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

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

A pharmacist is a health care professional who prepares and dispenses medications to treat patients’ illnesses and to improve their quality of life. Learn how to become a pharmacist as well as the paths you can take once you’ve earned your pharmacy degree.

[Featured image] A smiling pharmacist stands behind a counter with her arms crossed with shelves of medication behind her.

* The salary data in this article is represented in Canadian dollars (CAD).

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 medication. 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 pharmacies, grocery stores, big box stores, and health clinics, including those who distribute via mail order. 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 daily, 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, quitting smoking, and other lifestyle changes

Types of pharmacists 

There are a few types of pharmacists you might consider as you earn your pharmacist 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 medication 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

If you're looking for a career that allows you to help others by improving their health, 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?

Pharmacists in Canada earn an annual salary between $54,112 and $144,300, with an average of $104,646, according to the Government of Canada Job Bank [1]. The job forecast for pharmacists depends on the region; however, most regions have a fair to good outlook. 

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 fair to good, the role requires a license, which provides some job security.

  • Flexibility: You'll have options for 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 go to their local drug store and ask the pharmacist face-to-face without an appointment.

Pharmacist skills 

As a pharmacist, you can directly impact 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

  • Compassion

  • Integrity

  • Math and counting

  • 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 bachelor of pharmacy or doctor of pharmacy degree from one of 10 approved universities in Canada offering the pharmacy program. Let’s take a closer look at the specific requirements.

Pharmacist degree requirements

To become a licensed pharmacist, you’ll first need to complete an undergraduate program with an emphasis on science. The program typically takes two years to complete. Upon completion of undergraduate studies, you’ll apply to a four-year pharmacy program at one of the approved universities.

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


Pharmacist license requirements

Once you’ve completed the education requirements, and before you can apply for licensure, you’ll need to have completed an apprenticeship or internship. You’ll also need to be fluent in English or French, or both.

To become licensed, you’ll need to pass an exam administered by the Pharmacy Examining Board of Canada (PEBC), except in Quebec. The three steps to earning the PEBC are as follows:

  • Pass a document evaluation of your education and professional credentials

  • Pass a pharmacist evaluating examination

  • Pass a pharmacist qualifying examination

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.

Article sources

  1. Government of Canada Job Bank. “Pharmacist in Canada, https://www.jobbank.gc.ca/marketreport/wages-occupation/18196/ca.” Accessed September 13, 2023.

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