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.
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.
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.