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Career: Pharmacist

A Day in the life of a Pharmacist

Pharmacists dispense drugs and medicines prescribed by physicians and health practitioners. As such, a pharmacist must possess the medical knowledge necessary to inform his or her customers about the purpose, hazards, and side effects of any drug he or she dispenses. Pharmacists also keep computerized and often detailed records of patient drug use and medical profiles to ensure that patients won’t combine drugs that shouldn’t be taken with one another and that they are following their doctors’ instructions concerning dosage. It is an increasing part of the pharmacist’s job to be actively involved with patients, providing information on prescription drugs, referring patients to appropriate over-thecounter drugs, and advising physicians on the proper selection and use of medications. Pharmacists employed in community pharmacies, as nearly 60 percent are, may also take on the responsibilities of running the business, such as buying and selling nonpharmaceutical merchandise (think of what else you can get at Rite Aid), hiring and supervising personnel and pharmacy technicians, and overseeing much of the day-to-day operation of the pharmacy itself. Although pharmacists who run their own business certainly perform these tasks, even salaried employees of big-chain pharmacies can find themselves taking on some managerial responsibilities in addition to their pharmaceutical duties. Pharmacists who are employed by hospitals (this group makes up 25 percent of the profession), clinics, and HMOs dispense prescriptions and work as consultants to the medical team. They also make sterile solutions for use in the emergency room and in surgical procedures, purchase medical supplies, instruct interns, and perform administrative duties. Some of them in the hospital and medical field continue their education and conduct research into new medicines and areas of drug therapy, specializing in drug therapies for psychiatric disorders, for example, or the use of radiopharmaceuticals. Most pharmacists spend an average of 44 hours per week at their jobs, but individuals who are self-employed tend to work longer. In any case, the work is not sedentary, and pharmacists report spending a lot of their time on their feet.

Paying Your Dues

The majority of students enter pharmacy school with at least three years of college under their belts. Undergraduate study should consist of mathematics and sciences such as biology, chemistry, and physics, as well as humanities and social sciences. Students on this track need to pay close attention to the curriculum recommended by the college of pharmacy they intend to apply to in order to fulfill admissions requirements. Students must then complete at least two years of special pre-pharmacy coursework followed by four academic years of pharmacy study. In addition to being knowledgeable, a pharmacist needs to have good people skills. Successful completion of the academic and clinical requirements of a professional degree from an accredited program and passage of a state board examination are required to obtain a license to practice pharmacy.

Associated Careers

Education and training in the pharmaceutical sciences open up more career choices than just the practice of pharmacy. Drug manufacturers and wholesalers hire pharmacists as sales and medical service representatives. Drug companies see the advantages of having informed salespeople pitching their products to retail pharmacies and hospitals, and pharmacists provide credible information on new drug products to prospective buyers. With additional education and training, a qualified pharmacist can also teach in colleges of pharmacy, supervise the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, or become involved with the research and development of new medicines. With more academic work, pharmacists can move into pharmacology or become pharmaceutical chemists. The academically minded pharmacists combine pharmaceutical and legal education to pursue jobs as patent lawyers or consultants on pharmaceutical and drug laws.

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