How To Get A Job At A Pharmacy

Perhaps you have finished your high school diploma and are wondering what to do next, or maybe you have already decided that college is the next step, but you are still trying to figure out exactly what to study.

Pharmacy job postings are pretty easy to come by, and if you are willing to complete a pharmacist degree or pharmacy technician training program, then you should have no trouble setting yourself up with a stable career in the healthcare industry.

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Why Search For Job Opportunities In A Pharmacy Setting?

There are several reasons why working in a pharmacy setting remains one of the more popular job prospects.

  1. Stability. The media talk about the lack of jobs all the time. Except pharmacies keep popping up all over the United States. Aside from your local pharmacy or local drugstore, there are also pharmaceutical counters in many food stores and mail-order pharmacies. The healthcare industry has many outlets which require trained personnel.
  2. Salary. All right, the salary for a pharmacist or pharmacy technician is not incredible, but it is a good wage, and there is the opportunity for extended career training. Salaries vary between the type of pharmacy and which state you work for.
  3. Accessibility. The pharmacy career path is accessible to pretty much everyone – so long as you are willing to complete a recognized training program and put in the hours, you can become a pharmacy worker or pharmacy technician in less than a year.

Pharmacy Job Opportunities

Working at the local pharmacy or in a pharmacy setting might refer to a few different job titles, including a licensed pharmacist, a pharmacy technician, or a pharmacy assistant.


The pharmacist is the person who is responsible for dispensing medications and advising patients on the safe use of drug therapy. A pharmacist has the keen medical knowledge to legally counsel patients regarding taking their medication and medication safety. A licensed pharmacist might also administer vaccinations over the counter.

A pharmacist will most often work in local or community pharmacies though they may also seek employment in a hospital pharmacy. Pharmacists might find lucrative work as consultants to insurance companies, advising on pharmacy law.

Aspiring pharmacists can expect a wide, open career path ahead of them, but they should also be prepared to study for a minimum of six years to achieve a Ph.D. in pharmacology.

Pharmacy technician

Often the person you see serving customers inside a retail pharmacy will be a pharmacy technician. A pharmacy technician (or pharmacy tech) relies on customer service skills and some knowledge of medical terminology to support the pharmacist with patient care.

To qualify as a pharmacy technician, you must pass the national pharmacy technician certification exam, as devised by the pharmacy technician certification board.

Working as a pharmacy tech will involve many administrative duties, as well as maintaining the pharmacy inventory. Since pharmacy technicians must have completed a formal training program, they can assist in some preparation and dispensing of medication.

Pharmacy Assistant

A bit like a pharmacy technician but without the inventory or medication prep duties. A pharmacy assistant is the ideal entry position into a pharmacy setting.

Requiring no formal education, pharmacy assistants tend to rely on their communication skills and good organizational skills and learn anything else on-the-job.

Pharmacy assistants might be responsible for the day-to-day running of retail pharmacies, serving customers; operating the cash register; even preparing prescription labels. They are not permitted to work directly with medication, however.

Working As A Pharmacist

Qualified health system pharmacists essentially have their pick of job search opportunities. Many pharmacists find employment in retail, local, or community pharmacies, whilst others find better-paid (though less common) positions working inside a hospital.

With a pharmacology Ph.D., you might work as a pharmacist for an online distributor or use your medical knowledge to consult.

Pharmacist employment averages 13,600 job openings per year.

Salary data

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual income for a pharmacist is $128,570.

How To Become A Licensed Pharmacist

Whether you would like to work in a retail pharmacy; a hospital pharmacy; or a grocery store’s pharmaceutical counter, any aspiring pharmacist needs a formal education.

To qualify as a pharmacist in the United States, you must have earned a Ph.D. in pharmacology – also referred to as a Doctor of Pharmacy or a Pharm.D.

Students may apply to enter a pharmacy program following two or three years of undergraduate study – depending on the program. The most common subjects which lead into pharmacology are:

  • Human biology
  • Physiology
  • Organic or general chemistry
  • Calculus

Students are advised to seek out a program recognized by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. Applicants will be required to sit the pharmacy college admission test (PCAT) before their enrolment is complete.

The exact length of time it will take to qualify as a pharmacist in the United States varies a little depending on the program you choose to enroll in. Postgraduate Pharm. D programs take four years to complete. On top of your undergraduate course, that’s eight years of study.

Alternatively, you can seek out a Pharm. D program accepts applicants with nothing more than a high school diploma. These are fewer and further between and take six years to complete.

The most common and successful route to a successful career as a pharmacist is long and arduous… and begins in high school:

  • Focus on high school subjects like biology, chemistry, and mathematics.
  • Apply to college for an undergraduate degree and earn your Bachelor of Science.
  • Enroll in a pre-pharmacy program and prepare for the PCAT test.
  • Select your Pharm. D school and begin studying for your Ph.D.
  • Pass the North American Licensing Exam and earn your pharmacist license.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? It is a logical and attainable course, but it will take up to 13 years and require a lot of hard work and dedication.

Skills required to become a pharmacist

During your Pharm. D program, you will learn the relevant medical knowledge to apply for a job within any pharmaceutical organization. Assuming you have the foundational knowledge, an accredited Pharm. D program will cover the following:

Year 1:

  • Reading a measuring drug dosages
  • Pharmacy law and ethics
  • Patient care

Year 2:

  • Pharmaceutical Chemistry
  • Pharmacognosy

Year 3:

  • Advanced pharmacology
  • Choose a specialty

Year 4:

  • Clinical rotation to gain practical experience

At least some of the programs might be available via online courses for students who require more flexibility. This will depend on the program and school you choose to enroll in.

Qualifications required to work as a pharmacist

Regardless of the state you choose to study or practice in; you will require official accreditation before you can begin applying for pharmacist jobs.

First of all, you need to complete your Pharm. D program, or Ph.D. in pharmacology.

Following successful completion of the course, you will be eligible to sit the North American Pharmacy Licencing Exam (or NAPLEX).

To work freely as a pharmacist in any of the United States, you will also need to pass the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (or MPJE).

Pharmacy graduates from outside the United States are required to sit the similar Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Examination Committee Certification (or FPGEC) to seek employment in any US pharmacy.

Working As A Pharmacy Technician

Choosing to pursue a career as a pharmacy technician is a little different. For one thing, earning your pharmacy technician certification can be done in less than a year, and all you need to enroll in a program is your high school diploma.

The duties of a pharmacy technician involve more administration and customer service skills. A pharmacy tech will be required to maintain inventory for the pharmacy, collect patient information, and prepare prescriptions at the pharmacists’ behest.

There is a lot of overlap between the duties of a pharmacy technician and a pharmacy assistant… but since all you need to do to get a job as the latter is apply and pass the interview, let’s focus on the pharmacy technician role.

Salary data

Due to the greatly reduced qualification time and fewer specialist duties, a pharmacy technician generally earns a lower salary than a licensed pharmacist. That said, the salary is an effective lure for many aspiring pharmacy technicians.

The exact salary for a pharmacy technician varies between retail pharmacies, community pharmacies, and hospital pharmacies. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, anyone aspiring to find a job as a pharmacy technician should expect an annual income of $36,000 – $37,000.

How To Become A Pharmacy Technician

One of the reasons that a job as a pharmacy technician appeals to many candidates is that you do not require any experience working in a related field to apply.

What you do need is to complete a pharmacy technician program and pass the pharmacy technician certification exam.

Some pharmacies might be willing to accept unqualified pharmacy technicians to provide on-the-job training. Currently, pharmacy technicians working in Hawaii, Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, and Delaware do not require formal training.

While this is fine, it is advised that you enroll in a formal program accredited by the pharmacy technician certification board, as this will demonstrate a commitment and dedication and therefore improve your chances of employment.

The quick and (relatively) easy route to finding a job as a pharmacy technician is accessible to most aspiring pharmacy tech candidates:

  • Get your high school diploma – good grades in science and maths will be a bonus!
  • Apply to a pharmacy technician program or a blended learning/online program.
  • Find a paid internship or unpaid externship to get practical experience.
  • Complete the program, and sit the pharmacy technician certification exam.

Upon successful completion of both your pharmacy tech course and the PTCE exam, you will be an officially certified pharmacy technician and can begin applying for jobs.

Skills required to become a pharmacy technician

Excellent communication and organization skills are a prerequisite for any pharmacy tech job. Any other skills you need will be covered during pharmacy technician training and your clinical externship.

During your pharmacy technician program, expect to cover the following:

  • Medical terminology.
  • Drug uses.
  • Pharmaceutical calculation.
  • Inventory.
  • Pharmacy ethics.

The latter portion of any pharmacy technician training program will take the form of a clinical or real-world externship. Many pharmacies partner with local colleges, offering aspiring pharmacy technicians the chance to train with them, sometimes with the offer of an entry-level job at the end of their course.

Qualifications required to become a pharmacy technician

Depending on the state you are looking to get a job in, you might get away with nothing more than a high school diploma or equivalent qualification.

More than likely, however, you will be required to complete an accredited pharm tech program to earn recognition as a certified pharmacy technician.

A pharmacy tech graduate must pass the PTCE exam, after which they can begin applying for jobs anywhere in the United States as a certified pharmacy technician.

Final Thoughts

A career in a pharmacy setting is not limited to the local pharmacy or even the pharmaceutical counter at Wal-Mart. As the healthcare industry begins to facilitate more online medication distribution, qualified pharmacy workers can choose to work in a traditional pharmacy, a hospital pharmacy, or even online.

With so many pharmacy job opportunities across the United States of America, finding the right job for you has never been easier. All you need to do is get the right qualification, and you can start hunting for your first job in a pharmacy!

For a pharmacist, this is easier said than done. Expect to spend a minimum of six years training and then spend a long time garnering experience afterward before you can cherry-pick your ideal position.

Working as a pharmacy tech or pharmacy assistant is a more accessible and, dare I say, easier way to break into the healthcare industry.

A pharmacy tech job requires just a 1-2 year program and a conclusory exam for certification. A pharmacy assistant requires no such program, though any existing experience working in a medical or pharmacy setting will set applicants apart.

Whichever path you choose, an entry-level position will lead to further job opportunities in the healthcare industry and pharmacy field, with many opportunities for career progression.

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