Education and Training Requirements

High School

If you are thinking of becoming a pharmacist, you should take college preparatory courses and concentrate in the areas of mathematics and science. It is especially important that you excel in biology, chemistry, and physics to prepare for this work. Additionally, you should take English, speech, and a foreign language, because good communication skills will be important as you progress through college, job interviews, and eventual employment as a pharmacist. If owning your own pharmacy sounds interesting to you, consider taking business and accounting courses to prepare yourself for working in and running a drugstore.

Postsecondary Training

To become a pharmacist, you will need to earn the degree Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) from a school accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. The Pharm.D. has replaced the bachelor of pharmacy degree (B.Pharm.), which is no longer awarded. The doctorate degree generally takes six years to complete. The first year or two of study does not take place in a school of pharmacy but rather in a general college setting. You will take pre-pharmacy classes such as chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, physics, calculus, statistics, English, and social sciences. After you have completed this work you will need to gain admission to a school of pharmacy. You may apply to a school of pharmacy that is part of the university where you completed your pre-pharmacy work, or you may apply to a school of pharmacy that is not part of your undergraduate school. In addition to completing pre-pharmacy courses, some schools of pharmacy require applicants to take the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (P-CAT).

In pharmacy school, you will take courses such as the principles of pharmacology, biochemistry, pharmacy law and ethics, and pharmaceutical care. In addition, your education should include an internship, sometimes known as a clerkship, in which you work under the supervision of a professional pharmacist.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Pharmacists who specialize in a specific health care discipline can obtain voluntary certification. Currently the Board of Pharmacy Specialties recognizes and offers certification in many areas including nuclear pharmacy (involving the use of radioactive drugs), nutrition support pharmacy (involving care of patients with special needs in receiving nutrition), oncology pharmacy (involving care of patients with cancer), pharmacotherapy (involving the safe, economic, and proper use of drug therapies), and psychiatric pharmacy (involving the care of those with psychiatric-related illnesses). Pharmacists who specialize in geriatric health care may receive the certified geriatric pharmacist designation from the Commission for Certification in Geriatric Pharmacy.

Practicing pharmacists are required to be licensed in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and all U.S. territories. Applicants for licensure must have graduated from an accredited pharmacy program, completed an internship under a licensed pharmacist, and passed their state's board examination. Pharmacy licensure is generally reciprocal between U.S. states; however, additional tests or criteria may be required to transfer licensure status.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Pharmacy students can obtain valuable experience by completing an internship at a retail pharmacy, hospital pharmacy, or other employer of pharmacists. 

You will need good people skills to deal with patients, other pharmacy workers, and other health care professionals. Retail pharmacists will need to have particularly good customer service skills as they interact with people potentially waiting in line in a retail environment. A good bedside manner (a kind, comforting approach), like that required of doctors, will help you in a hospital or nursing home setting, particularly as pharmacists' responsibilities expand to include counseling and advising. You should also be very organized, and have an eye for detail—doctors, nurses, and patients will all be relying on you to keep accurate drug records.