Pharmacists are healthcare professionals who prepare and dispense prescription medications and advise patients and medical doctors on their safe, effective use. Pharmacists are medication experts and are knowledgeable about medications’ chemical structures, biological mechanisms, manufacturing processes, dosages, interactions, side effects, storage requirements, and more. Pharmacists may also perform duties such as administering vaccinations, providing general health advice to patients, ensuring their pharmacy’s compliance with the law, and testing medications’ quality and efficacy. 

Job Settings

Pharmacists work in many different settings, including in retail pharmacies (such as Walgreens and CVS), hospitals, outpatient clinics, the pharmaceutical industry, academia, the government, and more. About 70% of pharmacists work in retail pharmacies or hospitals.1 Most work 40 hours per week, with some working nights and/or weekends. Pharmacists often work 8 or 12 hour shifts, and most of that time is spent on their feet.

Daily Responsibilities

The daily responsibilities of a pharmacist depend on the setting in which they work. For example, a pharmacist who works in a hospital may go on clinical rounds with other healthcare professionals, review and monitor the efficacy of patients’ medication regimens, counsel patients on their medications, advise doctors on which medication may be best for a patient, and fill patients’ prescriptions. A pharmacist who works in a retail pharmacy may answer patients’ questions about their medications, advise patients on the use of over-the-counter medications, verify prescriptions that have been dispensed by pharmacy technicians, manage inventory, administer flu shots, and help patients monitor and manage chronic conditions like hypertension, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

Pharmacists who work in hospitals tend to work more closely with doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals and dispense more specialized medications such as those needed for very sick patients. Pharmacists who work in retail pharmacies tend to work more closely with patients and pharmacy technicians and dispense more commonly used medications.

Important Skills

Pharmacists must have very strong reading, writing, verbal communication, mathematical, organizational, and critical thinking skills. They must be able to be focused and precise for long periods of time, as filling a prescription incorrectly can cause serious injury or death. Pharmacists often work with addictive and controlled medications, so they must be trustworthy and honest. A strong interest in biology and chemistry is essential, as well as an empathetic attitude towards all patients.


The mean annual salary of a pharmacist in the United States is $125,460, and half make between $112,690 and $147,690. Salary varies by location, with a median salary of $141,330 in the Los Angeles area and $123,120 in the Boston area. Salaries tend to be highest in healthcare settings and lowest in retail settings.2

Job Outlook

Demand for pharmacists is expected to decrease by 3 percent between 2019 and 2029, which translates to approximately 10,500 fewer employed pharmacists in 2029. This projected decrease is motivated by the growing role of pharmacy technicians and the growth of online and mail order prescription sales and subsequent decrease in retail pharmacies’ employment of pharmacists. However, employment of pharmacists by hospitals and clinics is expected to increase as the American population ages.3

Pros and Cons


  • High salary: Pharmacists are the second-highest paid healthcare professionals, behind only physicians
  • Rewarding: Many pharmacists enjoy using their expertise to improve patients’ lives
  • Variety of settings: Pharmacists can work in many different settings based on their interests


  • Postgraduate education: the required 3-4 years of postgraduate education may be time-consuming and expensive
  • Decreasing demand: Employment of pharmacists is expected to decrease in coming decades
  • Customer service: Some pharmacists, particularly those in retail, may not enjoy working in a customer service role

Career Path

Aspiring pharmacists must complete a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree from a graduate program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE). Some programs offer a 6-year PharmD option for high school graduates, but most require applicants to have taken at least 2 years of prerequisite undergraduate classes and prefer those with a bachelor’s degree. PharmD programs are typically full time and last 4 years, although part-time, online, and accelerated programs are also available. They commonly include academic courses, professional development courses, and experiential learning in pharmacy settings.

Once their PharmD is completed, all aspiring pharmacists must become licensed in the state they wish to practice in. Licensure requires passing 2 exams: the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) and an exam on jurisprudence. Most states, with the exception of California, Arkansas, and Idaho, use the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination (MPJE). In addition to the 2 exams, additional requirements are also set by each state, such as meeting a minimum number of supervised clinical hours. Once they have become licensed, some PharmD graduates begin independently practicing as a pharmacist. 

However, many PharmD graduates choose to attend a pharmacy residency program to gain additional experience. Pharmacy residency programs typically last 1-2 years and use hands-on learning and mentoring to further develop a pharmacist’s skills. Residencies may focus on a specialization, allowing pharmacists to more quickly be eligible to gain specialty certifications from the Board of Pharmacy Specialties (BPS) such as in cardiology, geriatrics, or oncology. Other PharmD graduates choose to enter a fellowship in order to work in research, industry, or academia.

Preparing for a PharmD Program

PharmD graduate programs differ in their requirements, but most require applicants to complete an extensive list of prerequisite undergraduate courses. Common prerequisites include 2 semesters of biology with lab, 2 semesters of general chemistry with lab, 2 semesters of organic chemistry with lab, 2 semesters of anatomy and physiology with lab, biochemistry, microbiology, physics, calculus, statistics, economics, psychology, English, and public speaking. A bachelor’s degree in STEM is not required, but the prerequisite courses may be easier to complete with a STEM major, and particularly a biology major. 

In addition to prerequisite classes, most PharmD programs require a high undergraduate GPA, 3 evaluations, a resume, a personal statement, and supplemental essay(s). Evaluations include a letter of recommendation and a ratings section in which evaluators rate an applicant on specific criteria. Evaluations by pharmacists and other healthcare professionals are highly valuable. Most programs recommend or require that applicants take the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) and submit their scores. Admission is competitive, so prospective applicants should gain experience volunteering or doing paid work that shows knowledge of and interest in pharmacy. Many PharmD programs highly recommend that applicants shadow pharmacists and work with patients in a pharmacy, hospital, or clinic setting. 

Most PharmD programs use the Pharmacy College Admission Service (PharmCAS) to allow applicants to submit all of their application materials in one place. Those interested in applying to PharmD programs should carefully research the programs that they are interested in attending and take note of their prerequisites, the PCAT scores of their accepted students, their application material recommendations and requirements, and their application deadlines. Most programs have a priority application deadline many months before their final application deadline. Applying by the priority deadline increases an applicant’s likelihood of admission and may offer other benefits, depending on the program.

Application Timeline

A general application timeline for programs that use PharmCAS and begin in the fall is shown below, but applicants should carefully check the deadlines for their application year and the programs they wish to apply to. The timeline is wide-ranging in order to cover most programs and give prospective applicants a general idea of the PharmD application process. Deadlines vary widely, so prospective applicants should take note of their programs’ deadlines in the summer before they intend to apply. Application materials should be submitted as soon as possible in order to maximize the odds of admission.Programs begin

Pre-Application Maintain high GPA, complete prerequisite courses, gain volunteer or work experience, take the PCAT, research PharmD programs of interest, request 3 evaluations, prepare resume, write personal statement, consider answers to supplemental essay questions
Mid-July before year of attendance PharmCAS opens and application materials can be uploaded
October to March riority deadline for all materials to be submitted to PharmCAS
March to June Final deadline for all materials to be submitted to PharmCAS
October through June Programs invite select applicants for interviews
April through June Admission decisions released
Late August to September Programs Begin

Financing Your Education

The total cost of a PharmD degree can range anywhere from under $50,000 to over $200,000. Many universities offer scholarships, financial aid, work study opportunities, or other means by which students can reduce their financial burden. However, it is very common for pharmacists to graduate with $100,000 or more in student loan debt. This amount of debt, though it may appear overwhelming, can often be paid off within several years due to pharmacists’ high salary.

Additional Resources