How To Become a Pharmacist: Definitions, Steps and FAQs

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 11 October 2022

Published 9 August 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Pharmacists help people achieve and maintain good health by dispensing prescribed medications. You might consider a pharmacist career if you have an interest in working in the healthcare industry and providing medicines and education to keep people healthy. Learning about what a pharmacist does and what it takes to become one can help you decide if this career is right for you. In this article, we discuss how to become a pharmacist and answer some frequently asked questions about this profession.

What does a pharmacist do?

Becoming a pharmacist entails duties such as dispensing prescription medications that physicians issue and educating customers on how to take medications safely. They also provide basic healthcare services like vaccinations. Some common responsibilities of pharmacists include:

  • Receiving prescriptions from physicians and filling them for customers

  • Reviewing the other medications customers take to determine whether any negative interactions may result

  • Telling customers how and when to take medications and providing written instructions

  • Discussing possible side effects that medications may cause

  • Providing flu injections and other vaccinations

  • Processing customer insurance claims and completing digital forms or paperwork to receive payment for prescriptions

  • Discussing diet, exercise, stress management and other health and lifestyle issues with customers

  • Advising or suggesting over-the-counter remedies

Related: 11 Jobs for a Pharmacist

How to become a pharmacist

Here are the steps on how to become a pharmacist:

1. Earn a university degree

Pharmacists usually need a university degree to work in the field. Students looking to begin their pharmacy education directly after high school can enrol in a Bachelor of Pharmacy program. These programs take four years of full-time study, and students learn how pharmaceutical researchers develop medications and how chemical compounds affect the human body. Another option for undergraduate students is a Bachelor of Pharmacy and Management degree. This degree includes coursework related to business practices and leadership, along with pharmaceutical training. It takes five years on average to complete.

Students can also study pharmacy at the postgraduate level. These degrees usually take two years to complete and provide a comprehensive program of study. Students pursuing a Master of Pharmacy degree learn skills in leadership and management, pharmacology, immunology, integrated healthcare and pharmaceutical development.

2. Complete an internship and training program

After finishing your pharmacy degree, the next step is to apply for provisional registration with the Pharmacy Board of Australia. The Pharmacy Board of Australia is the governing body that ensures all practising pharmacists meet a high standard of professional development, education and training. Having provisional registration allows you to work as an intern under the supervision of a qualified pharmaceutical professional. Prospective pharmacists must complete a one-year internship and training period to gain practical, clinical experience while working under the guidance of an experienced pharmacist. Some skills that interns gain through their internship include:

  • Preparing and dispensing medications

  • Consulting with clients, doctors and caregivers

  • Reviewing prescriptions and identifying errors

  • Educating clients about their health and how to use medications

  • Following legal standards and regulations

Students also complete an accredited training program during their internship called the Intern Training Program (ITP). Candidates who complete the ITP receive an ITP certificate, which is required to take the pharmacy board examination.

Related: What Is an Internship: Everything You Need To Know

3. Pass the pharmacy board examination

Finally, after completing your education and training requirements, you must pass the Pharmacy Board of Australia registration exam. This exam includes written and oral components to assess your pharmaceutical knowledge and skills. Once you pass the exam, you can apply for registration as a pharmacist. Registered pharmacists can practise independently and can find employment in various settings, such as hospitals, retail pharmacies, consultancies, the government and research facilities.

Related: A Guide on How To Become a Chemist

Skills for pharmacists

Pharmacists use both hard and soft skills in their careers. Here are some skills for pharmacists:

Attention to detail

Pharmacists must follow prescriptions carefully to provide safe, effective medications for customers. They use careful attention to detail to produce, process and dispense medications accurately. For example, they can use their attention to detail to notice potentially serious mistakes, like the wrong dosage of a patient's medication.

Analytical thinking

Analytical thinking skills are the ability to assess data, make decisions and solve problems based on the available information. Pharmacists help customers take medications safely. To keep their customers safe, they analyse their customers' needs and the potential conflicts that multiple medications may cause. By thinking analytically about your patient's prescriptions, you can ensure they take the right medications at the right dosage and minimise the potential for medication misuse.

Communication skills

Pharmacists interact with many groups of people, so having good communications skills helps them successfully work with others. Whether they're educating a customer about safe medication usage, confirming insurance details with a provider or requesting information from a physician, pharmacists need excellent communication skills. In addition to having good verbal communication skills, pharmacists use written communication skills to respond to emails and keep records.

Related: Communication Skills: Definitions and Examples

Computer literacy

Many pharmacies use electronic databases to store and update patient records. When you work in a pharmacy, you might use a computer to retrieve prescription information, confirm insurance details and update client records. Knowing how to use your pharmacy's software system allows you to perform basic searches and data entry.

FAQs about pharmacists

Here are the answers to some common questions about this career:

How much do pharmacists make?

The average salary for pharmacists is $78,289 per year. However, the average salary for this position can vary by geographic location, setting of employment, level of education and years of experience. For example, a pharmacist working in a hospital who has many years of experience and has earned a managerial position may earn more than a pharmacist working in a retail pharmacy.

What's the work environment like for pharmacists?

The work environment for pharmacists can vary by their setting of employment. Pharmacists can work in various establishments. While many provide healthcare services, others can work in research or consultancy. Some common places of employment for pharmacists include:

  • Hospitals

  • Retail pharmacies

  • Academic institutions

  • Private research facilities

  • Government agencies

Each of these work environments may have different expectations for schedules and responsibilities. For example, hospitals can be fast-paced settings where pharmacists often work 12-hour shifts, including night shifts, weekends, and during seasonal periods. Retail pharmacists can work standard business hours, or if they work for a 24-hour pharmacy, they might work nights, weekends and holidays. Those who work in private research, government agencies or academic institutions are more likely to work standard business hours, and academic researchers might travel to attend conferences. Considering your work preferences, a pharmacy career can provide many options for work environments and scheduling.

How long does it take to become a pharmacist?

Becoming a pharmacist can take as little as five years or as long as seven depending on your program of study. For students who choose to study pharmacy as undergraduates, it takes four years on average to complete a Bachelor of Pharmacy degree and five years to earn a Bachelor of Pharmacy and Management. Students who pursue a master's degree take four years to earn their bachelor's and an additional two years to finish their graduate diploma. All pharmacy students must complete a one-year training internship after completing their studies.

Although it can take longer to become a pharmacist through certain educational pathways, these options may provide more opportunities for career advancement in leadership and managerial roles. Before committing to a program, it's important to consider your career goals and how much time you're willing to spend on your education and training. Think about your needs, interests and professional goals when choosing the program that's the best fit for you.

Related: 15 Important Jobs That Help People

Is it hard to become a pharmacist?

Pharmacists have an important job that requires many years of studying and training to ensure the safety of their patients. Though pharmacy school can be challenging, those who are passionate about helping others, love science and research and want an engaging, rewarding career might find that this is the right job for them. Additionally, pharmacy students have many educational and training options. Taking the time to consider your interests, work patterns and study habits can help you find a program that meets your needs and helps you reach your goals.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location. Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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