Pharmacy as a Career

Pharmacists provide behind-the-counter responsibilities along with focusing on caring for the whole patient.

As a pharmacist in the 21st century, you are trained to do more than prepare and dispense medications. In addition to those behind-the-counter responsibilities, pharmacists now focus on caring for the whole patient, so they provide many more patient-oriented services to maximize a medication's effectiveness. Pharmaceutical care intends to achieve positive outcomes from the use of medications to improve patients' quality of life. It is a patient-centered, outcome-driven practice requiring you to collaborate with the patient and the patient's other healthcare providers to promote health and prevent disease. As a pharmacist, you assess, monitor, initiate, and modify patients' medication use to assure that drug therapy regimens are safe and effective.

Your education as a pharmacist combines science, technical art, and human relationships. Your preprofessional preparation should include instruction in English, psychology, and sociology, as these subjects help you better understand and communicate with your patients. Pre-professional coursework in biology, chemistry, physics, and mathematics will be amplified in pharmacy school to provide the level of proficiency needed to become an effective pharmacy practitioner. In general, a professional pharmacy education covers pharmaceutical chemistry, pharmacognosy (the nature and sources of drugs derived from natural plants or animals), pharmacology, toxicology, modern business management, and pharmacy practice.

You'll become a specialist in the science and clinical use of medications; knowledgeable about the composition of drugs, their chemical and physical properties, and manufacture and uses. You'll discover how to test for purity and strength, how the drug works in the body, and how it interacts with other substances.

The clinical component of your pharmacy education offers direct patient-care opportunities that emphasize drug therapy. You'll also focus on developing a patient-centered approach to your practice of pharmaceutical care. In addition, your clinical experiences develop your awareness of general methods for diagnosis and patient care, improve your communication skills for effective interaction with patients and other health care practitioners, integrate your knowledge and apply it to solve real problems, and enhance your sense of ethical responsibility for monitoring drugs taken by your patients. Following your professional education, you may choose to pursue a pharmacy residency — a postgraduate training program in pharmacy practice — or a pharmacy fellowship, which is an individualized program preparing you for work in research laboratories.

Beyond community pharmacy — where approximately 60% of pharmacists practice — your diversity of pharmacy career options includes counseling, preventive medicine, wellness programs, patient education, technical writing or editing, retail or chain pharmacy ownership or management, or pharmacy practice within hospitals, nursing homes, extended care facilities, neighborhood health centers, health maintenance organizations, managed care pharmacies, or government service, as well as pharmaceutical industry research, sales, administration, or marketing. You may also combine your love of teaching, research, and public service by becoming a faculty member.

According to the American Pharmacists Association (APhA):

  • Nearly six of ten pharmacists in the U.S. provides care to patients in a community setting.
  • Because of the large role that medications and their proper use play in our lives, pharmacists will continue to be important members of the healthcare team.
  • Money magazine included pharmacists in their report of the nation's top 10 jobs based on growth, pay, stress-levels, and other factors, citing a 25% growth for the profession over the next 10 years.

If you are dependable; conscientious; good with details; willing to check and double-check your own work; collaborate with others on the healthcare team; ethical; scrupulous in handling, storing, and dispensing dangerous and habit-forming substances; able to use facts and good judgment when responding to inquiries; excited about science; curious and willing to learn; able to maintain records and understand management principles; able to enjoy meeting and working with new people; and willing to serve, a career in pharmacy may be just right for you.

Sources: American Pharmacists Association;