When most healthy young people think of a pharmacist, they think of someone who puts pills in bottles at a drug store. But pharmacists are actually front-line medical professionals, with responsibilities that extend far beyond just filling prescriptions:
- For a cancer patient with 15 medications prescribed by an array of specialized doctors, a 16th prescription could be fatal. The pharmacist is the final line of defense against unintended drug interactions, including those involving over-the-counter or herbal medicines.
- Pharamcists counsel patients as to what side effects are not a cause for worry (and how to cope with them) and which necessitate an immediate call to a doctor or 911.
- Doctors consult with pharmacists for advice on prescriptions.
- A pharmacist can refuse to fill a prescription if she thinks it is a danger to the patient, including if she believes has cause to believe the patient is addicted.
The job profile for pharmacists is changing rapidly. While there are still plenty of well-paying opportunities for pharmacists, they now span a wide range of settings:
- Many pharmacists still own their own independent drug stores, either alone or in cooperation with more senior pharmacists. Independent drug stores, however, are becoming more rare over time.
- Many pharmacists work for chain drug stores (CVS, Walgreens, Duane Reade, Rite Aid, etc.), supermarkets, or large retailers (Walmart, Target, Kmart, etc.). Salaries for these pharmacists can be quite good, but working conditions are often stressful.
- Many pharmacists work as part of a hospital or clinic staff. These pharmascists serve as part of a medical team, consulting with doctors on what prescriptions are appropriate.
- Many pharmacists work for pharmaceutical companies in a variety of roles.
- Some pharmacists work for the government, helping to set standards and policies.
First, a Bachelor's Degree
To become a pharmacist, you must first usually complete a bachelor's degree (although some Pharm.D. programs do not require the bachelor's degree to be complete; it is still considered desirable). This is a separate step, requiring that you choose a major and complete general education requirements. This is different from the system in many other countries, in which health care professionals are on a professional track from the moment they graduate high school. The U.S. system values applicants who have gained a broad education, and who have succesfully commited themselves to in-depth study of some particular topic, whether biology or history or exercise science. The point is to show your ability to learn and excel, rather than to complete a narrow prepartion for a specific profession.
After you receive your bachelor's, you will go on to a graduate program in pharmacy to become a Doctor of Pharmacy, often abbreviated Pharm.D.
To Gap or Not to Gap
A "gap year" is a year between completing your undergraduate degree and beginning pharmacy school. Taking a gap year has the following benefits:
- Allows more time to complete coursework necessary for the PCAT (see below)
- Usually results in a higher science G.P.A. at time of application
- Full-time work during the gap year can allow money to be saved for use during pharmacy school
- Provides a break from schooling!
If you are not taking a gap year, you need to take the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) by the summer after your junior year. The PCAT covers material from courses on general biology, microbiology, anatomy and physiology, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and basic biochemistry, so to avoid a gap year you will need to complete these courses by the end of your junior year.
If you are taking a gap year, you will typically take the PCAT in the summer of your graduation year.
The Application Process
The application process to a Pharm.D. program begins more than a year before you plan to enter pharmacy school.
In the summer following your senior (if taking a gap) or junior (if not) year, you will take the PCAT.
Most, but not all, pharmacy schools participate in PharmCAS, a centralized admissions system. To apply to PharmCAS schools, you first complete an application for PharmCAS. Pharmacy schools admit students on a rolling basis, so it's best to apply early in the cycle, perhaps in August. For non-PharmCAS schools, you need to apply directly to each school you are interested in.
After you apply to PharmCAS and specify the schools you are interested in, you will often be invited to complete "supplementary" applications for those schools. These supplementaries request more information, in part to make sure you are serious about that particular school.
Once your supplementaries are in, you will (hopefully!) be invited to some schools for interviews. Interviews typically take place in the fall or winter prior to when you'll start attending pharmacy school.
After interviews, you finally get to find out who accepted you--hopefully you'll have the happy dilemma of choosing between acceptances!
Once in pharmacy school, it is very likely you'll end up being a pharmacist. Most people accepted to pharmacy school graduate, pass the NAPLEX, and become practicing pharmacists.
The first two years of pharmacy school are usually "didactic," meaning that you'll take courses. The next two years are "clinical," involving working with pharmacists and patients directly.
At the end of four years, you graduate as a pharmacist. In order to practice pharmacy, you also need to pass a test called the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX).
Some pharmacists go on to complete a residency and/or a fellowship, particularly if they'd like to work in a hospital and/or specialize in one particular aspect of pharmacy. Residencies and fellowhips typically take a year or two, during which you are paid, but under the supervision of a more experienced pharmacist.
Regardless of your major, there are certain courses you must complete in order to gain admission to most pharmacy schools. These requirements vary some from school to school, so it's a good idea to check the particular requirements of schools you are considering appling to well before graduation.
Below is a list of some of the more commonly required prerequisite courses. For more detailed information, contact the pre-health advisor.
Required by Nearly all Pharmacy Programs
|Course Name||Lehman Code||Prerequisites|
|Gen. Chem. 1||CHE 166+167||MAT 172 is corequisite|
|Gen. Chem. 2||CHE 168+169||Gen. Chem. 1|
|Organic Chem. 1||CHE 232+233||Gen. Chem. 2|
|Organic Chem. 2||CHE 234+235||Organic Chem. 1|
|Gen. Physics 1||PHY 166 or PHY 168||MAT 172 is recommended prerequisite|
|A & P 1||BIO 181|
|Gen. Bio. 1||BIO 166|
|Calculus 1||MAT 175+155|
Required by Many Pharmacy Programs
|Course Name||Lehman Code||Prerequisites|
|Gen. Bio. 2||BIO 167|
|A & P 2||BIO 182||BIO 181|
|Microbiology||BIO 331||Gen. Chem. 2|
|Gen. Psych.||PSY 166|
|Statistics||Multiple courses fulfill|
Required by Some Pharmacy Programs
|Course Name||Lehman Code||Prerequisites|
|Gen. Physics 2||PHY 167 or PHY 169||Gen. Physics 1|
|Biochemistry||BIO 400 or CHE 444||Organic Chem. 2|
Below is an example of a timeline for a hypothetical student, Maria. Maria is planning to take a gap year and decides to major in psychology. She entered without a strong math background. Your timeline will be somewhat different, because you're not Maria. (Or if your name is Maria, you're not this Maria.) You'll almost certainly take some different courses than Maria did. Be sure to consult with your pre-health advisor to decide what's right for you. Still, Maria's timeline should give you a sense of how it can all work out.
|Semester||Coursework||Consult Pre-Health Advisor Regarding...||Application||Other|
|Freshman Fall||MAT 104, BIO 181, PSY 166, ENG 111, LEH 100||Get to know each other|
|Freshman Spring||MAT 172, ENG 121, CHE 166+167, Gen. Ed.||Choice of major, volunteering||Volunteer with pharmacist|
|Sophomore Fall||CHE 168+169, MAT 175+155, PSY course, Gen. ed. (SOC?)||Progress|
|Sophomore Spring||CHE 232+233, PSY course, BIO 182, Gen. ed.||Progress. Gap or no gap?||Begin investigating which pharmacy schools to apply to||Declare major|
|Junior Fall||CHE 234+235, PSY courses, ECO 167||Progress. Discuss additional courses for specific pharmacy schools|
|Junior Spring||PHY 166, PSY courses, LEH||Progress|
|Senior Fall||BIO 166, LEH, PSY courses||Letters of recommendation, PCAT||Plan gap year|
|Senior Spring||BIO 167, BIO 331, PSY courses||Personal statement||Arrange for letters of recommendation; mock interviews||PCAT prep|
|June after graduation||PCAT|
|August after graduation||Application to PharmCAS|
|Fall after graduation||Supplementary applications for PharmCAS schools and applications to non-PharmCAS schools||Gap year activities|
|Winter after graduation||Interview preparation||Interviews||Gap year activities|
|Spring after graduation||Inform pre-health advisor of acceptance||Accept admission to pharmacyschool of her choice||Gap year activities|
|One year after graduation||Begin pharmacy school!|