How To Become A Pharmacist
The field of health care is constantly growing and the demand for professionals engage in professions dealing with health is increasing. Thus, the number of students who are thinking to build a career as a pharmacist is also increasing. If you are one of those students, be sure that you are aware of what requirements are needed before becoming a pharmacist and the career outlook for such profession. Based on personal experience, I did research on the different aspects of how to become a pharmacist and personally experience the rigorous application process.
Survey reports like the BLS report released around May 2008 reveal that in the United States alone, the number of practicing pharmacist is now at 266,410. Their average salary is around $104, 620 per year or around $50.13 per hour. The salary rate will of course depend on where one practices his profession, the employer and a lot of other factors. Recently, new pharmacists are given a handsome bonus simply for signing a contract. This scenario usually happens in areas where the demand for the profession is high.
Over the years, pharmacists are handling more demanding responsibilities and have come to play an all important role in the field of healthcare. Most people are of the impression that a pharmacist is only in charge of medicine inventory. Truth is, only around 62% of the overall number of pharmacists in the country are performing such a clichéd task. According to studies conducted by BLS, the recent trend in the career of pharmacists is for a pharmacist to hold important positions in various medical settings like clinical settings. Pharmacists who perform the less traditional role are in charge of medicine administration. They may also work in laboratories specializing in research or they may be employed in the government and person jobs such as controlling toxins and poisons. There are also pharmacists who are employed in the university as part of the academe or they may be employed in large corporations specializing in the manufacture of medicine. Some may specialize in areas like nuclear pharmacy which deals with acts like dispensing and compounding of materials that are considered as radioactive. These materials will be used for procedures involved in practices like nuclear medicine. There are other duties and responsibilities that a pharmacist performs. It is a profession that is more varied compared to other medical careers. In addition, most sub-fields in pharmacy do not require a pharmacist to undergo certain number of years gathering experience in residency. However, for those engaged in clinical pharmacy, around 1 or 2 years of experience in residency is needed.
Career outlook and demands for the profession
Based on the May 2008 study of BLS, due to the continuously increasing demand for the profession, it is expected that careers in the field of pharmacy will experience a growth of 22% within a ten-year period of 2006 up to 2016. One great factor that causes this increase is an aging population. Because of diseases associated with aging, the needed for prescriptions also increase. The demand of course will vary from place to place but the studies show that in the next ten years, pharmacists will easily find jobs.
Earning the degree of doctor of pharmacy
It takes quite a number of years before one can earn the degree of pharmacy doctor. It takes around 2 years to complete and then another 3 up to 4 years will be spent in school specializing in pharmacy. There are, however, schools that offer a joint program for undergraduate and doctor of pharmacy degree. This program normally takes around 5 years up to 7 years for completion. This kind of program is popularly known as “early assurance programs” or “0-6 programs”.
It is, however, important to take note that the doctor of pharmacy is not the same as the Ph.D or the master’s degree. A Bachelor of Science degree in the field of pharmacy is now generally rarely found in schools. There are still some pharmacists however who completed a bachelor’s degree before becoming a pharmacist. These are pharmacists who became as such before the Pharm.D was implemented. Personally, I am not convinced of online programs offering Pharm.D because based on my personal experience, being a pharmacy student do hands on activities and undergo rigorous training that will not be possible to handle for online programs. If viewed another way, pharmacists could already be considered as doctors. The only difference is the words Pharm.D before the names of pharmacists.
Majors in the undergraduate program
Students who completed any kind of major in the undergraduate program can enter pharmacy school. There is actually no required undergraduate pre-requisite. The popular norm for students, however, is to have a major in Biological Sciences or Chemistry because these courses offer prerequisites that are also needed for degree in pharmacy. There are also students who have different backgrounds in different majors like economics, psychology, business, art, engineering and many others. The undergraduate major is not the determining factor towards a successful career in pharmacy; it is the prerequisite that are completed successfully. There are, of course, majors that will make it easier for students to survive in pharmacy schools. Majors like chemistry or biology provide a good educational background that makes it easier for students to understand concepts in pharmacy.
For those students who want to enter pharmacy school in college, a centralized service for applicants is available. Such is what is called PharmCAS. This is a trend for most schools in pharmacy however, there are also other schools which opt not to avail of this kind of service. If a student chooses to use the PharmCAS, a recommendation letter is needed and this can be done online or through the normal paper letter. Also, a transcript of records is needed alone with personal statements coupled with other information necessary for the application. It is important to take note that this service does not come free. There is a fee of $140 for the first school that a student chooses and for additional schools, there is also a fee of $40 each. Furthermore, take note that some schools require not only the application sent through PharmCAS but also applications handed in personally and directly.
At this point, it is also important to note that many pharmacy schools require that a supplemental or additional application be submitted. Along with this, there is of course additional fees charged which are distinct and separate from the application done through PharmCAS. The additional applications normally require a student to write essays in order for schools to properly evaluate the applicant and decide as to his qualifications. There is an information page available through PharmCAS along with a compiled list of pharmacy schools including the requirements needed for application.
Interview cannot be avoided. Almost all pharmacy schools conduct interviews of applicants to gauge their fitness to enter the pharmacy program they offer. There is no definite weight for scores in the interview as it is different depending on the policies of the school. However, the fact remains that the interview stage is critical before one can be admitted to a pharmacy program.
Just like interviews, prerequisites for pharmacy programs also depend on the school. If you have time, check the list of schools in PharmCAS to know more about what prerequisites are required by different schools. Even without completing the necessary prerequisites, you can already apply to different programs however, keep in mind that before your admission to a college or university, you must finish all of these prerequisites. It is always ideal to check the online page of your desired school to know the exact course offered by such school. Based on my personal knowledge, UOP and USC have websites available while UCSD and UCSF use assist.org for the list of their course equivalencies.
You can also choose to complete the required prerequisites in community colleges or in any primary institution. It is more ideal to complete your prerequisites in any community college if you have already attained the bachelor’s degree. For those who are already in an undergraduate program in a university, it is recommended to take certain prerequisites in junior colleges. Make sure, however, that you are doing this naturally and are not avoiding the more difficult requirements.
There is also what is called PCAT or normally known as “Pharmacy College Admissions Test”. There are only some pharmacy schools which require this admission test. There are now around 14 schools which use the PharmCAS that do not require taking the PCAT. The online page for the AACP gives information as to what is covered by the admission test. It is actually separated by sections or what is called subtests. These subtests are timed separately. Takers are allowed to work only on one section for the duration of the time allotted for it. During the test, you are not allowed to review your answers in the previous subtests and neither are you allowed to answer the other subtests in advance. One tip for answering the test is to finish the easy items and do not dwell too much on the more difficult ones. Simply go back to them before the time allotted for the subtest runs out. PCAT have six different content areas and there are seven subtests. These are the following:
- Section dealing with verbal ability
- Section dealing with biology
- Section dealing with reading comprehension
- Section dealing with quantitative ability
- Section dealing with chemistry
- Section requiring writing two essays
The importance of the GPA
The part of the application dealing with your overall GPA and your GPA in science is the most critical part. There is no standard requirement as to GPA. Each school has different standards for it and it is recommended that you look around PharmCAS especially on the page dealing with GPA requirements of different pharmacy schools. Take note that the listed average GPA is the minimum requirement. It is best to directly contact your prospective school to know their policy on classes that are retaken.
Required Recommendation letters
Normally, pharmacy schools require one up to four recommendation letters. Check the profile of your prospective school listed on PharmCAS to know what kind of recommendation letter is acceptable for that school. As a general norm, recommendation letters from reliable professors in science and pharmacists who are aware of you qualifications are highly acceptable.
Fees and expenses in a pharmacy school
The expenses and fees you will be spending to earn a Pharm.D is more expensive compared to other undergraduate programs. Even if you receive scholarships or grants from the government in earning an undergraduate program, it may not be acceptable anymore in earning a Pharm.D. Thus, you might have to turn to student loans to pay these fees. However, it is ideal that you process your application in FAFSA to make sure that you can avail of certain loans from the government. There are also other available scholarships, local, national, online, corporate or those offered by the school. Try them. It will be a big help to avoid student loans. A scholarship worth $1000 is already a big help because this is an amount chopped off from your student loan. Lists of available scholarships will soon be provided.
Experience in pharmacy
Generally, pharmacy schools do not require a student to have experience in pharmacy before admission. However, such experience is a big help and will look good on your resume. Furthermore, it will give you a concrete idea on how it is to work as a pharmacist. It is also always good to obtain a license as a Pharmacy Technician to be able to undergo experience handling more responsibilities. Try to browse around profiles of applicants to get an idea on whether they have had previous experience in pharmacy work.
Taking dual degrees
There are students who already finished Pharm.D, but want to pursue higher degrees like doctoral degree, master’s degree and many others. These degrees help them gain more knowledge and specialization in other specific areas in the profession. PharmApplicants.com lists schools that have programs offering dual degree. It is always ideal to start your query on online pages of schools or better yet, get in touch with the pharmacy school of your choice and inquire about it. These programs, of course, may normally require you to have more reference letters and GMAT. If you desire to have these dual degrees, then be prepared to study even during summer breaks and be delayed by around a year in your classes. These programs usually require completion before you can resume studies in pharmacy.
The above are the guidance on how to become a pharmacist and it is now up for you to take up the challenge. Good Luck!