If you’re interested in becoming a pharmacist, you’ll need to complete a Pharm.D. program. Read on to learn more about the education and training required for this career.
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The Road to Becoming a Pharmacist
If you are interested in becoming a pharmacist, you will need to complete a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) program. This program typically takes four years to complete and includes classroom, laboratory, and clinical work. Many Pharm.D. programs also require students to complete a residency program.
A pharmacist is a healthcare professional who is trained in the science of pharmacology, which is the study of drugs and their effects on living organisms. In order to become a licensed pharmacist, one must first complete an accredited pharmacy program and pass the national pharmacy licensure exam.
Pharmacy programs are available at both the undergraduate and graduate level, but most students interested in becoming a pharmacist choose to pursue a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree. These programs typically take four years to complete and include coursework in areas such as pharmacology, medicinal chemistry, pharmacokinetics, and pharmacodynamics. Students also complete clinical rotations in various settings, such as hospitals, retail pharmacies, and long-term care facilities.
There are two main types of certification for pharmacists in the United States: voluntary and mandatory. Voluntary certification is available through several professional organizations, such as the American Pharmacists Association (APhA), the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), and the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA). These organizations offer exams that test a pharmacists’ knowledge of specific areas, such as pharmacotherapy, pharmacy law, and pharmacy management. Passing one or more of these exams can lead to credentialing as a Board Certified Pharmacotherapy Specialist (BCPS), a Board Certified Ambulatory Care Pharmacist (BCACP), or a Board Certified Nuclear Pharmacist (BCNP), among others.
Mandatory certification is required in some states for pharmacists who dispense controlled substances. This type of certification is typically obtained through the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Most pharmacy programs award the Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree after 4 years of professional study, although some programs may take 3 or more years to complete. The first year of pharmacy school is typically devoted to basic sciences, including courses in chemistry, biology, and physics. The second and third years are focused on learning about the properties and effects of different drugs and how they are used to treat diseases. In the fourth year, pharmacy students complete advanced coursework in areas such as pharmacotherapy (the use of drugs to treat disease), pharmaceutics (the science of drug formulation), and public health. Many programs also require students to complete 1 or 2 rotations—short-term, hands-on training experiences—in a hospital or other healthcare setting during their final year.
What Education Do You Need to Become a Pharmacist?
Pharmacists need a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree from an accredited pharmacy program. They must also be licensed, which requires passing two exams. In addition to completing a four-year Pharm.D. program, would-be pharmacists must complete two years of post-graduate training (PGY-1 and PGY-2) in order to be eligible for licensure.
Pre-pharmacy education generally refers to the first four years (eight semesters) of study at a college or university leading up to the Pharm.D. While it is possible to find “pre-pharmacy” programs at some schools, most students choose to major in a science-related field such as chemistry, biology, or biochemistry.
In order to be eligible for admission into a Pharm.D. program, you will need to complete certain prerequisite courses in mathematics and the sciences. These will vary by school, but may include courses such as general and organic chemistry, physics, anatomy, physiology, microbiology, and calculus. You can check with the admissions office of the school you are interested in attending to find out their specific requirements.
In addition to coursework, many colleges and universities also require that students complete a certain number of hours of “observational experience” in a pharmacy setting. This may be done through an internship or externship program offered by the school, or through independent arrangements made by the student.
Once you have completed your pre-pharmacy education and fulfilled all requirements, you will then be eligible to apply to a Pharm.D. program.
Most pharmacy schools require at least 2 years of undergraduate coursework before beginning a 4-year professional ( Pharm.D.) program. While in pharmacy school, pharmacists study the chemistry of drugs and how they interact with the human body. They also receive extensive training in the dispensing of medications and learn to counsel patients on the proper use of prescription and over-the-counter medications. After completing pharmacy school, pharmacists seeking licensure must pass two exams; the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) and a jurisprudence exam specific to the state in which they will practice.
Even after completing an accredited Pharm.D. program and passing the NABP MPJE, pharmacists must continue their education to stay licensed. The requirements for continuing education vary by state, but most states require pharmacists to complete at least 20 hours of approved continuing education every two years. Many states also require pharmacists to complete a certain number of hours of continuing education specific to their practice area, such as immunizations or pain management.
Pharmacists can find many opportunities for approved continuing education through professional organizations such as the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) and state pharmacy associations, as well as through medical conferences and online courses. Some employers also provide opportunities for continuing education, either on-site or by reimbursing employees for courses taken elsewhere.
While there are many different paths that you can take to become a pharmacist, most will require you to have at least a Pharm.D. degree. Some states also require you to pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) before you can practice.
In addition to your academic studies, you will also need to complete an internship or residency program, which will give you the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in the field. Once you have completed all of your Education and Training requirements, you will be able to apply for a license to practice pharmacy in your state.