What Does a Pharmacist Do? Job Duties, Salary, and More

Written by Coursera • Updated on

A pharmacist is a healthcare professional who prepares and dispenses medications needed to treat illnesses and improve patient quality of life. Learn how to become a pharmacist, as well as what paths you can take once you’ve earned your pharmacy degree.

[Featured image] Two pharmacists in lab coats talk to each other while looking at a computer monitor.

Becoming a pharmacist can be a fulfilling and lucrative career. Many people think of doctors and nurses as being on the front lines of health care, but a pharmacist is just as important for helping patients treat illnesses and other health concerns.

Pharmacists know the science of the medicine inside and out, so they can ensure that patients receive the correct dosages of life-saving prescriptions. They identify any dangerous interactions with other drugs and educate patients about the medication. Some pharmacists go a step further to offer tips for health and well-being. 

Read on to determine if a career as a pharmacist is right for you.

What is a pharmacist?

A pharmacist is a health care professional specializing in the usage and administration of medication. They dispense prescriptions to patients upon receiving a physician's orders. Pharmacists are experts on how drugs work and interact with the body so that patients who take them achieve the best possible results.

Most pharmacists are community pharmacists who work in drug stores, grocery stores, big box stores, and private pharmacies, including those who distribute over mailorder. Other pharmacists work in-house at hospitals and other health care facilities serving patients. In addition to ensuring patients receive their medication, you may also answer questions and help educate both patients and other health care professionals on how certain drugs interact or the side effects they may have on the body or mind. 

What does a pharmacist do?

As a pharmacist, your main task will be filling prescriptions for patients. You’ll likely perform other tasks on a daily basis, including: 

  • Checking a customer's history to ensure their new medications won't interfere with their old ones 

  • Giving vaccines, like the flu shot 

  • Testing a customer's blood sugar, cholesterol level, or blood pressure 

  • Teaching customers how to take their medicine safely and effectively

  • Consulting with doctors and other health care professionals about prescriptions for specific customers 

  • Providing basic wellness screenings 

  • Managing the pharmacy, including pharmacy techs and assistants 

  • Negotiating with insurance providers  

  • Maintaining customer records 

  • Recommending over-the-counter medication

  • Providing basic health advice on topics like stress management, nutrition, how to stop smoking, and other lifestyle changes  

Types of pharmacists 

There are a few types of pharmacists you might consider as you earn your pharmaceutical degree. Take a look at the chart below: 

Type of pharmacistWorkplaceEssential duties
Retail pharmacistDrug stores, grocery stores, and big-box stores• Fill prescriptions
• Provide vaccinations
• Educate customers on medications and basic health matters
Clinical pharmacistHospitals and clinics• Make patient rounds
• Advise doctors on the best medications and therapeutics for patients
• Can specialize in areas like critical care, pediatrics, geriatrics, cardiology, and transplants
Oncology pharmacistHospitals and medical facilities• Compound and dispense chemotherapy drugs
• Research treatments and review drugs the hospital uses for cancer patients
Nuclear pharmacistHospitals and medical facilities• Prepare radioactive materials for procedures like MRIs and CT scans
Ambulatory care pharmacistClinics and doctors' offices• Collaborate with physicians to treat common chronic conditions, like diabetes and high blood pressure

Why pursue a career as a pharmacist 

If you're looking for a career that allows you to help others by improving their health, then a career as a pharmacist may be right for you. By educating a patient or customer and ensuring their prescriptions are safe to take with their other health conditions and medications, you can improve their quality of life and possibly even save a life. 

 

How much do pharmacists make?

The national median salary for pharmacists in the United States was $128,570 in 2021, according to the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics [1]. And while the number of pharmacists needed in retail settings isn't supposed to grow much over the next decade, there will be a bigger need for those who work in hospitals and clinical environments.

Benefits of being a pharmacist

In addition to a high salary, pharmacists can typically enjoy the following benefits:

  • Job security: Even though the job growth rate is low, the role requires a PharmD which provides some job security.

  • Flexibility: You'll have options when it comes to choosing where and how you want to work. For example, if you enjoy working directly with people, becoming a retail or ambulatory care pharmacist is an excellent choice. If you are more introverted and prefer to work more independently, you may opt to become a nuclear pharmacist who only deals with other medical professionals rather than customers. Pharmacists can work for national drug store companies or open their own independent pharmacies. They may be completely autonomous or work with a large team. They may work nine-to-five jobs or work nights and weekends.

  • Leader in a community: Pharmacists are also leaders in their communities. When a person has a question about a medication and its side effects, they can run to their local drug store and ask the pharmacist face-to-face without an appointment.

Pharmacist skills 

As a pharmacist, you can have a direct impact on people’s lives. Success in this career relies on a combination of skills that include: 

  • Attention to detail and accuracy  

  • Critical thinking

  • Verbal and written communication skills 

  • Compassion 

  • Integrity

  • Math and counting skills

  • Ability to multitask 

  • Willingness to advocate for patients 

  • Time management 

How to become a pharmacist 

To work as a licensed pharmacist, you’ll need to earn a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree from a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education and get licensed to practice. Let’s take a closer look at the specific requirements.

Pharmacist degree requirements

Unlike many other doctoral programs, a Doctor of Pharmacy degree typically only takes four years to complete (full-time). While some programs require a bachelor’s degree, many others only require two years of undergraduate study, with courses in chemistry, physics, and biology. That means with a high school diploma, you can earn your PharmD in as little as six years.

Tip: While in college or pharmacy school, consider working as a pharmacy technician to gain experience in the field. 

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Pharmacist license requirements

Once you've earned your pharmacy degree, you'll need to become licensed to practice. Each state has its own requirements for obtaining a license to become a practicing pharmacist. 

In most cases, you'll need to pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) as well as the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination (MPJE), which tests you on the laws and regulations in your state. You can learn more about your state’s requirements by contacting the state board of pharmacy.

You'll also need to complete a background check. Some states require additional training in specific areas, like vaccinations. 

Get started with Coursera

Experience for yourself whether your interest in pharmacy might translate into a career by taking a course from a top-rated school of pharmacy. Explore how drugs are developed from the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of California San Diego or learn about how to tailor medications to patient needs from the University of Copenhagen.

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Drug Discovery

The University of California San Diego, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences Drug Discovery course brings you lectures from both faculty ...

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Article sources

  1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Pharmacists, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacists.htm." Accessed November 29, 2022.

Written by Coursera • Updated on

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