What You Need To Know About a Career in the Pharmacy Industry

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Aug 3, 2020

Aug 3, 2020 • by Rebecca Smith

Pharmacy careers are growing fast in the United States, with a projected increased need for both pharmacists and pharmacy technicians through 2028. This is largely due to the growing number of senior citizens in the country, many of whom need medications and additional medical care as they continue to live longer lives. Additionally, advances in pharmaceutical research mean there are more medication options available than ever before. There is also a far greater need for career pharmacists than ever before.

Pharmacists are needed to educate patients on these new medications and ensure people are taking them safely. If you’re interested in helping others in a healthcare role and are highly detail-oriented, a pharmacy career might be a good fit.

You’ll need advanced education and licensure in order to work as a pharmacist. Pharmacists are required to have a doctoral degree and pass multiple exams before becoming licensed. US News recently did a story on how to become a pharmacist, but it is also important to learn about what a pharmacist does (it’s more than you think), and the type of pharmacist you want to be. However, you don’t need to be a pharmacist to work with patients and medications. Pharmacy assistants and technicians also play important roles in pharmacies and hospitals. As a career, both types of medical professionals can work in many different types of pharmacy-based businesses – from independent pharmacies to long-term care facilities to storefronts to mail order.

Pharmacy assistants and technicians need much less education in order to begin working. Their roles fall the supervision of pharmacists and they complete essential tasks for patients and doctors. Working as a pharmacy technician can be a great place to start your healthcare career. You’ll gain valuable experience in the field that can help you decide if you want to pursue a pharmacist license later. Plus, working as a pharmacy technician can give you an advantage when applying to pharmacist programs.

There are many different types of pharmacies: a retail pharmacy, a hospital pharmacy, a long-term care pharmacy, or a compounding pharmacy. All serve their patrons differently, while still supplying patients with high-quality medication and medication therapy management services. Most often, when someone hears the word pharmacy, what they think of is a retail pharmacy. It could be independent or a chain, like Walgreens or CVS. However, a type of pharmacy with rapid growth right now is the long-term care (LTC) pharmacy.

In a retail pharmacy, a pharmacist has in-depth knowledge of pharmaceutical products and their appropriate use. They assess and fill medication prescriptions for patients and if necessary, may discuss medicinal alternatives with doctors and other medical professionals. They order and stock medications and arrange them neatly on the pharmacy shelves. They also maintain medication and patient records.

A long-term care pharmacist oversees the pharmaceutical services for patients in a long-term care facility. They work in collaboration with the physicians, nurses and medical staff at the facility to evaluate patient health, dispense necessary medications and resolve any pharmacy-related concerns. They update patient medication information in a medical database and monitor and record the results of the patient medication regimen. Also, they prepare reports of drug utilization and make recommendations to improve patient clinical care. 

Grane Rx is an example of an LTC pharmacy. The company facilitates the health, wellness and longevity of seniors by supporting the care centers and teams that serve them. Their holistic pharmacy and medication management solutions are designed to optimize care center operations to free-up time and resources so that they can focus on resident and participant care. In a recent blog post, prescriptions to home was discussed in the industry, as was the Meds2Home process through PACE Pharmacies. For those that don’t know, by the way, the PACE Program is a federally-funded program that stands for Programs For All-Inclusive Care For Elderly Benefits.

Some LTC pharmacies have even begun to branch out into sending medications to long-term care patients living at home. The LTC pharmacy is not a mail order pharmacy, however. That is yet another type of pharmacy. The number of mail-order pharmacies has grown exponentially as startups seek to address customer convenience and help customers save money on their healthcare costs. Mail order pharmacists frequently choose to create niche business models, like hospice, respiratory care, erectile dysfunction, and other specialized fields. Companies like Express Scripts and Script Save WellRx are examples of mail order pharmacies.

Regardless of what kind of pharmacy you choose to work in, there are certain steps to become a pharmacist.

Choose a degree path

Many pharmacy schools are dual degree programs, meaning you’ll earn your bachelor’s degree alongside your PharmD over a period of 6–7 years. You can enter one of these programs with only a high school diploma. Other PharmD programs are for doctoral-level training only. These programs accept students who have earned bachelor’s degrees in subjects such as biology or chemistry and generally take 3–4 years. Having previous experience as a pharmacy assistant or technician can also be beneficial for admission.

Take the Pharmacy College Admissions Test

The Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT) is a requirement for most pharmacy programs across the country. It’s broken into multiple-choice sections covering topics such as biological processes, critical reading, and quantitative reasoning, and also includes an essay section. Each school determines its own passing score for admission.

Complete your education

Your PharmD program will consist of classes in subjects such as:

  • Biochemistry
  • Pharmacology
  • Healthcare management
  • Pharmacological measurements
  • Chemotherapy
  • Biostatistics
  • Pathology

You’ll also need to complete a formal internship at a pharmacy during your program. The hours needed in your internship will depend on your state’s licensing requirements.

Take licensure exams

Pharmacists are required to take 2 licensing exams after successfully completing a PharmD program. You’ll need to take the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) and either the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE) or a jurisprudence exam specific to your state. Your state’s licensing board will let you know which exam you need to take. You can learn more about licensing here.

Apply for a license

You’ll apply for licensure once your education and exams are complete, but there may be other requirements depending on your state. Some common examples include:

  • Passing a background check
  • Submitting internship proof to your state’s board
  • Completing additional postgraduate experience hours
  • Taking additional training or tests for certification in areas such as vaccination

You’ll probably also need to take steps to maintain your license, such as completing continuing education credits and renewing your background check.

If you are looking for a career in the medical field, consider employment as a pharmacist. Professionals in this role are able to provide quality care to customers by distributing medications for a variety of needs. If you have a PharmD degree, your career options are vast and varied. From traditional pharmacy jobs to non-traditional jobs outside of the industry, your hard work in pharmacy school gives you flexibility and marketability to work in a variety of industries.