What Does a Pharmacist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

Image by Nusha Ashjaee © The Balance 2019 

Pharmacists dispense prescription medication along with key information, such as side effects, contraindications with other medicines, and a range of other concerns. They also walk customers through their physicians' dosage and usage instructions to ensure medications are safely and effectively consumed.

Pharmacist Duties & Responsibilities

Tasks pharmacists typically perform include:

  • Dispensing or supervising the dispensation of medications and related supplies, according to physicians' prescriptions
  • Reviewing prescriptions for accuracy
  • Checking for drug interactions
  • Compounding medications and preparing special solutions
  • Counseling patients regarding appropriate use of medications
  • Overseeing daily ordering, as well as automatic refills
  • Collaborating with other healthcare professionals to plan, monitor, review, and evaluate patient effectiveness
  • Recommending drug therapy changes when appropriate
  • Ensuring the pharmacy complies with all local, state, and federal regulations
  • Educating patients and staff on drug therapies

Pharmacist Salary

A pharmacist's salary is based on education and level of experience. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017, pharmacists earned the following salary:

  • Median annual salary: $124,170 ($59.70/hour)
  • Top 10% annual salary: $159,410 ($76.64/hour)
  • Bottom 10% annual salary: $87,420 ($42.03/hour)

Education Requirements & Qualifications

Those interested in becoming a pharmacist must have the following education and certifications:

  • College degree: You must earn Doctor of Pharmacy degree, known as a "Pharm.D." from a pharmacy program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE). Programs typically last six years, but those who have already completed two years of college may apply to a four-year pharmacy program. Most schools require applicants to take the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT).
  • Courses: Course curricula includes pharmaceutics and pharmaceutical chemistry, pharmacology (effects of drugs on the body), toxicology, and pharmacy administration.
  • Training: Following graduation from a Pharm.D. program, pharmacists seeking an advanced position, such as a clinical pharmacy or research job, may need to complete a one- to two-year residency. Pharmacists who choose to complete the two-year residency option receive additional training in a specialty area such as internal medicine or geriatric care.
  • Licensing: Each U.S. state licenses pharmacists and has its own set of requirements. All applicants must pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX), administered by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). Most states also require graduates to pass a pharmacy law test known as the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE). Also, pharmacists who administer vaccinations and immunizations need to be certified in most states.

    Pharmacist Skills & Competencies

    Those interested in becoming a pharmacist should possess the following skills:

    • Reading comprehension: The ability to understand written information.
    • Active listening: The ability to understand customers, medical staff, and coworkers.
    • Verbal communication: The ability to provide clear and concise instructions for administering medication to patients, caretakers, and other healthcare workers.
    • Critical thinking: The ability to solve problems and weigh the merits of different possible solutions.
    • Attention to detail: The ability to carry out tasks with granular precision.
    • Physical stamina: The ability to spend the majority of your shift standing up.
    • Compassion: The ability to provide friendly consultations, vaccinations, and service.

    Job Outlook

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017, employment of pharmacists is expected to continue to grow 6% to 2026. This increase is partly due to the medical needs of aging baby boomers, increases in chronic diseases such as diabetes, and scientific advances in new medications.

    Work Environment

    Some pharmacists work for the government and the military, while others work for private companies. Pharmacists spend a great deal of time working indoors, standing on their feet.

    Work Schedule

    Most pharmacists work full-time, however, one in five may work part-time shifts. Because many pharmacies are open at all hours, some pharmacists work nights and weekends.

    Comparing Similar Jobs

    People interested in a career as a pharmacist should also consider the following career paths. Here's a list of similar jobs, along with their median annual salary:

    How to Get the Job

    Apply

    Look at resources such as Indeed, Monster, and CareerBuilder for the latest job postings. These sites also provide other helpful resources such as resume and cover letter writing tips, as well as interview techniques.

    Networking

    Join organizations to meet other members and gain additional information. The American College of Clinical Pharmacy (ACCP) provides an extensive listing of key organizations that provide educational, networking, and career opportunities for members.

    Description Median Annual Wage (2016) Minimum Required Education/Training
    Pharmacy Technician Helps pharmacists prepare prescription medications for customers $30,920 6 Months to 2 Years of Formal Training or On-the-Job Training
    Audiologist

    Diagnoses hearing and balance problems

    $75,980 Doctor of Audiology Degree
    Optician Fits eyeglasses and contact lenses based on optometrists' and ophthalmologists' prescriptions $35,530 On-the-Job Training
    Speech Pathologist Provides therapy to people who have speech disorders $74,680 Master's Degree in Speech-Language Pathology