Since 2004, October has been highlighted as American Pharmacist Month, a time to recognize and celebrate the profession of pharmacy.
Combining the cutting edge of medical science and chemistry, pharmacists for centuries have played a key role in local communities. Pharmacies provide more than just key medical supplies and prescription medicines but also serve as an educational source for the general public, distributors of vaccinations, and more. Now more than ever, they play an important role and can be found in the largest cities and smallest towns across the country.
Currently, there are nearly 28,738 pharmacies across the United States, and this number is only expected to grow. Working within them are over 312,550 licensed pharmacists, and the demand for more will only increase with time.
As a profession on the rise, there’s never been a better time to become a pharmacist. Before embarking on this path though, it’s important to understand a bit of the background and what becoming a pharmacist entails. It’s a profession that requires time and dedication, but on the other side lies a stable career that serves the public good.
Famous Pharmacists and Fun Facts
Before we dive into the path a person will take to become a pharmacist, it’s worth looking at some interesting facts and notable figures surrounding the profession.
Many everyday products have their roots in pharmacy. Popular drinks that we still enjoy today such as Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and Dr. Pepper all were invented by pharmacists in the late 19th century. Along with being a tasty refreshment, these beverages were believed to have some light medical benefits at the time ranging from pain relief to digestive aid.
Other interesting inventions of pharmacists include sunscreen, mascara, and penicillin, all of which have served to enrich and improve people’s lives.
Historical figures like the founding father Benjamin Franklin, Vice-president Hubert Humphrey, and mystery novelist Agatha Christie worked in pharmacies throughout their lives. Pharmacists come from all walks of life, and it takes a special blend of innovation and dedication to succeed in the path.
Pharmacists are perhaps the most accessible of all healthcare providers, as an estimated 90% of all Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy. Along with supplying medical supplies, supplements, and prescriptions, they are a community center that can help people identify and solve some health-related issues.
Click here to see how close you are to a Community Pharmacy location, and what products and services they currently offer.
First Steps to Certification
Students who decide they wish to become a pharmacist have a long educational path ahead of them, and it’s important to take the journey step by step to keep a healthy perspective. In high school, aspiring pharmacists should pay special attention to science, math, and English courses, as they all contribute to the skills necessary for the profession.
A necessary step along the pharmacist path is to enroll in an accredited college and complete their bachelor’s degree. Much like medical or law school, any number of majors can lead someone to become a pharmacist, but here are a few of the tried and true areas of focused study:
Along with strong grades, building skills in the area of organization, attention to detail, and communicative ability will help round out their educational experience and prepare them for the daily life of a pharmacist. If possible and available in the area, volunteering at a local pharmacy can provide invaluable real-life experience and give a glimpse into what becoming a pharmacist looks like.
After years of absorbing this knowledge, the first milestone specific to the pharmacist path is the Pharmacy College Admission Test (otherwise known as the PCAT). The specialized test measures aptitude along with a general and specialized knowledge base, and a strong showing is necessary to enter most pharmacy programs.
The main categories of this test are writing, biology, chemistry, critical reading, and quantitative reasoning. Results are measured as a score between 200-600, and most schools require a particular level to gain admittance.
Once students have completed their bachelor’s program and gained the necessary PCAT score, another four years of further education await them before they are fully licensed as a pharmacist.
The Finish Line of a Pharmacist License
Once admitted, most pharmacy school programs take around four years to complete, and some students opt for an additional year or two of an in-person residency program.
Building off lessons and concepts learned in the undergraduate program, students will continue to explore the connection between the human body and pharmaceuticals. Courses like pharmacology, pharmaceutical measurements, medicinal chemistry, and biostatistics dive deep into how medicines are created, prepared for consumption, and how to provide supportive care for patients and customers.
Upon graduating with a “Doctorate of Pharmacy” after four years of study, the NAPLEX exam is the final barrier between a prospective pharmacist and licensure It’s a rigorous exam scaled on a range from 0 to 150, and students must reach at least 75 in order to pass. Once they do, however, a student has all the tools necessary to practice pharmacy anywhere in the state.
If they later wish to move to a new state, a transfer of the license must be completed, and often a licensing exam covering state specific law is required.
The Life of a Pharmacist
The life of a pharmacist can vary depending on the state and situation, but in general, they are responsible for managing all the daily operations of a pharmacy.
Pharmacists are responsible for the timely and accurate fulfillment of prescriptions from physicians and healthcare providers. They also dispense invaluable insights on the purpose of a prescription, potential hazards and side effects, and most importantly, keep detailed notes on patients so that they receive the proper dosage and do not combine potentially harmful medicines.
They often provide further information regarding over-the-counter drugs for common issues and are in charge of keeping their pharmacy stocked with all the supplies their local community needs. Pharmacies are also where many go for healthcare testing, as they submit the samples to nearby labs in a safe and sterile manner.
See where your closest pharmacy is today, and visit us if you have any further questions about how they became a pharmacist, and what being one looks and feels like.
Pharmacists have served their local communities across the country for years with their varied functions, and it’s worth taking to celebrate their service this October.