Pharmacist Training and Education

Training to be a Pharmacist

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The demand for professional pharmacists is higher than ever. The healthcare and pharmaceutical industries are growing at a rapid pace, meaning the opportunities are far greater than the current supply. So if you’re considering a career in pharmacy, you couldn’t have picked a better time.

The Skinny on Pharmacist Training

pharmacist-trainingTo work as a pharmacist in the U.S., a Doctor of Pharmacy degree (or Pharm.D.) is required. You will also be required to pass a state exam before you receive your license to practice medicine.

You will be expected to complete two years of undergraduate studies, followed by four academic years of study in a professional pharmaceutical program. These are the minimum requirements for a Pharm.D. Degree; however, we will discuss these and further studies in greater depth as we continue.

Starting Early

If you’re still in high school, you can get a head start on your studies by establishing a strong foundation in science and math. You’re going to be facing some pretty intense advanced science courses, so a strong grasp of biology, chemistry, physics, and math will give you a leg-up when you begin your Pharm.D. studies.

Undergraduate Education

While students are only required to complete two years of undergraduate studies, most choose to complete three or more years of a college bachelor’s degree before beginning a pharmacy degree program. Since you intend on pursuing a degree in pharmacy, you aren’t required to pursue a specific major during your undergrad studies; however, certain courses like biology, chemistry and physics can lay a valuable groundwork for your future pharmacy classes.

Pharm.D. Degree

Your Doctor of Pharmacy program will require four years of study to prepare you for the myriad aspects of the pharmaceutical profession. Your curriculum will vary depending on your chosen school; however, many of the basics building blocks will be the same. A few of those foundational areas include:

– Pharmacology, which will teach you the way drugs work in the body. A pharmacist is meant to be an expert on drugs, so while physicians will certainly know a great deal about this topic, you’ll need a far greater knowledge and understanding of the subject. You will learn about dosing and the various methods for introducing drugs into the system, as well as the effects of poisons and toxins and how to combat them.

– Pharmaceutical chemistry will teach you about the use of chemical sciences in pharmaceutical products. In this aspect, you will learn about how chemicals are used as medicines, as well as how they are prepared and how to preserve them. You will also learn how to judge the potency and purity of a certain chemical or chemical product.

– Pharmacognosy will educate you about drugs derived from natural (plant or animal) sources. You will learn about where these drugs come from, how they are refined and commercially produced, and the various ways these drugs can be utilized.

– Pharmacy practice is an aspect that every college will cover in some fashion, with the intent of giving you a solid background in the pharmaceutical profession. In these classes, you will not only learn the scientific and technological aspects, but you will also be trained in taking a patient-oriented approach in your practice. You will learn how to dispense medicines accurately and how to identify a wide variety of medicines and drugs.

Your Pharm.D. studies will also provide a clinical component which will take your education from head knowledge to practical application. You will begin to apply the knowledge you have acquired to real-life situations. You will learn and develop your communication skills, which will be invaluable in your interactions with patients and other health professionals. You will also become more aware of your patients’ needs, including proper diagnosis, patient care, and the careful monitoring of your patients’ drug consumption.

You may also study topics like pharmacy ethics and law, business management and pharmacy administration. These minor studies will round out your education and prepare you for beginning your practice as a professional pharmacist.

Post-Graduate Training

Before you go on to take state exams for your pharmacist license, it’s a good idea (and often a requirement) for aspiring pharmacists to gain some practical experience over the course of one or two years. Those who are focusing on clinical or research fields would be wise to participate in a fellowship or residency program. Those who intend to go into retail pharmacy should participate in a similar program tailored to their particular field.

A residency will give you the opportunity to work alongside trained and certified professionals, giving you some real-world experience in a hands-on environment. Not only does this period offer some invaluable experience when you’re still a little wet behind the ears, it can also go a long way when you’re looking for long-term employment. It’s something that will look good on your resume and show that you have some solid experience to back up all your head stuffing.


Once you have graduated as a Doctor of Pharmacy, you will still be required to pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (or NAPLEX). This exam is administered by the NAPB (National Association of Boards of Pharmacy), and will ensure that you have the skills, education and training needed to safely dispense medicines. Depending on where you take your exam, you may also be required to have a certain amount of clinical experience, and in some cases you will be subjected to a criminal background check.