What Does a Pharmacist Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

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Image by Maritsa Patrinos. © The Balance 2019

Pharmacists are highly trained medical professionals who fill prescriptions for patients and provide expert advice to those patients to make sure they are taking their medications appropriately in the right doses and in the correct combinations with other medications.

Most people are familiar with community pharmacists who work in pharmacies and fill prescriptions. However, there are other types of pharmacists as well. Clinical pharmacists work in hospitals, specialty clinics, nursing care facilities, and other health care facilities, and play an active role in recommending medications and overseeing the administration of those medications. Pharmaceutical industry pharmacists work for pharmaceutical companies and play an active role in research or marketing. Consultant pharmacists work with insurance companies and health care facilities by providing advice about appropriate medications.

Pharmacist Duties & Responsibilities

This job generally requires the ability to do the following work:

  • Fill prescriptions
  • Instruct and advise patients
  • Administer vaccinations
  • Consult with doctors
  • Work with insurance companies
  • Maintain records
  • Manage a retail business

Pharmacists do much more than fill prescriptions according to the specifications of physicians. They consult with clients about appropriate over-the-counter medications for common ailments, instruct patients on how and when to take prescribed medicine, and inform them about side effects that they might experience from taking the medication. Pharmacists also supervise and train pharmacy technicians and check for potentially dangerous drug interactions when patients are taking multiple medications.

As part of their role, pharmacists provide advice on healthy living. They give preventative vaccinations like flu and pneumonia shots and advise patients on health topics such as diet, exercise, and managing stress. With an aging population, pharmacists spend more time than in the past helping older clients to manage the delivery of a complex set of medications.

In addition to all of this, some pharmacists manage their own pharmacies that sell common retail goods and grocery items in addition to prescription and over-the-counter medications.

Pharmacist Salary

Pay for pharmacists is relatively high compared to other health care professions, with their median annual salary about 50 percent higher than that of other health diagnosing and treating practitioners.

  • Median Annual Salary: $126,120 ($60.63/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: $161,250 ($77.52/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: $87,790 ($42.20/hour)

Education, Training, & Certification

A doctor of pharmacy degree (Pharm.D.) is required to work as a pharmacist, and additional training may be necessary for some advanced positions.

  • Education: Some Pharm.D. programs require a bachelor’s degree for admittance, while others will admit students with at least two years of undergraduate credit. Regardless, most programs require students to pass the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT), and a solid foundation in chemistry, biology, and physics is needed to do well on the test. Most Pharm.D. colleges are four-year programs, though there are variations, depending on when they admit students. Areas of study include pharmacology and medical ethics in addition to more advanced science courses. Internships also are part of most programs.
  • Certification: Pharmacists must be licensed by the states where they work, and this involves passing the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) and the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE). The NAPLEX tests skills and knowledge, while the MPJE covers pharmacy law. Some states offer state-specific alternatives to the MPJE. States also require pharmacists to complete a specific number of internship hours, though these requirements vary by state. Additional certifications are available for pharmacists who administer immunizations or specialize in specific areas.
  • Training: Pharmacists seeking to go into research or to work as a clinical pharmacist need to complete a residency with additional training relevant areas of specialty.

Pharmacist Skills & Competencies

In addition to the technical knowledge necessary to be a pharmacist, there are several other general skills, or soft skills, that are important to being good at the job.

  • Communication: Pharmacists need to communicate with doctors when questions arise about prescriptions, and they need to communicate with patients who have questions about what has been prescribed, potential side effects, and more.
  • Analytical skills: Pharmacists need to evaluate patients’ needs and the prescriptions of patients’ doctors to be sure the proper medications are being given in the proper doses and appropriate combinations.
  • Detail-oriented: Prescriptions must be accurate and appropriate for patients. Errors can have serious consequences for the health of patients, so it is vital that pharmacists be precise about every prescription they fill.
  • Business acumen: Pharmacists who run their own businesses need to have the skills to oversee a retail establishment, including hiring staff, maintaining a budget, and more.

Job Outlook

Job growth for pharmacists is projected at 6 percent for the decade ending in 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is slightly less than the 7 percent growth projected for all occupations. As baby boomers age, their needs for prescription medications are expected to rise, but job growth for pharmacists will be tempered somewhat by an increase in online pharmacy sales.

Work Environment

Many pharmacists either own or manage pharmacies where they are responsible for other management functions like marketing, advertising, and finance. Others work for prescription drug providers, hospitals, nursing homes, and other health care facilities. Some work for pharmacy chains or other retailers with pharmacies like Walgreens, Rite Aid, Walmart, or Target, among others.

Work Schedule

Work schedules can vary depending on where pharmacists work. Many pharmacies are open in the evening and on weekends, which means pharmacists need to be available to work those hours.

How to Get the Job

RETAIL

Apply directly with retail outlets seeking pharmacists.

CLINICAL

After completing a residency, apply with health care facilities in need of pharmacists.

PHARMACEUTICAL

Research and apply directly to pharmaceutical companies.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People interested in a career as a pharmacist also might consider one of the following career paths, listed with median annual salaries: