A pharmacist, sometimes referred to as a druggist, is responsible for correctly dispensing medication, transferring prescriptions, and taking incoming calls from physicians regarding prescriptions for certain patients. A pharmacist job description may also entail logging data on a computer to be evaluated and used by the Drug Utilization Review. This job requires at least a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy and a license to practice.
There are so many specialty fields which are made available for pharmacists. Here are some of the pharmacist specialist positions: Academic Pharmacist, Clinical Pharmacy Specialist, Community Pharmacist, Compounding Pharmacist, Consultant Pharmacist, Drug Information Pharmacist, Home Health Pharmacist, Hospital Pharmacist, Industrial Pharmacist, Informatics Pharmacist, Locum Pharmacist, Managed Care Pharmacist, Military Pharmacist, and Nuclear Pharmacist. The most popular position for a pharmacist is that of a retail pharmacist or community pharmacist; this job primarily involves dispensing drugs to patients. Hospital pharmacist jobs or clinical pharmacist jobs are also quite common. In this scenario, the hospital setting provides a more rigorous training to the pharmacist as he or she performs his daily responsibilities. The responsibility of a typical hospital pharmacist is to give instructions and to professionally counsel patients on the proper use and side effects of over-the-counter and prescribed drugs and medicines. A pharmacist can also give professional advice about health care practices such as stress management, diet, and exercise, about managing health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, and quitting smoking, and about details on home healthcare supplies and medical equipment. Some pharmacists also fill in third-party paperwork such as insurance forms.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, a very large percentage of pharmacists are employed under the retail pharmacy settings, either as salaried employees or as pharmacy owners. Another significant number of pharmacists work in hospitals. There are also pharmacist job openings in online or mail-order pharmacies, wholesalers, physician clinics or offices, and government clinics or offices.
Job growth in the pharmaceutical industry is very promising. Pharmacist training programs are limited and rigorous, and pharmacist education requirements are strenuous, not to mention that employees who retire from this health profession need to be replaced continuously; these factors alone keep the job prospects plentiful. Moreover, mail-order pharmacies are beginning to show a rising demand for pharmacists.
A pharmacist can either work full-time or part-time and has been known to get a decent income for both employment options. They can work in many medical and healthcare sectors. Health insurance companies, public healthcare institutions, regulatory agencies, college or university faculty teaching positions, and pharmaceutical manufacturers are just some of the many institutions which hire pharmacists.
Internet or online pharmacy is also a growing industry that will need the expertise of pharmacists. This mode of dispensing medication has become controversial especially in cases involving controlled substances like Vicodin, for example, and dispensing substandard drugs and medicine. In the United States, prescriptions for obtaining controlled substances are valid when they are issued by a licensed health practitioner such as a physician, and the pharmacy from which the medication is being purchased has the responsibility to make sure that the prescription is valid.
Nuclear pharmacies employ pharmacists who have been trained and accredited to handle and prepare radioactive materials used for many diagnostic tests and disease treatment. Additional training is required for this setting.
One notable environment for a pharmacist is to be employed in a military pharmacy. In this setting, some of the medication dispensing methods that are deemed illegal in the civilian sector are practiced by pharmacists in a military pharmacy.
Advancement in the pharmacy profession is also customary. From staff level or entry level pharmacists, pharmacists can be promoted to pharmacy supervisors or the equivalent as more levels of experience are acquired and accumulated. For hospital pharmacists, promotions for administrative or supervisory positions are also seen. In the pharmaceutical industry or in drug manufacturing companies, pharmacists may move and advance to other fields such as sales, research and development, marketing, quality control, and production sectors.
Just like in choosing other forms of profession, a pharmacist’s career has its own set of drawbacks. Job monotony for community pharmacists can be the most obvious. Furthermore, the most serious concern for any pharmacist is that one error made in dispensing medicine may have a detrimental and lasting effect to a pharmacist’s entire career.
Pharmacist Education and Licensing
Pharmacists undergo formal university-level education in order to sufficiently understand the uses of drugs and their therapeutic roles and their potential side effects. Detailed biochemical mechanisms of action of drugs are also areas which a pharmacist has to master. This is coupled with courses focusing on human anatomy, physiology, and pathophysiology. The specific courses for a pharmacy curriculum include subjects in chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemistry, microbiology, physiology, anatomy, nephrology, hepatology, pharmacology, pharmacognosy, pharmaceutical chemistry, pharmacy practice, pharmaceutics, pharmacy law, pharmacokinetics, drug delivery, pharmaceutical care, and pharmacodynamics. Further specializations in oncology, intravenous nutrition support, nuclear pharmacy, geriatric pharmacy, psychiatric pharmacy, and cardiology are also offered by some pharmacy colleges and schools for pharmacists who intend to focus their career on specialized fields of healthcare.
All throughout the United States, a license is required to practice a career as a pharmacist. This is true for all states, including practicing pharmacy in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the US Virgin Islands. To get a license, a person has to first obtain a Pharm.D. degree from an accredited school or college of pharmacy. A Pharm.D. degree normally takes up to 4 years to complete. Subsequent training and residency may be needed for further specialization in related fields. Postgraduate training in pharmacy practice is required for pharmacists who want to work in a clinical setting. There are also fellowships designed for specialized pharmacy jobs such as those based in research laboratories and drug manufacturing facilities. A Master’s Degree in Business Administration (MBA) is particularly useful for pharmacists who want to establish and run their own pharmacies.
A license is given after passing a series of examinations given by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). All of the states, District of Columbia, and the US protectorates require a pharmacist to pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX). This tests the pharmacy knowledge and skills of the aspiring pharmacist. Another test called the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE) is required by 44 states and the District of Columbia to assess the aspiring pharmacist’s knowledge of pharmacy laws and procedures. The remaining eight states and US territories that do not administer the MPJE have a counterpart examination to specifically target and evaluate a pharmacist’s knowledge of pharmacy law. Most states also have an age requirement and a criminal background check before a license is acquired or granted.
For pharmacy graduates in foreign countries who wish to practice their profession in the United States, more stringent requirements are needed to be met. Except in Puerto Rico, all the states and the US territories allow licensure exams to be taken by graduates of foreign pharmacy colleges and schools. But all applicants must first apply for a certification from the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Examination Committee (FPGEC). After certification is obtained, the following battery of tests must also be passed: Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) exam, Test of Spoken English (TSE) exam, and Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination (FPGEE). Then the NAPLEX and MJPE exams can then be completed and passed to finally get hold of a license to hold a job as a pharmacist in the United States.
Before embarking on any of the career options available to a pharmacist, one must assess and consider first the responsibilities and the qualifications of a licensed pharmacist. The stability, flexibility, career growth, and the decent pay as a pharmacist has to be weighed against all other personal factors and preferences in order to ensure that one’s chosen field can be sustained in a long, if not permanent, period of time.
Pharmacist Salary Considerations
A typical pharmacist earns a median figure of $113,845 per year in the United States. This annual salary is current as of November 2011. It is calculated from a statistical analysis of salary figures collected from thousands of Human Resources departments of different companies and institutions in the country. Just like in all other professions, many aspects, such as years of experience, age, and the geographical location of the place of employment, will make significant impacts on the average pharmacist salary.
The annual salary does not vary much among the various sectors that hire pharmacists; the differences are mostly in the work schedules, work environments, and areas of responsibilities. For pharmacists working in substance abuse and mental health facilities, the yearly average salary is $122,000. Pharmacists who act as consultants can earn more than $121,000. Physicians’ clinics and offices offer an annual average salary of $113,000. In the pharmaceutical retail industry, the typical annual pay is more than $112,000. Geographical location also plays a major role in determining the salary range received by a pharmacist. The states which offer the highest salaries to pharmacists are Maine, California, Alaska, Alabama, and Vermont.