Becoming A Pharmacist - Is This Career Right For You?

Pharmacists are health professionals who apart from dispensing drugs to patients, also take their time to explain to patients further details about the drugs doctors have prescribed to them. They also explain doctor’s instructions to patients so as to ensure that patients use these medications in a safe and effective manner.

There are currently slightly more than 280,000 pharmacists employed all over the US. Most pharmacists are employed in hospitals, home health care facilities, pharmacies and other retail establishments. It is worth mentioning that currently, there are many types of pharmacists who are involved in non-traditional tasks such as research for pharmaceutical manufacturers and helping in invention of new drugs and analyzing their overall effects to patients.

Other pharmacist career options include venturing into sales and marketing. There are also those who seek employment in health insurance firms, helping in the building of packages which are beneficial to the insurance firm and also helping to analyze the cost benefit of drugs. They can also be employed by the government to manage the public health care services or pharmacy associations. Pharmacists can as well work as college faculty members, leading research studies in various educational areas.

The types of pharmacists include:


Training \ Education Needed

To become a qualified pharmacist, an individual must first earn a Doctor of Pharmacy degree which is normally known as Pharm. D. It should be noted that even though previously there was a Bachelors degree in pharmacy; it has since been discontinued. All pharmacy programs usually take four years to complete and must be accredited by ACPE (Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education).

To gain admission into a Pharm.D program, one must first have at least two years of college study with courses in a variety of subjects such as physics, biology, Chemistry, social sciences and some other humanities. Before, getting admission into the Pharm. D program, applicants will be required to sit for and pass Pharmacy College Admissions Test.

Even though the course content is quite wide and diverse, some of the most popular coursework does include studies in pharmaceutical chemistry, pharmaceutics, toxicology, effects of drugs on the body (pharmacology) and pharmacy administration amongst a host of others.

In the US, all states license pharmacists. Even though it is true that each and every state tends to have its own requirements in the licensure process, all applicants must usually pass what is commonly known as the North American Pharmacist Exam which is administered by NARP (National Association of Boards of Pharmacy). Many states will also require new graduates to pass the MPJE (Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam); a test in pharmacy law administered by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy.

Apart from the above, other states may require additional state specific exams, in this regard; it is advisable to get in touch with the states board of pharmacy (from the state you want to practice in)and then make a point of sitting for all the requisite exams so that you don’t get into problems with relevant statutory bodies.

Just like many other professions, pharmacists can also opt to further their education by going for Masters Programs as well as PhDs in various specialties within the profession. The average period for a master’s degree is three years, though this is dependent on the institution and the specific specialty one has opted for.

Occupation field Outlook

Generally, the employment numbers of pharmacists is expected to grow faster than the average growth rate of most occupations through the year 2020. One of the major reasons for this rise has been noted as the increase in number of elderly people who will require medication. There is also a higher likelihood of more drugs being introduced into the market; this is expected to increase the demand for more pharmacists. Further to the above, with more drugs being made available in the market, more drugs are bound to be prescribed to patients. With more medication, patients will tend to rely more on pharmacists and other professionals for accurate advice on how to use the drugs.

Duties and Responsibilities

Those who are interested in pursuing a course in pharmacy should have certain qualities which may necessarily not be acquired in a classroom set-up. First and foremost though, they should be good in sciences. They should also have very good communication skills because apart from dispensing relevant medication, they are also expected to offer some advice to customers. It is also important to be detail oriented because any mistake can endanger an individual’s life. For those pharmacists who opt to run retail pharmacies, they will be expected to have good managerial skills to boot.

Pharmacists who work in health care services are usually charged with the responsibility of distributing medication and directing medical staff on relevant drug selections, dosages and other effects. They are also expected to plan, supervise and estimate drug course or schedule. They may also be expected to fill in third party insurance forms for patients and the health care institution they are working for.  

Those who work in home health care are usually responsible for preparing infusions and monitoring drug therapies used at home. It should be noted that pharmacist also tend to concentrate on a particular drug therapy area which may include nuclear pharmacy, geriatric pharmacy, psychiatric pharmacy, intravenous nutrition support etc.

Pharmacists who work in community pharmacies have the responsibility of distributing medication, consulting patients on the use of the prescribed drug or in certain cases, provide advice about OTC (over the counter) drugs . They also discuss general health issues such as diet, exercise and stress management with patients, offering them the best suited medical product or medical equipment. Community pharmacists will also be expected to provide a variety of services to individual patients who are suffering from certain well known conditions such as high blood pressure, asthma and diabetes.

Finally, pharmacists are also expected to assign and monitor prescription filling and other organizational tasks by pharmacy aides, interns and technicians. They also ensure that patient details are well kept and secured for future reference.

Salaries and Statistics

The average salary for pharmacists is in the range of $84,180 and $109,540 annually. The pay is usually dependent on a variety of factors such as level of education, years of experience, sector where one is working and the location. Pharmacist in the retail industry got an average of $94,270 whereas those who were in the institutional sectors got an average of $98,675. Part time pharmacists in either sector did earn an average of $57,650 while full time pharmacists earned $104,370 per annum.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Which states recognize pharmacists as providers?

A: Pharmacists are not currently recognized as health care providers under federal law, despite having more medication training and education than most healthcare professionals. The lack of federal recognition does restrict the overall contribution pharmacists can make so as to improve patient care. To remedy this situation, APhA (American Pharmacists Association) embarked on a state by state campaign to ensure that pharmacist receive this recognition.

Over the years, this campaign has been quite successful with most states recognizing pharmacists as healthcare providers. The few states that haven’t made this recognition include Alaska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Maine, Maryland, Vermont, Wisconsin, Illinois and Georgia. However, it is important to note that most of the above mentioned states have some form of legislation in the pipeline with the intention of finally recognizing pharmacists as health care providers.

Q: Which vaccines can pharmacists administer?

A: In the US, pharmacists can administer any vaccine to a patient in 45 States. However, in South Dakota, a pharmacist can only administer the Zoster and Influenza vaccine to patients while in Florida; a pharmacist can only administer Influenza, Zoster and Pneumo Vaccines. Further to the above, other states which allow pharmacists to provide various vaccine combinations but not all vaccines include New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Wyoming and WV.

Q: Are pharmacists exempt or nonexempt?

A: The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does require all employers to classify jobs as either nonexempt or exempt. Whereas nonexempt employees are covered by the FLSA regulations and rules, exempt employees are not covered by the same. Exempt employees are normally excluded from exempted or excluded from overtime regulations, minimum wage as well as other protections which are accorded nonexempt workers. They are usually paid a salary rather than hourly rate for the position. Typically, only supervisory, executive, outside or professional sales positions are exempt positions.

A nonexempt employee must therefore be paid at least the federal minimum wage for each hour that they work and also be given overtime pay for not less than 1.5 times their hourly rate for any hours worked beyond the forty each week.

In the US pharmacists are typically non-exempt employees. They are generally not considered exempt professional employees unless they individually meet the criteria established for exemption such as when they become administrative or executive employees. This rule though may differ from state to state and one is therefore encouraged to seek clarification from the relevant bodies in the state.

Q: How do pharmacists use titration?

A: Scientifically, Titration is the method or process that’s used to determine the concentration of a substance in a solution of unknown concentration. Very carefully, some measured amounts of the reagent are added until such a time when a change in electrical measurement or color occurs. Once a reaction of known and definite proportion takes place, it can then be measured and then used to calculate the concentration that’s unknown. In the medical fraternity, Titration can thus be defined as the process of determining the dosage that reduces your symptoms to the greatest possible degree whilst avoiding a good majority of side effects.

Pharmacists typically use titration to achieve a desired safe mix of compound drugs. They will often employ titration to accurately determine the correct and safe proportion of different medicines required in an intravenous drip. It is also used to accurately monitor blood glucose levels in patients suffering from diabetes as well as applications of urinalysis such as pregnancy tests.

Q: How can pharmacists contribute to public health?

A: Over the years, the pharmacist’s role has expanded way beyond the traditional product oriented function of simply dispensing and distributing medication and other health supplies. Currently, the pharmacist undertakes a more patient oriented, administrative as well as public health functions. In this regard, there are numerous functions in the public health arena that may benefit from the unique skills set of pharmacist. Apart from dispensing medication, pharmacists are an accessible and easy to approach resource for medical and health information.

The centralized placement in the community that the pharmacist enjoys as well as his or her clinical expertise is invaluable in such setups. The pharmacist does offer an accessibility that’s very rare in the health care profession. No appointments are required at most community pharmacies and they are mostly opened 24 hours. They also work in variety of settings such as retail, grocery and drug stores, hospitals as well as nursing homes. A close collaboration is therefore required between a pharmacist and other public health professionals so as to ensure that this relationship is fully harnessed so as to benefit the public.

Q: When do pharmacists refuse to dispense prescriptions?

A: this is a sensitive issue that’s still being addressed in the courts. There is a school of thought in the profession that strongly feel that a pharmacist has the individual right to refuse the dispensing of a medication for which she or he may have a religious or otherwise moral objection. Some of the areas of concern have been the disbursement of contraceptives to patients. As earlier mentioned, these are points which are still being canvassed in the courts. As a matter of fact a 3 judge panel of The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; even though it deferred making a final conclusion and referred the matter back to the District court found that “Any refusal to dispense – regardless of whether it is motivated by ethics, morals, religion, conscience, personal distaste for a patient or discriminatory prejudices” does violate the regulations which have been promulgated by the pharmacy board.

Q: What do pharmacists need to know about Obamacare?

A: The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPCA) or Obamacare has significantly reshaped the health care landscape for pharmacists. It did immediately exempt many independent community pharmacists from a Medicare rule that required all sellers of DMEPOS (Durable Medical Equipment, Prosthetics, Orthotics and Supplies) to be accredited. In addition, with the launching of ACOs (Accountable Care Organizations), medical homes and other alternative care models, there are opportunities for pharmacists to get deeply involved with these new and emerging care models with many physicians currently recognizing the need to include pharmacists in their health care teams.

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