Home / Career Guides / Pharmacist

Pharmacist Career Guide

What is a pharmacist?

A pharmacist is a healthcare professional who is an expert in medicine and its use. Pharmacists are trained to understand the biochemical mechanisms of drugs, drug uses, therapeutic roles, side effects, potential drug interactions, and monitoring parameters. They assist patients to achieve the best results from their medications, minimize the risk of negative drug effects, and help manage chronic health conditions. They play a central part in maintaining patient health.

In addition to their clinical role, they also serve as a bridge between doctors and patients. Pharmacists communicate with healthcare providers about patient health and medication adjustments, educate patients about health, wellness, and medication management, and provide a vital checks-and-balances system to prevent medication errors. Whether working in a community pharmacy, hospital, or other healthcare setting, a pharmacist supports better health outcomes for individuals and the community as a whole.

Duties and responsibilities

Pharmacists have many duties and responsibilities. These include reviewing prescriptions from doctors to ensure accuracy, checking whether the prescribed medication could cause an adverse reaction or interactions with other medicines a patient might be taking, and completing insurance forms to help patients get needed medication coverage.

They also educate patients on the proper use, dosage, and potential side effects of their medications. Sometimes, pharmacists may need to counsel patients on lifestyle, diet, or wellness programs to promote better health outcomes. A pharmacist is also responsible for managing and overseeing the operation of the pharmacy which could include supervising pharmacy technicians and maintaining records for the purpose of compliance checks by regulatory bodies.

Work environment

Pharmacists work in a variety of settings. They may function in standalone pharmacies, grocery stores, drug stores, hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or in other healthcare facilities. The work environment for a pharmacist usually involves a clean, well-lit, and organized workspace with access to a computer system to monitor and manage patient records and medication inventory. The pharmacist will also spend time in direct engagement with patients and healthcare professionals.

Working in a pharmacy can be fast-paced and require handling multiple tasks simultaneously such as consulting with patients, contacting doctors’ offices, managing staff, and overseeing inventory. The environment demands accuracy, efficiency, good organization, and excellent communication skills.

Typical work hours

The typical work hours of a pharmacist can vary greatly depending on the setting in which they work. Pharmacists in community pharmacies and drug stores often have long hours, as these places are often open at all hours. This could involve working evenings, nights, weekends and holidays. In these settings, pharmacists might work in shifts to cover the full range of opening hours.

In contrast, pharmacists working in a hospital or other healthcare facilities usually work during the usual business hours. However, given the nature of healthcare, it is not uncommon for some pharmacists to work in shifts including overnight, especially in hospitals that require round-the-clock care. Some pharmacists also partake in being “on-call” in case of emergencies. Therefore, flexibility is often a key component of a pharmacist’s work schedule.

How to become a pharmacist

This career guide section outlines the process of becoming a pharmacist. Steps toward this career path include pursuing an appropriate educational background, obtaining licensure, and accumulating necessary experience.

Step 1: Complete high school or obtain a GED

A strong educational foundation is essential for anyone aspiring to work in the pharmaceutical sector. Begin by earning your high school diploma or GED. While in school, pay special attention to scientific subjects and mathematics as these will form the backbone of your pharmaceutical studies later on.

Step 2: Obtain a bachelor’s degree

Before proceeding to a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) program, you must complete a bachelor’s degree. Although no specific major is required, coursework should ideally include biology, chemistry, and physics to provide a solid foundation for advanced study in the field of pharmacy.

Step 3: Pass the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT)

The PCAT is a standardized exam often required for admission to Pharm.D. programs. It evaluates the scientific knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in the field of pharmacy.

Step 4: Earn a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree

Earning a Pharm.D. degree involves completing a university program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE). This coursework typically spans four years and provides an in-depth understanding of the medical aspects of pharmacy.

Step 5: Complete a pharmacy internship

An internship provides practical, hands-on experience and is usually part of the Pharm.D. program. This allows students to apply the knowledge gained in classrooms directly to a real-world setting under the supervision of experienced pharmacists.

Step 6: Pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX)

After obtaining a Pharm.D. degree, you must pass the NAPLEX. This essential step is required to gain licensure as a practicing pharmacist.

Step 7: Pass the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination (MPJE) or a state-specific equivalent

The MPJE is a second licensure requirement for most states. It assesses knowledge of pharmacy law. There are some states, however, that instead use a state-specific law exam. Checking local state requirements is a must.

Step 8: Obtain licensure to administer immunizations

In many states, and depending on specific job roles, pharmacists are required to get additional licensure to administer immunizations. The certification requires a specific course and expands the scope of a pharmacist’s practice to include vaccine administration and patient counseling.

Step 9: Consider a post-graduate residency program

For those interested in specializing in pharmaceuticals, a post-graduate residency program can provide additional training and experience in areas such as pediatrics, oncology, or hospital pharmacy. While not mandatory, a residency can enhance the professional competency level and make certain career pathways more accessible.

Step 10: Continuous professional development

The pharmacy field is ever-evolving with new discoveries, medications, and regulations. Continuous professional development through seminars, conferences, and further educational courses will enable pharmacists to stay updated and maintain their professional competence.

How much do pharmacists make?

Pharmacist salaries vary by experience, industry, education, location, and organization size. Compensation for pharmacists is often influenced by unique factors such as the type of pharmacy they work in (retail, hospital, etc.), their area of specialization, and their ability to work irregular or extended hours.

Highest paying industries

  • Pharmaceutical and Medicine Manufacturing – $138,980
  • Federal Executive Branch – $134,040
  • Outpatient Care Centers – $130,310
  • General Medical and Surgical Hospitals – $129,460
  • Health and Personal Care Stores – $125,650

Highest paying states

  • Alaska – $139,880
  • California – $139,690
  • Vermont – $135,420
  • Maine – $133,050
  • Wisconsin – $132,400

Browse pharmacist salary data by market

Types of pharmacists

Below, we explore common career types and areas of specialization for pharmacists. This section is designed to assist you in understanding the various paths available within the profession and help you to make informed decisions regarding your career.

Community pharmacist

This role entails working in a retail pharmacy setting. Primary responsibilities often include dispensing medications to patients, offering expertise about the safe use of prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs, and providing advice on keeping healthy. The interaction with customers makes excellent communication and people skills essential.

Hospital pharmacist

Professionals in this environment have the critical task of ensuring the safe and effective use of medication inside hospitals. Work revolves around advising physicians on drug selection, administering drugs, and monitoring patients’ medication responses. The work is more in-depth compared to retail pharmacy, requiring a robust understanding of different drug interactions and side effects.

Industrial pharmacist

Working predominantly in the pharmaceutical manufacturing industry, these professionals are engaged in activities from drug discovery and development to quality control. They combine their science skills with their understanding of drugs to create, test, and improve medications. Depending on the specific role, they might advance new drug formulations or ensure that manufactured drugs meet the requisite quality standards.

Consultant pharmacist

Consultant pharmacists primarily offer expert pharmaceutical advice to healthcare organizations, insurance companies, or individual patients. They often work independently or as part of a consulting firm, drawing on their specialized knowledge to review medication regimes, suggest improvements, and contribute to policy development. Consultant pharmacists need extensive experience in the field and a high degree of specialization.


This field combines elements of both pharmacy and epidemiology. Professionals track and study the use and effects of drugs in large groups of people. This role requires an advanced degree and often involves research or academic work. Findings from such specialists are vital to understanding drug safety and effectiveness on a broader scale.

Nuclear pharmacist

Specializing in the preparation and dispensation of radioactive materials for patient administration, nuclear pharmacists play a vital role in nuclear medicine. Their core duties often include ensuring the proper handling and disposal of radioactive drugs, advising healthcare providers on the safe use of radiopharmaceuticals, and monitoring patient outcomes. This career path demands additional training in radiation safety and other aspects unique to the environment of radiation and nuclear medicine.

Top skills for pharmacists

This section highlights the skills and traits that will lead to career success as a pharmacist. A comprehensive and in-depth understanding of healthcare practices, medicines, and patient-counseling techniques is paramount.

Understanding of medicinal compounds

An thorough understanding of medicinal compounds is essential because these professionals need to be precise when fulfilling prescriptions. Their thorough knowledge is invaluable in identifying potential drug interactions that could harm a patient.

Counseling skills

As pharmacists interact directly with patients, good counseling skills are central to the role. From explaining medication usage and dosages to addressing queries and hesitations, a patient-focused approach builds trust and encourages health literacy.

Strong attention to detail

Accuracy in dispensing medicines cannot be compromised and this calls for a strong attention to detail. A single mistake may result in serious health consequences for a patient. Therefore, vigilance and precision form an essential part of their job.

Decision-making abilities

Pharmacists must be confident decision-makers. This could range from identifying drug interactions, deciding on suitable alternatives or addressing complex health situations, each requiring a quick and informed decision.

Commitment to continuing education

The healthcare industry is fast-paced and constantly advancing. These professionals must be committed to continuing education and staying current with the latest treatments and medications available. This adaptability allows them to give the best advice and treatment to their patients.

Pharmacist career path

If you’re a pharmacist, you have a solid foundation for growth and various avenues for career advancement. Many professionals in this field choose to progress within the healthcare industry, taking on more responsibilities and tackling new challenges.

Supervisor roles

One common path is to transition into supervisory roles. These include positions such as head pharmacist or pharmacy manager, where you would oversee the operation of a pharmacy and guide a team of other professionals. This path requires developing leadership and management skills, and often allows for increased compensation and job security.

Industry and commercial sector

Another sound option is to move into the industry and commercial sector by becoming a pharmaceutical sales representative or an industry research analyst. As a representative or analyst, your expertise in medications and their effects can be applied to the development, sales, or marketing of new drugs. These positions offer opportunities to interact with a wide variety of professionals and to influence health care at a broader level.

Education and academia

One last but highly rewarding career choice is entering the realm of academia. By becoming a professor or researcher, you can leverage your knowledge and passion for pharmacology to inspire new generations of pharmacists. This also allows for continued learning and research in specialized subsets of pharmacy.

Career prospects are evolving, with an increasing emphasis on patient-oriented services and collaborative care with doctors and other health professionals. This trend is propelled by the growing demand for pharmacists who can provide medication management services, particularly for individuals with chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and asthma. With the rise of telemedicine due to recent global events, many pharmacists are getting engaged in remote patient monitoring and telehealth, widening the scope of their practice.

Precision medicine and pharmacogenomics are anticipated to shape the pharmacy landscape. These areas consider the genetic makeup of an individual in drug prescription to ensure optimal therapy. In response, educational institutions are incorporating these concepts into their curriculum to prepare future professionals for these advancements. As the industry moves forward, the ability to adapt to emerging technologies will differentiate a successful professional in this field.

Employment projections

According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of pharmacists is projected to increase 2% through 2031. Factors such as the increased use of pharmacy technicians and a shift toward online and mail order pharmacies may negatively impact employment growth. However, the ongoing importance of pharmacists in healthcare delivery should create some opportunities for professionals in this field.

Pharmacist career tips

Stay updated on medication knowledge

Pharmacists need to have a comprehensive understanding of different medications, their impacts, doses, and potential side effects. Medical science never stops growing, with new medicines being developed regularly. You must be committed to ongoing learning to keep up-to-date with these developments. This knowledge helps ensure patient safety and better advice provision. You could consider subscribing to pharmaceutical journals or attending workshops, seminars, and conferences.

Cultivate strong communication skills

As you often interact with patients, physicians, and other healthcare practitioners, it is critical to build strong communication skills. Good communication enables you to understand patient needs, gives clear advice about medication, and effectively interacts with other healthcare professionals. Courses in public speaking, healthcare communication, or patient counseling can help improve these skills.

Enhance technology familiarity

In the digital age, pharmacists frequently use computers for tasks such as maintaining patient records, prescribing medications, and managing inventory. Having a strong familiarity with technology — especially relevant software — can increase your efficiency and effectiveness. Look for training courses or online tutorials that can help you better navigate and use the technology tools commonly found in your field.

Build a professional network

Building a strong network within the industry can offer numerous benefits, including sharing knowledge, learning about new job opportunities, and gaining support from like-minded professionals. Active participation in professional associations and networks is a great way to foster such connections. Consider joining:

  • American Pharmacists Association (APhA)
  • National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA)
  • International Pharmaceutical Federation (FIP)
  • Pharmacy Society of Australia (PSA)

Pursue relevant certifications

Certification is a way to demonstrate your professional competence and commitment to your field. It can also make you more attractive to employers. The following certifications might be beneficial:

  • Certified Geriatric Pharmacist (CGP)
  • Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)
  • Certified Specialty Pharmacist (CSP)

Engage in continuous learning

Since this is a rapidly evolving profession, continuous learning is necessary. Staying informed about the latest studies, attending seminars on modern changes in pharmacy practice, and learning about emerging pharmaceutical technologies will help you stay current in your field. Some methods for continuous learning include:

  • Reading pharmacy journals and industry publications
  • Taking online courses on new subjects related to the profession
  • Attending webinars, conferences, and workshops

Where the pharmacist jobs are

Top employers

  • CVS Health
  • Walgreens
  • Walmart
  • Rite Aid
  • Kroger

Top states

  • California
  • Texas
  • New York
  • Florida
  • Pennsylvania

Top job sites

  • zengig
  • Indeed
  • LinkedIn
  • Monster
  • Pharmacist Jobs


What skills are necessary to work as a pharmacist?

As a pharmacist, you’ll need strong interpersonal skills to communicate with clients and healthcare professionals effectively. Attention to detail is important to avoid making medication errors. Good organizational abilities will help you manage various tasks, from filling prescriptions to dealing with insurance queries. Problem-solving skills are also valuable as you’ll often need to find solutions for patient’s medication needs. Understanding of the medical field and a broad knowledge of medications and their effects are a given.

What does a typical day look like for a pharmacist?

A typical day involves filling and dispensing medications, advising patients about these medications, and handling various administrative tasks. You may also be interacting with healthcare professionals to discuss medications and treatment plans, doing inventory, or attending to insurance queries.

What is the most challenging aspect of working as a pharmacist?

One of the greatest challenges of this role is managing the myriad of tasks involved in dispensing medications, dealing with insurance, and advising patients while maintaining meticulous attention to detail to avoid errors. It is also challenging to keep up with the ever-evolving medical field and the continuous stream of new drugs entering the market.

What academic and professional resources should aspiring pharmacists explore?

Welcome the use of professional resources like the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP), the American Pharmacists Association (APhA), and the National Community Pharmacists Association (NCPA). These organizations offer conferences, training, and networking opportunities. As for academic resources, various textbooks, online materials, and scholarly articles should be explored to stay updated on pharmacology, drug interactions, and disease management.

What are the various specialized roles in pharmacy?

Specializations in pharmacy can take you down many different career paths. For instance, you could specialize in pediatrics, oncology, infectious disease, or nuclear pharmacy. In these roles, you would concentrate on drug therapy specific to these areas. Other specializations include pharmacotherapy and psychopharmacy. These choices offer a wide range of opportunities tailored to your interests, abilities, and career goals.

How has technology impacted the profession of pharmacy?

Technology has revolutionized pharmacy in many ways. From e-prescribing software to robotic dispensing systems, technological advancements have made filling prescriptions more efficient. There’s also been a rise in telepharmacy, which offers convenience to both pharmacists and patients. Additionally, mobile apps and electronic health records have streamlined communication among healthcare providers and improved medication management.

What role does a pharmacist play in public health?

Pharmacists play a pivotal role in public health. They not only provide medications but also offer health education to the public. They advise on the proper use of medications, educate about potential side effects, and even provide health screenings. Pharmacists can be instrumental in preventive care, helping to manage chronic illnesses, and advocating for vaccine use.

What are the ethical considerations a pharmacist must adhere to?

Ethically, a pharmacist must prioritize patients’ health and safety. You must maintain patient confidentiality and privacy, follow prescription orders accurately, stay updated on current knowledge and skills, and be honest and principled in dealings with patients and colleagues. You also need to have a strong understanding of the regulatory environment and adhere to all legal requirements governing the dispensing of drugs.

Can a pharmacist refuse to fill a prescription?

Yes, a pharmacist does have the right to refuse to fill a prescription in certain circumstances. This includes cases where they believe the prescription could harm the patient if they suspect the prescription is fraudulent or not valid, or in case of moral or ethical objections. However, they also have the professional duty to help the patient find an alternative solution, like referring them to another pharmacist.