Pharmacists are medication experts and play a critical role in helping people get the best results from their medications. A core part of a pharmacist’s job is to individualize drug therapy based on a patient’s age, size, organ function, other medications and diseases, allergies, diet, insurance, pharmacogenetic profile and other specific to each patient. Pharmacists prepare and dispense prescriptions, prevent medication errors by ensuring each medication dose is correct, prevent harmful drug interactions, and educate patients on the safe and appropriate use of their medications. They have specialized expertise in the composition of medicines, including their chemical, biological, and physical properties, as well as their manufacture and use.
Other health care professionals rely on pharmacists to select and administer medications that offer the best results and quality of life for a particular patient. Pharmacists may also prepare personalized medications (known as compounding pharmacy), participate in patient rounds at a hospital, reduce the spread of infections, conduct research or clinical trials, or focus on a specific patient population (e.g., pediatrics, geriatrics) or disease state (e.g., diabetes, heart disease, asthma, HIV, and pain management).
Pharmacists are also the most accessible health care professional, since nearly 90% of people in the U.S. live within 5 miles of a pharmacy! If this sounds interesting to you, then perhaps becoming a pharmacist — a trusted, caring, and knowledgeable health care professional — is for you.
Pharmacists work in a wide variety of practice settings, such as hospitals, clinics, community pharmacies, telehealth or telepharmacies, government facilities, universities, or drug companies. This means every pharmacist can find the practice setting that best incorporates their skills and interests. In fact, according to the 2022 National Pharmacist Workforce Study, most pharmacists work in a hospital or other inpatient health system setting.
The profession continues to change, and more pharmacists are working in clinical roles in hospitals, physician offices, and specialty clinics. Pharmacists can also be found in emergency rooms, pediatric departments, oncology centers, cardiac care units, intensive care units, poison control centers, and long-term care facilities (e.g., nursing homes). Some pharmacists work for the government and the military. In most settings, they spend much of the workday on their feet.
Most pharmacists work full time, although about 1 in 6 worked part time in 2022. Because many pharmacies are open at all hours, some pharmacists work nights and weekends.
In 2023, 141 colleges and schools of pharmacy were recognized by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. To practice as a pharmacist, one must earn a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree and pass a national board and state board of pharmacy licensure examination to practice in the U.S. Colleges and schools of pharmacy offer the Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree program in various lengths and structures. Most Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree programs require at least 2 years of specific preprofessional (undergraduate) coursework followed by 4 academic years (or 3 calendar years) of professional study. Pharmacy colleges and schools may accept students directly from high school for both the pre-pharmacy and pharmacy curriculum (known as a 0-6/7 program structure), or after completion of the college course prerequisites (known as the 2-4 program structure). Prerequisite courses vary between schools but typically include biology, chemistry, physics, calculus, statistics, anatomy, physiology and more. It is advised to do thorough research on a program’s requirements using the PharmCAS School Directory before applying. The Pharmacy College Application Service (PharmCAS) makes it easy to apply to multiple schools using a single application.
PharmD graduates can choose to go directly into pharmacy practice or pursue additional post-graduate training opportunities such as a residency, fellowship, specialization, or degree (i.e., MBA, PhD) to further enhance their skills and expertise. Residency programs are divided into two postgraduate years. Postgraduate year one (PGY-1) offers more generalized training, providing residents with exposure to a broad range of clinical scenarios. Postgraduate year two (PGY-2) emphasizes a specific area of interest and helps lead to specialization in that field.
The cornerstones of any pharmacy practice residency include direct patient care and practice management. During a residency program, the resident can develop skills and competence in providing pharmaceutical care to patients in various settings, thus accelerating growth beyond entry-level experience. Licensed pharmacists may choose to become board certified to demonstrate pharmacy expertise in a specialty area of practice: Ambulatory Care, Cardiology, Compounded Sterile Preparations, Critical Care, Geriatric, Infectious Diseases, Nuclear, Nutrition Support Oncology, Pediatric, Pharmacotherapy, and Psychiatric.
Students interested in laboratory or research experience can continue their education by completing a fellowship. Pharmacy fellowships are highly individualized programs designed to prepare participants to work in research laboratories.
Other options for Pharm.D. graduates who are interested in further training include dual degree program (Ex.: MBA, PhD). As of 2023, 121 colleges and schools of pharmacy offered dual degree programs in various fields including business, science, public health, health administration and more.
Learn More About a Career as a Pharmacist
- Pharmacy is Right for Me can help you identify the pharmacy career option that is right for you.
- Pharmacy is a diverse and rewarding career, with opportunities for patient care, scientific research, and innovation. Learn more about the inspiring journeys of pharmacists who change lives.
- American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy
- American Society of Health-System Pharmacists
- American Pharmacists Association