescription medications have been stored appropriately and that they reach patients while they're still fresh and in good condition. They may also confirm that a new prescription won't react badly to other medications a patient has on file.

A pharmacist may be the person who administers vaccines, such as those designed to eradicate COVID-19, too. So, you should be prepared to work closely with the public if you're planning to become a pharmacist. You'll need lots of schooling, a strong background in science and math, and stellar communication skills. If this sounds like it describes you or the educational path you plan to pursue, a career in pharmacy is a great option. The first step is to check out a top-notch pharmacy degree program near you, such as the one offered at University of the Cumberlands in Kentucky.

What Does a Pharmacist Do?

A pharmacist does much more than just fill prescriptions. They're also responsible for counseling patients regarding medication. A pharmacist can tell you which drugs may interact badly together, what sort of side-effects to expect, and whether you should eat a meal before taking your medication. Generally, a pharmacist has several important responsibilities, including:

  • Preserving and storing medication correctly
  • Dispensing prescription medications
  • Educating patients on best medication practices
  • Compounding, which is the practice of mixing ingredients to form medications

Pharmacists may also work in research pharmacies which are closed to the public. In this role, a pharmacist is part of a research team that compounds and dispenses medication only to patients enrolled in clinical trials. If this sounds like the type of work you would enjoy, pursuing a career in pharmacy could be highly rewarding and fulfilling, both in salary and in job satisfaction.

What Steps Should I Take to Become a Pharmacist?

Once you've made the decision to pursue a career in pharmacy, you must first earn your bachelor's from a pharmacy degree program. Usually, this includes earning a degree in fields such as:

  • Biochemistry
  • Mathematics
  • Microbiology
  • General chemistry
  • Physiology

Once you've earned a bachelor's degree, you must apply for admission to a school that offers a Pharm.D., or Doctor of Pharmacy, program. As part of your coursework, you'll take classes in biology, chemistry, physics, and more. You'll study medical ethics and pharmacology, along with other general education classes. And you must take and pass a test called the Pharmacy College Admissions Test, or PCAT. Many students sit for the PCAT during the senior year of their undergraduate pharmacy degree program.

About the PCAT

The Pharmacy College Admission Test is designed to measure a student's ability to succeed in a Doctor of Pharmacy program. It requires both academic ability and prior scientific knowledge, and it's comprised of five sections:

  • Writing
  • Biological Processes
  • Chemical Processes
  • Critical Reading
  • Quantitative Reasoning

The PCAT is a computer-based test offered three times a year. Prior registration is required. And an official study guide and practice tests are available from Pearson Assessments for additional fees.

What Level of Schooling Do I Need to Be a Pharmacist?

Typically, it takes eight years of schooling beyond high school to earn a pharmacy degree. That includes the four years you'll spend on your bachelor's degree and another four you'll spend in your pharmacy degree program. Pharmacy school is highly comparable to medical school because, as a pharmacist, you'll hold patients' lives in your hands. You'll need superior knowledge and training in areas such as:

  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Compounding and calculating
  • Pharmacy law
  • Metabolism and cell biology
  • Community practices
  • Infectious diseases

Once you've earned your Pharm.D. degree, you must sit for two more exams — the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) and either the exam for your individual state or the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE). Both will enable you to begin your career in pharmacy.

About the NAPLEX

The NAPLEX allows six hours for completion and includes 225 questions that test your knowledge of general practice. Areas of study include:

  • Assessing medical data and patient information
  • Identifying the characteristics of drugs
  • Developing and/or managing treatment plans
  • Performing calculations
  • Compounding, dispensing, or administering drugs
  • Developing or managing medication-use systems

You have five opportunities to take and pass the test, and it's graded as pass/fail. Completion of your pharmacy degree program should make you well prepared to score a passing grade on the NAPLEX.

About the MPJE

Applicants are allowed 2.5 hours to complete the 120 questions on the MPJE. The test is computer-based, and to do well on the MPJE, there are several areas of study with which you must be familiar. They include:

  •  Pharmacy Practice
  • Operational requirements
  • Application of regulations

Just like NAPLEX, applicants are permitted five attempts to pass the exam, and scores are rated pass/fail.

What Skills Should I Have as a Pharmacist?

A pharmacist must have a wide knowledge base of medication and medical-related subjects. They need solid math abilities, a strong background in science, and an eagerness to work as a valued member of a health care team. Before pursuing a career in pharmacy, you should ask yourself whether you're ready to hold this level of responsibility, whether you like working with the public and acting as both a counselor and an educator, because you'll do both on a daily basis. There are other skills that will help you be successful in your new career in pharmacy. They include:

  •  Assertiveness
  • The ability to work well under pressure
  • The ability to communicate effectively
  • The ability to remain calm when those around you are not
  • Keen attention to detail
  • The ability to problem solve
  • Keen observation skills

Usually, you won't be the only one working in your pharmacy, but you will be the person who is ultimately responsible for patient safety. Therefore, you'll need the ability to stay aware of what others around you are doing. You’ll also need to be able to converse with the patients who come to you for medication. Empathy and kindness must balance well with assertiveness and the ability to stand your ground.

Additionally, many pharmacists are the primary people responsible for training subordinates. This means you may lead a team that consists of several people, including one or more pharmacy technicians, pharmacy assistants, and pharmacy clerks. This is where solid communication skills and the ability to coach and motivate will benefit you.

What Is the Job Outlook for a Pharmacist?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects roughly 11,300 openings to open up for pharmacists each year through 2030, meaning there will be demand for qualified people to fill existing roles as other professional pharmacists retire or change industries. Additionally, the median annual wage for pharmacists in 2021 was $128,570, so you can expect to earn a better-than-average wage in this position.

U.S. News & World Report recently listed pharmacists as number 73 overall on their list of best jobs, number 21 in best paying jobs, and number 20 overall in Best Health Care Jobs. As a licensed professional in the field, you may find yourself working in a retail setting, such as a local CVS or Walgreens, as a clinical pharmacist inside a hospital or other clinical setting, or in the pharmaceutical industry in research and development. There are many ways to use your pharmacy degree, and with the increase in telemedicine, these roles are changing every day. But one constant remains — patients will always need trained and qualified professionals to dispense medication and to educate them on the best ways to use it. As a pharmacist, you'll be in a unique position to be a positive influence in your community and with the doctors, nurses, and organizations you help to serve.

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

University of the Cumberlands provides two separate specializations for students who wish to enroll in a pharmacy degree program, including a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and a Bachelor of Science in Biology. Both programs feature a pre-professional emphasis to help you transition seamlessly into the next step of your education.

University of the Cumberlands also offers two campuses in Kentucky — in Williamsburg and in Florence. We're a Christian-based college that offers instruction to students from all walks of life. We pride ourselves not only on the high quality of the education we provide, but also on our affordability. It is our goal to produce graduates who are well situated to succeed in their chosen fields.

For more information on the pharmacy degree program available at University of the Cumberlands, we invite you to reach out today. One of our friendly and knowledgeable admission counselors is always available to answer questions or connect you with additional resources, including financial aid. A career in pharmacy is not suitable for everyone, but for those who are responsible, diligent, and enjoy the opportunity to help others, it's both a rewarding and lucrative choice.