Career guide: Pharmacist

  • To qualify as a pharmacist you will need to earn an advanced degree in pharmacology.
    To qualify as a pharmacist you will need to earn an advanced degree in pharmacology.

    Career guide: Pharmacist

    If you have a passion for health care and helping others, training as a nurse or heading to medical school to become a physician are by no means the only career opportunities open to you. Indeed, one viable career path that you may be interested in following is that of a pharmacist. These professionals are educated to help patients receive the correct medications, and are qualified to pass on medical advice regarding medication compliance and the risks posed by certain drugs. 

    Read on to learn more about this rewarding and lucrative professional path:

    What do pharmacists do?
    As explained by the University of Iowa's College of Pharmacy, pharmacists are educated to understand the ins and outs of all prescription medications, from their treatment purposes, to their side effects and the risk of interactions with other kinds of drugs. Pharmacists are trained to help and advise patients with regard to medication use, and typically provide instructions to patients about dosage amounts and so on. They can be found in a range of settings, from leading chain drug-stores to hospitals to smaller community-based health care centers.

    An article from U.S. News & World Report included a quote from the president of the National Community Pharmacists Association, Mark Riley, who elaborated on the scope and importance of the role.

    "We consider ourselves the last line of defense before somebody takes medication," he explained. "The thing that separates us from all the other professions is our expertise and drug knowledge, and I think we're going to see pharmacists injected more and more into the health care system."

    Duties and responsibilities
    Here is a closer look at some of the most common duties and responsibilities associated with this role. 

    • Pharmacists check patient health records and review medication history before handing over drugs, The Balance explained. The purpose of this is to ensure that the patient receives the correct dosage and doesn't accidentally take another medication simultaneously that may cause an adverse reaction. This process is completed each time a patient requests medication at a pharmacy, the source noted.
    • They receive prescription directions from physicians and other health care providers and then fill medications in accordance with those directives, the Houston Chronicle explained. Pharmacists are qualified to review the instructions to double-check that the medication prescribed is accurate.
    • Certain medications that do not need a prior prescription from a physician can be dispensed by pharmacists, the Houston Chronicle noted. 
    • Pharmacists are qualified to give advice to patients with regard to things such as how to take medications properly, the correct dose to take, potential side effects and so on, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics stated. They also serve the crucial role of warning patients about potential interactions between medications and even certain kinds of food and drink. 
    • Pharmacists are also able to give out general health advice, specifically as it pertains to preventative health measures, the BLS noted. For example, a pharmacist may advise a patient with irritable bowel syndrome to take a fiber supplement. Pharmacists do not make diagnoses, however. 
    • These professionals also perform administrative tasks necessary for the pharmacy to function, such as completing paperwork from insurance companies.

    As stressed by The Balance, the duties of a pharmacist will vary between organizations, and the above list is by no means comprehensive. It does provide some insight, however, into what most pharmacists are required to do on a day-to-day basis.

    Necessary qualifications
    A high level of education is necessary to qualify as a pharmacist, and all professionals in this field hold an advanced degree. As outlined by U.S. News & World Report, the requisite educational qualification to enter the field is a doctorate of pharmacology. The Houston Chronicle explained that these programs can run for up to four years and include stints of practical education, wherein candidates are required to gain work experience in a pharmacy setting.

    Upon completion of this program students must then become licensed by the state in which they aim to practice, the Houston Chronicle elaborated. This involves studying for and passing exams. Pharmacists are also compelled to continually learn about new developments in the field and renew their licenses after set periods of time. The intervals at which renewals are required vary between states. 

    Salary potential and job outlook
    Given that pharmacists are highly educated and knowledgeable in their field, compensation tends to be generous. Careers website Payscale reported that the median nationwide salary for pharmacists is a lucrative $110,507 a year. It is possible, however, to earn even more than this. The source noted that the top earners in the field can take home in excess of $130,000 annually.

    There are plenty of job opportunities in this sector. By the year 2024 employment levels are projected to have grown by some 3 percent, when compared with the levels seen several years ago in 2014.

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