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Overview

Pharmacists dispense medications prescribed by physicians and other health practitioners and monitor patient health. They advise physicians and other health practitioners on the selection, dosages, interactions and side effects of medications. They must also understand the use, clinical effects and composition of drugs, including their chemical, biological and physical properties. Pharmacists are the medication experts.  They protect the public by ensuring drug purity and strength.

The goal of pharmacy care is to maximize positive health care outcomes and improve patients’ quality of life with minimum risk. Most pharmacists work in a community setting, such as a retail drug store, or in a hospital or clinic.

Education

In 2013, 129 colleges and schools of pharmacy were recognized by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. Pharmacy programs grant Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degrees, which require at least six years of post-secondary study and passing a state board of pharmacy licensure examination.

The Pharm.D. is a four-year program that requires at least two years of college study prior to admittance. The majority of students enter pharmacy programs with three or more years of college. The Pharm.D degree has replaced the Bachelor of Pharmacy (B.Pharm.) degree, which is no longer awarded.

There are varying academic paths depending on the college or university. For example, Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, requires a minimum of 60 credit hours for admission in to their Pharmacy program. The non-degree pre-pharmacy curriculum includes:

  • General Chemistry
  • Applied Calculus
  • Fundamentals of Biology
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Economics
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • General Physics
  • Immunology

At Purdue, the professional curriculum leading to the Pharm.D. requires four years of study and admission into this program requires completion of the pre-pharmacy requirements. The entire curriculum is highly structured, allowing time for only a modest amount of elective study. Also, to complete the professional program in four years, students must consistently be successful in their completion of all of the required courses in each year of the program.

The University of Texas (UT), Austin, has the following required pre-pharmacy courses (semester hours in brackets):

  • Biology (6)
  • Genetics (6)
  • Chemistry (16)
  • Microbiology (4)
  • Composition (6)
  • Literature (3)
  • Mathematics (3)
  • Statistics (3)
  • Physics (4)
  • Foreign Language

UT Austin offers a professional degree program that leads to the Doctor of Pharmacy degree (Pharm.D.) The Pharm.D. program includes two years of pre-pharmacy coursework and four years of work within the college in the pharmaceutical and clinical sciences.  The curriculum is designed to provide the state and nation with pharmacists who are scientifically trained and clinically competent to deliver a full spectrum of pharmaceutical services in all areas of practice and to be leaders in the profession. UT opines that the profession of pharmacy has evolved from a role primarily in medication distribution to a patient oriented, pharmaceutical care model.

These are just two examples of pharmacy programs to illustrate the different pre-pharmacy course requirements.

Employment

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for pharmacists was $116,670 in 2012. The top 10% earned $145,910. There were a total of 286,400 employed in this profession in 2012 with the growth rate predicted to be 14% through 2022 or 41,400 jobs changed. Most full-time salaried pharmacists work about 43 hours a week while some self-employed ones work more than 50 hours a week. Roughly 20% work part-time.

Per the BLS, 43% were employed in pharmacies and drug stores in 2012 and 23% worked in hospitals on the state, local and private levels.