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What does a Pharmacist do?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A pharmacist is an important medical worker who aids physicians, dentists and veterinarians by dispensing appropriate medications to patients. Some pharmacists may also specialize in pharmaceutical research, or in marketing and sales of particular medications for a company. Many in this field work in drug, department or retail store settings, and many more work in hospital settings. They are specialists in their knowledge of medications, and must always be furthering their education in this area since new medications are developed all the time.

The student of pharmacology first studies math, biology and chemistry, and takes at least a bachelor in sciences degree in order to work as a pharmacist. Furthermore, in the US, you cannot legally work as a pharmacist unless you get a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm. D.) degree from a school that is accredited or approved by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education and pass two licensure exams. You can find out if a pharmacy program you’re considering is accredited merely by asking, and if in doubt, you can contact the council to verify credentials.

In retail settings, the pharmacist compounds drugs, orders supplies when necessary, may advise physicians on drug interactions, and dispenses medications to people with prescriptions. A pharmacist cannot give medications to those without prescriptions unless the medications are legally sold over the counter. Pharmacists are also excellent resources if you’re taking over the counter medications and need advice on whether these meds will conflict with prescription meds. They’re further responsible for making sure patients understand how to properly use prescription drugs. Many pharmacists maintain records on patients, when patients use the same pharmacy for all their prescriptions, to be certain that no medications the patient currently takes conflicts with newly prescribed drugs.

In hospital settings, pharmacists principally work in the same manner, preparing medications, labeling them to be sent to appropriate patients, advising doctors on the best medications that do not conflict with others, and ordering supplies as necessary. Some hospital pharmacists also dispense medicines directly to patients, since many hospitals have retail pharmacies on site.

A pharmacist in the research setting may be responsible for developing new drugs, testing drugs, administering pharmaceuticals for specific tests, or studying developed drugs for safety and possible interactions. Some work with investigatory agencies like the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to perform safety tests on medications that are waiting for safety approval. Others pharmacists work for pharmaceutical companies or run independent laboratories.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon341388 — On Jul 11, 2013

I'm a Grade 11 student who plans to study Pharmacy in Canada. There are some questions I want to ask.

I know about a few Canadian universities (Toronto, Waterloo, Memorial etc.). Is there anyone who has studied Pharmacy in Canada? How is it going? Which one specifically? What's the life like there?

Can I successfully become a pharmacist after earning a bachelor's degree in Pharmacy? (I mean to pass the examination) If not, what can I do afterwards?

In Canada, are there any restricted rules for international students? (I've heard that UBC does.)

Do most of students who finish the first-year prerequisite study enter the real four year study for pharmacy?

Thank you so much!

By anon296852 — On Oct 13, 2012

The best way to determine if you would like to work as a pharmacist is to ask if you can shadow one for a day or two. If you think you are interested in a particular area, take the Pharmacy Technician Exam and get a job as a technician in that area while you are completing your undergraduate courses to make sure that's what your really want. Graduate school is Eexpensive and incurring $150,000 (public college) to >$200,000 (for private colleges) in debt for a career you're not sure you want or will be unhappy in would be a tragedy!

There are a wide variety of pharmacist specialties available so while you may not be interested in one area, another may pique your interest more. I did rotations in Veterinary pharmacy (only pet and large animal meds such as horses, cows, etc), Diabetes Specialty Pharmacy, ICU/emergency care at a hospital, Infectious Diseases, Community/Retail Pharmacy, Nursing Home/Infusion, Hospital Clinical Specialist, Pediatrics, and Nuclear Pharmacy.

The 4 year program for the PharmD I attended was 3 years of classroom studies interspersed with on-site rotations then followed by a 4th year of clinical rotations on-site with 6-8 weeks at each practice site. At the end of the 4th year there was a comprehensive exam of all 4 years as well as a 30 minute presentation followed by Q&A discussion period similar to that of defending your thesis for other doctorate programs.

By anon284376 — On Aug 09, 2012

Is being a pharmacist exciting?

By anon256154 — On Mar 20, 2012

The number of hours worked per shift varies greatly on the company you work for and your specific pharmacist position. Could range between 8-14 hours per shift.

By anon249395 — On Feb 20, 2012

How many hours do you have to work when you are a pharmacist? I am in the sixth grade doing a project.

By anon182908 — On Jun 03, 2011

It is not nearly as difficult to become a pharmacist as they would like you to believe.

By anon176160 — On May 15, 2011

thank you for the info your info helped me greatly to finish my assignment on what i want to be when i get out of school. --Johan P., Pretoria, South Africa

By anon163435 — On Mar 27, 2011

No need to be snotty. Obviously you can't be a pharmacist out of high school. I think he/she just meant that is what they want to pursue after high school. It is best to study science and math, so if you don't love those subjects (mainly science) this isn't for you.

Also, I mainly took my prerequisites at a community college to save money and because of physical locale. I don't have a degree of any kind, but I got into the University of Colorado at Denver first time I applied. Granted, my grades have always been very good and I did well on the PCAT.

By anon158305 — On Mar 06, 2011

What do I need to take in high school and be good at to become a pharmacist?

By anon152619 — On Feb 14, 2011

how much do they make yearly?

By anon110352 — On Sep 11, 2010

It's important to make a distinction that this article does not address: a pharmacologist is not a pharmacist. Pharmacists do not major in pharmacology. They follow the curriculum for the Doctor of Pharmacy Degree program at an accredited academic institution.

Pharmacology is merely one subject a pharmacy student studies; biochemistry, physiology, medicinal chemistry, pharmacokinetics, drug delivery systems, state and federal pharmacy law, and pharmacy practice lab (including drug compounding, practice at patient counseling, etc.) are all included in the curriculum in addition to pharmacology courses.

"Pharmacologist" refers to a person with a purely academic degree (Ph.D., or possibly a M.S.) who does drug research, studying drug action and development, and who also may teach certain courses in a Pharmd. curriculum.

Pharmacologists do not dispense medication, since both a B.S. in pharmacy, or a Pharmd. and a state license is required for one to practice as a pharmacist.

By anon81410 — On May 01, 2010

The 11th grader who thinks you can be a pharmacist out of high school is a little mistaken Maybe a pharmacy technician, but not a pharmacist. It's like saying "I'm going to be a doctor or a dentist right out of high school!" PharmD is a degree that you need to be a pharmacist. It's a doctorate degree. Go do your research please.

By anon71782 — On Mar 19, 2010

I am a pharmacy school student. I studied biochemistry at UCLA and finished the pharmacy school prerequisites and then applied and got accepted.

Getting a bachelor's degree doesn't mean you finished the prerequisites for pharmacy school. Each pharmacy school is different in which they require and although they may say a bachelor degree is not a requirement it is very, very, very unlikely that you will even get an interview if you don't have a bachelor's degree.

Your GPA is important as well as your extracurricular activity, they look at all of that.

Also if you can work at a pharmacy before applying that is even better and it will increase your chance in getting in. I hope this helps and good luck.

By anon67719 — On Feb 26, 2010

this help me with my career survey. i am an 11th grader at salem high and i plan on becoming a pharmacist after i graduate from high school.

By anon65186 — On Feb 11, 2010

do i have to study to become a pharmacist?

By anon49089 — On Oct 17, 2009

Sung (post #1) - What state do you live in because it depends. I think the major is just called pharmacy.

By anon47656 — On Oct 06, 2009

that's cool. i'm in seventh grade and we had a science project and we had to pick a scientist we wanted to do a poject on and i wanted to be a pharmacologist and i think it's cool.

By anon47608 — On Oct 06, 2009

This helped me with my project but i still want to learn more.

By anon45172 — On Sep 14, 2009

that's cool.

By anon41347 — On Aug 14, 2009

what subjects do i major in to be a pharmacist and how do i know the school is approved?

By anon36911 — On Jul 15, 2009

Auburn has an excellent school of pharmacy. You will get a great education there.

By anon36906 — On Jul 15, 2009

I would like to be a pharmacist in the future, but i am only a junior in high shcool. is there anything i can do to prep me for the future? And i would like to go to Auburn University, but is that a good college for this career choice?

By anon36621 — On Jul 13, 2009


You can just take your pre-pharmacy classes. It would be wise to major in biology or a life science in case you decide to finish undergrad first.

By anon35639 — On Jul 06, 2009

can you just take a pre-pharmacy course during your undergrad and be set? or should you major in a certain area?

By anon30621 — On Apr 21, 2009

Most major in Biology or Biochemistry. Those are the most popular majors nowadays. However, you can major in anything as long as you have completed the Pharmacy School's requirements. Many are now looking at the more versatile students majoring in arts and other liberal art majors.

By sungtha — On Mar 24, 2009

I'm sung, and I want be a pharmacist. What major do i need to take?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor...
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