These days it seems there is a prescription drug to cure anything and everything. That's why pharmacists are everyone's best friends: they advise and dispense drugs and give advice to consumers and physicians, making sure no one mixes anything they shouldn't. Their work treats diseases, saves lives and eases pain. However, the mortar and pestle compounding, or mixing of powders, tablets, capsules and ointments, is no longer the domain of the pharmacist because most medicines are manufactured by pharmaceutical companies.
Retail and hospital
There are two major types of pharmacists: retail and hospital. Retail pharmacists advise customers about prescription and over-the-counter drugs, and their possible side effects and interactions. Three out of five pharmacists work in community pharmacies, often managing them as well. The hours can be demanding, since many pharmacies are open all night and on holidays. Most full-time, salaried pharmacists work an average of 50 hours a week.
Pharmacists in hospitals and clinics not only dispense medications and advice, but also instruct medical staff on the selection and effects of drugs, monitor patients' drug regimens, and evaluate drug use patterns in the hospital. It is common for pharmacists to specialize in specific aspects of drug therapy, such as those used to treat psychiatric disorders, radiopharmaceuticals or oncology.
Pharmacists can work outside of retail pharmacies and hospitals, too. For example, some pharmacists apply their knowledge to narcotics investigations for law enforcement agencies. Research pharmacists work on teams with doctors and biologists to develop new drugs and seek out cures.
All states require a license to practice pharmacy. To obtain a license, a pharmacist must graduate from an accredited college of pharmacy, pass a state examination, and serve an internship under a licensed pharmacist. Colleges of pharmacy train students to dispense prescriptions, communicate with patients and strengthen their understanding of professional ethics. Instruction is focusing more and more on training pharmacists on the subtleties of direct patient care and consulting services to other health professionals.
Since 2000, all new pharmacists must graduate from a six-year program (two years pre-pharmacy and four years in pharmacy school). These pharmacists will all have Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degrees. BS pharmacists will still be in the market, but aspiring pharmacists will all go through the six-year commitment.
In community (retail) pharmacies, pharmacists usually begin at the staff level. After they gain experience and secure the necessary capital, many become owners or part-owners of pharmacies. Pharmacists in chain drug stores may be promoted to supervisory pharmacist at the store level, followed by the district level, and later to an executive position within the chain's headquarters. Pharmacists in the pharmaceutical industry may advance in marketing, sales, research, quality control, production and other areas.
Pharmacy students interested in research must have a PharmD, though some enter fellowship programs that are designed to prepare students to do independent research.
Many pharmacists are satisfied that their work is "important" and "rewarding." One respondent cites "demystifying drugs and their effects" for patients as part of what makes the job fun. For pharmacists in community pharmacies, "helping people and interacting with them in person" are the reason they do not move to administrative levels at companies. Adds one pharmacist technician, "Co-workers became like a family." Researchers have a different reason for remaining in their fields, and look forward to "the chance of becoming the next Dr. Salk."
While hours as a pharmacist can be long, they also can be flexible, and some pharmacists report the luxury of part-time schedules. There are downsides to the job, however, including "long hours on your feet" and aggravated customers. Says one pharmacist technician, "There are sometimes customers that are very difficult to handle, especially since in a pharmacy, one is typically dealing with individuals who don't feel well." There is always the chance to "drop a vial or inhale a substance that is potentially hazardous." For some, however, the element of danger makes some pharmacists feel like "kids playing with their first chemistry set, and it is still fun."
Good salaries; Wide variety of career options
Long hours; Potential restlessness
Precise; Focused; Circumspect; Conscientious
Creative; Indiscriminate; Emotional
Average about 40 to 50 per week
Median salary: $94,520
PharmD degree; Pharmacy license