How to Become a Pharmacist

Education, Licensing, and Beyond

Image shows a woman in a pharmacist's jacket holding a pill bottle by a wall of shelves, there is also a degree on the wall behind her. Text reads:

Image by Marina Li © The Balance 2019

Are you thinking about becoming a pharmacist? Pharmacists dispense medications prescribed by doctors and other healthcare professionals and then explain to their patients how to use them correctly. They answer questions about both prescriptions and over-the-counter products, help patients manage illnesses, and keep track of what drugs individuals are taking so they can avoid interactions. Pharmacists also advise doctors and other health practitioners about drug selection, dosages, and interactions. 

Does this sound like the type of work you would enjoy and be successful at? Take this quiz to see if you have what it takes to be a pharmacist.

From the time you earn your high school diploma, it will take between six and eight more years of schooling to become a pharmacist. And that doesn't include getting licensed, the final step in completing the educational requirements for this occupation. Here is what you have to do to become a pharmacist.

What Degree Do You Need?

Pharmacist Students
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To become a pharmacist, you will need to earn a Doctor of Pharmacy degree (PharmD) from a school or college of pharmacy that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. There are a few types of PharmD programs from which to choose. 

If you are certain you want to become a pharmacist and haven't completed any undergraduate coursework, apply for admission to a "0-6" or early assurance program. A "0-6" program combines college and professional studies in one program. An "early assurance" is similar, but undergraduate and professional pharmacy studies are separate from one another. A student is guaranteed admission into a pharmacy school after completing at least two years of undergraduate coursework. 

Students who have completed college or at least two years of undergraduate study can apply to a four-year professional pharmacy program, as long as they have fulfilled prerequisite coursework such as biology, general and organic chemistry, physics, math, statistics, English, history, and economics.

Professional pharmacy education will consist of the following coursework:

  • Functional Human Anatomy and Histology
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Introduction to Clinical Pharmacy Skills
  • Pharmacy Skills Lab
  • Principles of Pharmacology and Medicinal Chemistry
  • Immunizations
  • Oncology

All students do internships as well. They work in community and hospital pharmacies and in other pharmacy practice settings to gain hands-on training from professional pharmacists.

How to Get Into a PharmD Program

Future Pharmacists
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When a student applies to a "0-6" or early assurance program, he or she must meet the admissions requirements of the college of which that program is a part. That will likely include a minimum grade point average (GPA) or SAT or ACT score. The pharmacy program may have additional requirements. Students advance to the professional portion of the program after completing all undergraduate prerequisites.

Students who apply directly to four-year professional programs, rather than entering through a "0-6" or early assurance program, typically have to take the PCAT, a pharmacy school entrance exam. Although not all schools require this test, many do. PharmD programs also consider college GPAs when deciding whether to admit applicants. Admissions requirements vary considerably among schools and colleges of pharmacy. To learn about them, use the Pharmacy School Locator on the AACP's website.

Most programs require applicants to use  PharmCAS. It is an online system that allows applicants to complete a single application for multiple schools.

Getting Licensed as a Pharmacist

Studying for Pharmacist Licensing Exam
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In the United States, a pharmacist needs a professional license issued by a state, the District of Columbia, or a U.S. territory such as Guam, Puerto Rico, or the U.S. Virgin Islands. Each jurisdiction's board of pharmacy sets its own requirements and licensees are only allowed to practice in that jurisdiction. If you want to practice elsewhere, you will need a new license. Licenses are usually transferable from state-to-state, but sometimes require taking additional exams. Check with the new state's board of pharmacy to learn about the requirements. Please see the National Boards of Pharmacy for a list of state boards.

Steps to Licensure for Graduates of U.S. Pharmacy Schools

  • Step 1: Take the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX).
  • Step 2: Depending on the state in which you want to practice, take either the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE)—a test of pharmacy law—or a state-administered pharmacy law exam.
  • Step 3: Take any other tests that may be required by your state.
  • Step 4: Complete the number of hours of practical experience your jurisdiction requires. Many people meet this requirement while still in school.
  • Step 5: Consent to a criminal background check if the jurisdiction requires it.

Steps to Licensure for Graduates of Foreign Pharmacy Schools

  • Step 1: Apply for Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Examination Committee (FPGEC) Certification and take the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination (FPGEE).
  • Step 2: Pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL iBT).
  • Step 3: Pass all exams required by the jurisdiction in which you want to practice, as discussed above.

Getting Your First Professional Pharmacy Job

A new pharmacist
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After earning a PharmD degree and getting licensed, it will be time to find your first professional pharmacy job. What qualities will prospective employers will be looking for in job candidates? While they will vary from employer to employer, here are specifications from job announcements on

  • "Serve as patient advocate ..."
  • "Excellent verbal and written communications skills and computer proficiency are essential"
  • "Must possess good organizational and problem solving skills"
  • "Uphold service standards for counseling, dispensing, pricing, licensing, managing inventory and record keeping"