Pharmacy is an excellent career choice for those looking to make a difference and put their medical knowledge to practice. If you’re interested in a career as a pharmacist, you may have already familiarized yourself with the educational requirements or selected the school of pharmacy you wish to attend. However, if you are just beginning to consider what a career in pharmacy might entail, here are the steps required to become a practicing pharmacist.
Steps to Become a Pharmacist
1. Obtain a PharmD Degree
The first step to becoming a pharmacist is to complete an advanced degree in pharmacy. It’s important to ensure that the degree you select comes from an accredited pharmacy school. The amount of time it takes for you to complete this degree is dependent on the level of education you have already completed. Whether you have obtained your high school diploma or finished your bachelor’s degree, there are options available for you to pursue your Doctor of Pharmacy.
The early assurance program is intended for recent high school graduates who are confident they want to pursue Pharmacy as a career. This program requires two years of prerequisite coursework before applicants are admitted into the professional phase of the PharmD curriculum. This is an excellent choice for those who are confident they want to become a pharmacist and are committed to their academics. Those who qualify for the early assurance program can graduate with their doctoral degree in six years compared to other pathways.
The transfer pathway is intended for those who are in the process of completing a bachelor’s degree and want to transfer into the PharmD program. This option is perfect for aspiring pharmacists who are currently on a different undergraduate path. Current Northeastern undergraduate students can apply for this transfer by requesting to change their major to pharmacy, but if you are not currently enrolled at Northeastern, there are still transfer pathways available to you.
To transfer into the first professional year of the PharmD program, applicants must have completed two or more years of undergraduate work, but have not yet earned a bachelor’s degree. Qualifying students must also complete several prerequisite courses that are science- and mathematics-based:
- Biology I & II (must include at least one lab)
- Chemistry I & II (must include at least one lab)
- Organic Chemistry I & II (with labs)
- Calculus (or other high-level math)
- Human Anatomy and Physiology I & II (with labs)
- General Humanities
Take a look at the PharmCAS application for more information on the requirements for this type of transfer.
If you have completed less than two years of an undergraduate program, or have not taken the required coursework mentioned earlier, you can still apply to transfer into the second pre-professional year of the Early Assurance Doctorate in Pharmacy program through Northeastern’s undergraduate admissions.
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Students admitted into this program will complete the remaining undergraduate coursework at Northeastern, as well as the pre-professional requirements for entrance into the PharmD program. Some of the coursework that you will encounter at Northeastern are:
- General Chemistry I (with lab; required)
- General Chemistry II (with lab; strongly recommended)
- General Biology I (with lab; required)
- General Biology II (with lab; strongly recommended)
- Calculus (or other higher-level math)
- Foundations of Psychology
- College writing
The direct-entry pathway is intended for those who have already completed a bachelor’s degree program and prerequisite courses. While different programs may have different prerequisites, PharmD programs are likely to require undergraduate study in the following areas:
- General Chemistry
- General Biology
- Organic Chemistry
- Calculus/Other Advanced Math
- Arts/Humanities/Social Sciences
- Human Physiology
Obtaining a degree in a science-related field such as chemistry or biology is an excellent way to ensure that you have the required coursework before applying to a pharmacy program.
2. Fulfill Your Licensure Requirements
Once you have obtained your PharmD degree, the next step is to pass the mandatory examinations in order to fulfill your licensure requirements. There are two exams that you must pass in order to become a licensed pharmacist in your preferred state.
National Pharmacy Licensing Exam (NAPLEX)
The NAPLEX exam is a requirement for pharmacists across the United States. This examination is developed and overseen by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). It ensures that you have extensive knowledge and understanding of the pharmacy practice needed to succeed in the field.
Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination
Each state has different regulations that pharmacists must be aware of when pursuing their licenses. While the NAPLEX exam is required, regardless of where you practice, each state has an additional exam that is required to obtain licensure. These tests confirm you have a working knowledge of state pharmacy law. If you are considering moving from one state to another, it is important to remember that you will have to obtain licensure for that specific state by passing its jurisprudence exam.
3. Complete Post-Graduate Training
In addition to the above steps, pharmacists who are interested in pursuing more specialized practices may complete additional training such as post-graduate residencies or fellowship programs.
If you are looking to work in more direct patient care settings such as critical care, infectious disease, cardiology, ambulatory care, etc., you will need to complete a postgraduate year 1, and potentially a postgraduate year 2, pharmacy residency program.
- Postgraduate year 1 (PGY1) pharmacy residency program: This training involves intensive exposure to pharmacy practice under a trained pharmacist. It’s meant to ensure that you have practical experience in the field, while also providing direct supervision.
- Postgraduate year 2 (PGY2) pharmacy residency program: This residency generally provides specialized training for pharmacists who wish to enter into a specific industry such as cardiology, infectious disease, ambulatory care, or pediatrics.
It is important to be aware of these additional training requirements as you enter into a PharmD program. Clinical experience through a residency is quickly becoming a requirement for pharmacist jobs. Keep in mind that you will typically apply to your residencies during your final year of pharmacy school when you have a better idea of what specialization you want to pursue.
A fellowship program is designed for pharmacists who want to work in pharma, biotech, and some academic positions. Fellowship programs typically take two years to complete and are concentrated in a certain area of expertise. Fellowships are highly individualized and generally have a heavier emphasis on scholarly activities versus clinical experience. Overall, fellowships are intended to advance the participant’s knowledge and scholarship experiences to better position them after graduation.
In addition to completing the three steps listed above, there are several important skills that pharmacists must possess across the board to succeed in this field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the following skills as some of the most important for pharmacists to develop:
- Analytical Skills: One of the key responsibilities of pharmacists is to provide safe medications for their patients. In order to do this, they need to analyze the patient’s medical needs and maintain a thorough understanding of the impact different treatments will have on the patient. For example, if a patient is taking multiple medications, the pharmacist will want to know how they will interact with one another.
- Communication Skills: Pharmacists are tasked with educating patients on the benefits and side effects of different medications, and ensuring that the patient has a complete understanding of how to administer each.
- Computer Skills: Different organizations will make use of different electronic health record (EHR) systems. It’s crucial for pharmacists to have a thorough understanding of how to use a computer in order to effectively navigate those systems.
- Attention to Detail: Attention to detail is one of the most important responsibilities of a pharmacist. The smallest mistake can lead to harming a patient. For example, inaccurate dosage labeling or giving the wrong medication to a client could have disastrous results.
- Managerial Skills: Managerial skills such as inventory management and the ability to oversee a staff are crucial to becoming a successful pharmacist.
As you fulfill your educational and training requirements, do your best to improve your skill set in these areas. Doing so will not only increase your chances of getting a pharmacy job but will also make you a better pharmacist overall.
Take the First Steps Toward Your Career
If you’re ready to take the first steps into your career as a pharmacist, it is important to ensure that you select a Doctor of Pharmacy program from an accredited school. Northeastern University’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences offers an accredited PharmD program that offers both early assurance, transfer, and direct entry. This is an excellent choice for those looking to pursue a professionally rewarding pharmacy career.