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Profession Overview

Pharmacists dispense prescription medications to patients and offer expertise in the safe use of prescriptions. They also may provide advice on how to lead a healthy lifestyle, conduct health and wellness screenings, provide immunizations, and oversee the medications given to patients.

Pharmacy Overview

Pharmacists typically do the following:

  • Fill prescriptions, verifying instructions from physicians on the proper amounts of medication to give to patients.
  • Check whether the prescription will interact negatively with other drugs that a patient is taking or any medical conditions the patient has.
  • Instruct patients on how and when to take a prescribed medicine and inform them about potential side effects they may experience from taking the medicine.
  • Advise patients about general health topics, such as diet, exercise, and managing stress, and on other issues, such as what equipment or supplies would be best to treat a health problem.
  • Give flu shots and, in most states, other vaccinations.
  • Complete insurance forms and work with insurance companies to ensure that patients get the medicines they need.
  • Oversee the work of pharmacy technicians and pharmacists in training (interns).
  • Keep records and do other administrative tasks.
  • Teach other healthcare practitioners about proper medication therapies for patients.

Some pharmacists who own their pharmacy or manage a chain pharmacy spend time on business activities, such as inventory management. Pharmacists must also take continuing education courses throughout their career to keep up with the latest advances in pharmacological science.

With most drugs, pharmacists use standard dosages from pharmaceutical companies. However, some pharmacists create customized medications by mixing ingredients themselves, a process known as compounding.

Is pharmacy a possible career for you?

Do you have the following qualities? If so, a career in pharmacy might be a good fit for you!

  • Analytical skills: Pharmacists must provide safe medications efficiently. To do this, they must be able to evaluate a patient’s needs, evaluate the prescriber’s orders, and have extensive knowledge about the effects and appropriate circumstances for giving out a specific medication.
  • Communication skills: Pharmacists frequently offer advice to patients. They might need to explain how to take a medicine, for example, and what its side effects are. They also need to offer clear direction to pharmacy technicians and interns.
  • Computer skills: Pharmacists need computer skills to use any electronic health record (EHR) systems that their organization has adopted.
  • Detail oriented: Pharmacists are responsible for ensuring the accuracy of the prescriptions they fill, because improper use of medication can pose serious health risks. Pharmacists must be able to find the information that they need to make decisions about what medications are appropriate for each patient.
  • Managerial skills: Pharmacists—particularly those who run a retail pharmacy—must have good managerial skills, including managing inventory and overseeing a staff.

Professional Education

Degree Offered

Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD)

Years of Study

Six to eight years (two to four years undergraduate education plus four years professional education at a college of pharmacy)

The majority of programs accept students after three or more years of college and the completion of college course prerequisites; some pharmacy schools require or give preference to applicants with a bachelors (B.S./B.A.) degree.


PharmD graduates must pass a state licensure exam as well as a national pharmacy law exam in order to practice.

Choosing a Pharmacy Program

Choose a pharmacy program carefully based upon factors that are important to your own learning needs. Consider program content, geographic location, faculty, facilities, experiential training opportunities, class size, student demographics, extracurricular opportunities, and cost.

For state-supported public institutions, legal residence may have a significant impact on admissions decisions. Private institutions may offer out-of-state and foreign applicants a greater number of positions as compared to state-supported, public institutions.

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook