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Pharmacists play a critical role in the health of individuals and communities, by dispensing medications, as well as counseling people about dosages and side effects. They are responsible for making sure that people use drugs safely, and they carefully track patients' responses to those drugs. Their work may take place in retail drug stores, as well as in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, mental health institutions, or even public health agencies. Their work may also require outreach in communities to provide healthcare advice or case work. Pharmacists must also keep careful patient records. Increasingly, these records are shifting from paper to computer, and careful use of computer software and database management are critical in the work of pharmacists.
Finally, some pharmacists manage or own pharmacies, and as such are responsible for ordering and tracking inventory, dealing with drug company representatives, supervising employees, and other operational tasks.
Of course, aptitude for science and medicine are crucial to the work of pharmacists. However, so are good communication skills, to ensure quality interactions with patients, staff, healthcare providers, and drug companies. Attention to detail is paramount, as the decisions pharmacists make affect human lives. Finally, pharmacists need patience and compassion to deal with patients who may be sick, frightened, or confused.
As of 2008, pharmacists had median annual earnings of $106,410. The lowest 10 percent of earners in the field made less than $77,390, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports, while top earners took home more than $131,440.
The following shows the median annual salaries for the industries employing the highest numbers of pharmacists in 2008:
- Department stores--$105,560
- Grocery stores--$102,310
- General medical and surgical hospitals -- $103,480
Training and Education
All 50 states require pharmacists to be licensed in order to practice. In order to be licensed, you must have a doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree from a college of pharmacy accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmaceutical Education (ACPE). In order to be accepted to a PharmD program, you must have 2-3 years of post-secondary study, and almost 70 percent of programs require applicants to have passed the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT). Entry requirements generally include formal coursework, including online degrees, in mathematics and natural sciences, including chemistry, biology, and physics. College study of humanities and social sciences are also beneficial
In order to become licensed, a PharmD graduate must pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX). Additionally, 44 states and the District of Columbia require that applicants also pass the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE), which deals with pharmacy law. Further, some states have additional testing requirements for licensure. All states except California grant license transfers to pharmacists who are already practicing in other states.
PharmD programs generally provide training in all aspects of drug therapy, as well as how to communicate with patients and healthcare providers about drug usage. Training also includes ethics as it pertains to medications. Some training takes place on the job, under the instruction of a licensed pharmacist.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2008 pharmacists held about 266,410 jobs. Roughly 62 percent worked in community pharmacies, and most are salaried. Just over 20 percent of pharmacists worked in hospitals.
Employment of pharmacists is expected to increase by 22 percent, which is faster than average for all occupations, from 2006-2016. This is due to a variety of reasons, including the aging of the baby boomer population, which is increasingly relying upon medications to stay healthy. Advances in healthcare have made it possible to extend and improve people's lives through medication, which should make pharmacists increasingly important in the years to come.About the Author
Jessica Santina is a freelance writer with a background in media and marketing. She also teaches first-year writing courses at the University of Nevada, Reno.