What a Pharmacist Does
Pharmacists are medication experts. They traditionally work in pharmacies (chemist shops), hospitals, and long-term care facilities. They handle a variety of duties, including dispensing medication. It’s typically the pharmacist’s job to ensure customers understand how their medications work, how to take them, and what side-effects may occur. Pharmacists regularly provide consultations about medications being given and provide advice to customers about which medications are most appropriate for their condition.
In some jurisdictions, pharmacists now have the ability to diagnose and prescribe specific medications, though they differ from physicians in that their expertise lies in how compounds interact with the body, not necessarily dysfunction of the body as a whole. Ergo, even a pharmacist who can prescribe will still refer patients out when a condition requires more than basic treatment.
It’s also worth noting that there are specialty areas a pharmacist may enter into, such as:
Who would enjoy a career in Pharmacy?
Naturally, being detail-oriented is required in the field. Having a deep appreciation for and understanding of biology, chemistry, and mathematics is essential too. Those who do best in the career tend to possess both an analytical and humanistic mindset as well, as the technical aspects are married with providing patients with the very best care possible.
Who mightn't like the career?
With all the technical aspects of the career, it’s easy to forget that most pharmacists have consumer-facing jobs, meaning it’s a customer service job. Those who are unprepared to work with people when they may be at their worst and difficult due to illness or chronic pain will not fare well. Because this is a field where an error could have catastrophic consequences, it’s not a good field for those who are not detail-oriented as well as those who don’t manage stress well.
The requirements to get into the field vary based upon region.
In the United States, a doctoral degree is required to work as a pharmacist, so it typically takes individuals between six and eight years to break into the field. Licensing is also required. The North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) and a state-specific test will need to be passed first.
In the United Kingdom, a Master of Pharmacy (MPharm) is required first, which is then followed up with one year of practical training. Passing a General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) exam is the final step before registration.
In the Canadian process, candidates must earn a bachelor's or doctor of pharmacy degree from an accredited school, then pass the national board exam. An internship or practical training is required as well.
Australia allows candidates to earn a bachelor or master’s degree, which is then followed by a year of hands-on-training. Registration with the Pharmacy Board of Australia is also required.
Because this tends to be one of the better-paying fields, experienced interviewers will often be a bit skeptical about why a candidate chose the career. They’ll typically ask questions to ensure the candidate is motivated by altruistic means to help ensure that the person they chose is going to put the care of the patients first. Ethical questions will also be part of the mix. Employers are often wary of hiring those who openly argue against traditional prescribing methods, but will also typically hesitate when someone is unwilling to put a critical eye on any given prescription. In other words, candidates must walk a fine line between thinking critically and making personal judgments. Naturally, a fair portion of the interview will be devoted to clinical knowledge, customer service, and organization fit as well.
- Seven of the hardest pharmacy interview questions and how to answer them
- How to Master Your Pharmacy Job Interview
- Pharmacy Employment Interviewing: How to Present Yourself and Your Qualifications Skillfully
Moving into Pharmacy from another career
Without having a pharmacist degree, it’s impossible to transition into the field. A return to school will be necessary. In situations where a master’s degree or doctoral degree is required, gaining admittance into a program is easier for candidates who have a degree in allied health, biology, or chemistry. Those with experience working in a pharmacy will typically receive preferential treatment by schools as well.
Those who are interested in a pharmacy career and are not prepared to return to school right away may do well to start off as a pharmacy assistant or pharmacy technician. These positions have reduced requirements and can often help pave the way for pharmacist school.
Role: There is no linear career path or path of progression for most pharmacists. However, the NHS does provide one (UK-specific), with newcomers starting at band 6 with opportunities to rise to band 9. Aside from this, pharmacists should be prepared to complete a myriad of duties from the onset of hire, ranging from dispensing medication through providing vaccinations, giving consultations, and more. Depending on the employer, nights, weekends, and holidays may be required in the field.
Hours: 37-40 per week
Most pharmacists do not travel for work, though the predictable schedule and solid salary make it easy for pharmacists to enjoy leisure travel.
Average: According to PayScale, pharmacists earn an average of USD$112,000 per year in the United States. In the United Kingdom, the average is £35,000, whereas salaries are CAD$84,000, and AU$68,000 in Canada and Australia, respectively.
Entry-Level (0-5 years): USD$109,000, £33,000, CAD$90,000, AU$63,000
Mid-Career (5-10 years): USD$118,000, £39,000, CAD$97,000, AU$74,000
Experienced (10-20 years): USD $120,000, £41,000, CAD$98,000, AU$79,000
Later-Career (20+ years): USD $121,000, £43,000, CAD$101,000, AU$77,000 (AU salary has small sample size)
Bonuses, profit sharing, and commission can add a few thousand to a pharmacist’s annual salary.
Why a Pharmacist moves on
Data from PayScale indicates more than one-third of professionals have been in the career for more than a decade, with one-in-five having 20 or more years of experience. In other words, a great many stay with their careers for life. Moreover, most people say they’re highly satisfied with their careers, giving it a 4 out of five score.
That said, many do report feeling overwhelmed due to understaffing, while others struggle with emotions due to working with people who are ill so much. In some cases, moving to an alternate employer or job type is enough to alleviate the issues without leaving the field altogether.
For those who do face extreme burnout, there’s often a big dilemma; whether to leave a high-paying career after investing six years in school or to try to stick it out. The good news is, most people who do leave are able to leverage this to start their new careers. For example, the high salary often enables pharmacists to pick up new hobbies and explore personal interests. Once someone has homed in on an alternate preferred area, he or she is then able to use some of the earnings to fund a new business and begin a new life as an entrepreneur.