How Long Does it Take to Become a Pharmacist

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In America, one of the fastest growing employment sectors is health care. In health care, one of the major career paths is that of a pharmacist. With a median annual salary of $113,390 in 2011 that grew to $121,500 in May 2015, this field can provide financial stability and an excellent quality of life. However, a common question is this, how long does it take to become a pharmacist? Although the educational requirements for pharmacists, as for many other healthcare professions, can appear quite long, the benefits can make it a worthwhile time investment.

What Is a Pharmacist?

A pharmacist is a licensed health care professional who deals primarily with medications. Although we generally only interact with pharmacists when filling prescriptions, there are other duties and responsibilities involved with pharmacists. Also, in addition to the commonly seen positions at the local drugstore, pharmacists also work in hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Aside from clinical work, some pharmacists research new medications or work for pharmaceutical companies that manufacture and test medications. Because there is a variety of career directions a pharmacist can follow, the question “how long does it take to become a pharmacist?” can only be answered with a general time frame.

Duties & Responsibilities

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A pharmacist’s basic tasks can be broken into a few categories:

Health Care Team

Patient care in modern medicine requires a team of individuals, each with specific responsibilities. Pharmacists handle the dispensing of medications to patients, a key treatment for many conditions. Their responsibility is to guarantee that the medications and treatments are safe and proper for patients. This requires interaction with doctors, pharmaceutical companies, and patients. Also, pharmacists have their own team to supervise, featuring pharmaceutical technicians and other assistants.

Patient Safety

Though it may seem that a pharmacist merely takes a prescription and fills it, there is much more to this seemingly simple interaction. Many medications run the risk of interactions with other drugs or supplements and could induce allergic reactions. Risks must be minimized before a medication can be released to a patient. Therefore, a pharmacist is a key safety check in the healthcare system. When treating the critically ill in a hospital, this can be of life or death importance, and it is still important in a local pharmacy.

Public Health

With the many new drugs and treatments released every year, it is important for pharmacists to constantly stay current. This requires both technical knowledge of these medications, and education of the public. With this knowledge, pharmacists can collaborate with doctors on the proper treatments for patients as well as reinforce any important information provided by doctors. So, the question “How long does it take to become a pharmacist?” should be answered with the time range plus a yearly continuing education.

Becoming a Pharmacist – a Step-by-Step Guide

For those interested in becoming a pharmacist, the stages to follow are undergraduate education, graduate education, and then post-graduate education. The time requirements for each stage may vary. However, only by looking at the stages together can one understand how long does it take to become a pharmacist.

Undergraduate Education

Prior to pharmacy school, a certain number of prerequisites must be completed. This involves coursework in chemistry, English composition, mathematics, and other varied topics. Some schools require a bachelor’s degree as well, which generally takes four years. Other schools require two or three years of college for prerequisites to be completed. Finally, there are schools that offer combination programs, which can cover prerequisites as well as pharmaceutical school training, or offer additional degrees in conjunction.

Pharmacy College Admission Test

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Before entering pharmacy school, applicants must take a Pharmacy College Admission Test. Biology, chemistry, and sciences are tested along with verbal and writing skills. This test is not purely multiple choice as it features a written essay. Tests like this can add variation to the answer to the question, “How long does it take to become a pharmacist?” because failure to pass can increase the time required.

Graduate Education

Pharmacy school is a graduate-level professional doctorate program. Coursework is intense, with classes in pharmaceutical calculations, infectious diseases, and oncology. One way to think of it is this; pharmacists must have an understanding of the many processes in the body and how disease and different chemicals can affect these processes.

Knowing the chemical reactions gives an understanding as to why some drugs could interact with one another in a person. Mathematics is also required because dosages could be adjusted to the size of a patient. Pharmacy doctorate programs generally last four years and may include practical training.

Post-Graduate Education

After graduating from pharmacy school, further instructions may still be involved.

Internship

An internship is practical training where pharmacy students perform many of the everyday tasks of a pharmacist under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist. This is a requirement that can vary by state. This requirement may LAO be incorporated into the Doctor of Pharmacy graduate program. Applicants are encouraged to research this before entering any program.

Residency

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Pharmacist training
After completing their pharmacy school and generally their licensing examinations, pharmacists can enter a residency for further training. These teach topics beyond the scope of everyday pharmacy and can open up paths to other career opportunities, such as research. These are not required to become a pharmacist, but certain jobs may require them. Some examples of residency are the following:

Pharmacoepidemiology

This field follows patterns of diseases and how medications affect these patterns. There is a good amount of research done in this field, with topics focusing on topics like drug safety and efficacy.

Gerontology

This field focusing on an aging population and expands from medications to the biological, social, and psychological effects of aging. Aside from research, there are also career opportunities focusing on geriatric pharmaceutical practice. With America’s aging population, there may be more future opportunities in this field.

Continuing Education

It is important to note that pharmacists are required to complete continuing education every year to stay current on new findings in health care.

Board Examinations

Although this is usually completed before residency, the act of passing the board exams is the final step to becoming a pharmacist. Once all the board examinations are passed, Pharmacists can work as a pharmacist. However, if the board requirements for the state of residence are not passed, one still cannot work as a pharmacist even if they have received their doctorate in pharmacy from their school. The answer to, “How long does it take to become a pharmacist,” can be answered by, “How long does it take before one passes all the board examinations?” These are the board examinations for pharmacists.

North American Pharmacist Licensing Exam

Referred to as the NAPLEX, this is a computer-administered test where questions may change based on performance. Though it can be retaken if one does not pass, some states may limit the number of chances. There is a charge for this test.

Multi-State Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam

This exam covers the laws and legal considerations around prescribing medications at both a federal and a state level. There is a charge for this test as well.

Written and Practical Exam

These tests can vary by state. All applicants are encouraged to research specific state requirements before starting down the path to becoming a pharmacist.

So How Long Does It Take to Become a Pharmacist?

This question depends on one’s educational background before entering the process. For those with a life science bachelor’s degree, it will take about four years. For those with some life science college classes, about six years. With no previous college classes, it takes about eight years. It is important to note that there are also residency programs that last 1-2 years if one wishes to pursue pharmaceutical specialties.

Also, licensing tests must be passed, which can potentially add more time either due to scheduling or failure to pass. Despite this, here is the simple answer.

How long does it take to become a pharmacist? – One should plan on it taking eight years, but hopefully it will take less.

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Conclusion

The path to becoming a pharmacist is not a short one. Prerequisites themselves are intense and take two to four years. Provided one passes the Pharmacy College Admission Test, pharmacy students must also survive an intense four years of training only to face board exams. In addition, after passing boards, pharmacists must decide whether or not to enter a residency program to open up further opportunities or enter the workforce. All of this is with the potential burden of student loans.

However, a pharmacist also receives a median six-figure salary, job growth, and the luxury of having job prospects across the nation. True, there are continuing education requirements and possible licensing requirements if one wishes to move to another state, but the main board exam and jurisprudence exam cover multiple states. As for the question, “How long does it take to become a pharmacist?” The answer is that it takes quite a few years, probably almost a decade, but the prize at the end may be well worth the journey.