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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.

Present and Future

The days of a pharmacist’s work resembling that of an ancient alchemist are gone. The actual mixing of ingredients to form powders, tablets, capsules, ointments, and so on is the smallest part of a pharmacist’s job. Most medicines are now produced by pharmaceutical companies and come pre-packaged. Though technology has taken over one aspect of a pharmacist’s job, it has also created a need for more pharmacists. Scientific advances in medicine have made drugs for the treatment and prevention of disease widely available, and with more and more new drugs and drug treatment options available, there is a demand for pharmacists who can consult physicians, health care practitioners, and patients on the proper use of these new drugs. Also important to the projected growth in the profession is the increase in the elderly population —the primary consumers of medicines—as the average life expectancy of Americans rises every year. This puts the career of pharmacist among an elite group of professions that are luring new graduates into the field with perks, incentives, and generous salaries.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Many pharmacists will start out as employees of community pharmacies and retail chains, while others will work in hospitals with limited responsibilities under the watchful eyes of their supervisors. Starting salaries range widely for entry-level pharmacists, depending on region and practice setting.

FIVE YEARS OUT

By this point, pharmacists who can afford to start up their own businesses have the experience to do so. Those individuals working in community pharmacies have the professional experience to move into managerial and supervisory positions, and pharmacists working in hospitals will assume senior supervisory positions and direct the actions of interns and newly licensed pharmacists. Pharmaceutical companies are also searching for pharmacists with this level of experience to act as sales representatives. Others pharmacists choose to pursue a master’s or doctorate degree to move into teaching and research positions.

TEN YEARS OUT

Well established by this point in their careers, those individuals who have stayed within the community pharmacy field are managers, and some of them have achieved executive positions within the company. People who have remained in hospitals assume administrative positions or have achieved the position of director of pharmacy service and are in charge of all of the hospital’s pharmaceutical services. But nearly any pharmacist with this much experience can find gainful employment in the manufacturing side of the industry in management positions, sales, research, quality control, advertising, production, and other areas. After 10 years,many pharmacists have enough capital to finally start their own practices, while those individuals who have had their own businesses should enjoy continued success.