How to Become a Pharmacist

Morganne Skinner, RN
Updated May 31, 2024
Edited by
Examine the role of a pharmacist, the education and exams needed to obtain licensure, and the job outlook for those who pursue this role.
mini logo

Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

Pharmacists play an integral role in improving the health of their patients. They help patients understand dosage information, administration methods, side effects, and drug interactions. Learn how to become a pharmacist, including the educational requirements and steps for becoming licensed.

How Long to Become

4-6 years

Degree Required

BS in related field
Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.)


Specialty certifications optional

Popular Online Pharmacy Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Loading...Learn More
Visit Site
Loading...Learn More
Visit Site
Loading...Learn More
Visit Site

What Is a Pharmacist?

A pharmacist is an expert in storing, handling, preparing, distributing, and using medication. They play a crucial role in educating patients on the uses and outcomes of their prescribed medication, ensuring accurate dosages, and avoiding negative side effects.

They often work in hospitals, retail spaces, including drug and grocery stores, specialty clinics, mental health facilities, addiction centers, nursing homes, and poison control centers.

Their specific responsibilities vary based on these settings, leading to different types of pharmacists, including:

Community pharmacists

These pharmacists work in retail pharmacies and are responsible for dispensing medication and educating patients on prescribed and over-the-counter drugs.

Clinical Pharmacists

You can find clinical pharmacists in healthcare settings such as hospitals and clinics, where they provide direct patient care.

Consultant Pharmacists

A consultant pharmacist works with medical facilities and insurance providers to determine ways to improve pharmacy services.

Pharmaceutical Pharmacists

These pharmacists are involved in the research and development of new medications.

Steps to Becoming a Pharmacist

Before becoming a pharmacist, you must meet certain academic and professional criteria. While specific requirements regarding education and licensure may differ depending on the institution and state, the basic prerequisites are similar from one place to the next.

Prospective pharmacists must earn a doctor of pharmacy degree and complete a state licensure exam.

  1. 1

    Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in a Related Field:

    Prospective pharmacists must first earn a bachelor’s degree in an appropriate field. Students should complete a science-related degree that provides courses in anatomy, physiology, biology, and chemistry.

    Typical bachelor programs take four years to complete. While there are pre-pharmacy non-degree programs you can complete in two years, most graduate schools prefer applicants who have earned a bachelor’s degree.

  2. 2

    Earn a Pharm.D. From an Accredited Pharmacy School:

    Prospective pharmacists must earn a doctor of pharmacy degree (Pharm.D.) to be eligible for state licensure. It’s important to find a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE).

    These programs take around four years to complete. Some pharmacy schools provide direct-entry programs, admitting students directly after high school, allowing them to complete two years of pre-pharmacy study, followed by four years of professional study.

    Students must take courses in pharmaceutical chemistry (study of designing and evaluating drugs), pharmacognosy (study of drugs derived from plants and animals), and pharmacology (study of the effects of drugs on the human body).

  3. 3

    Pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX):

    To become a licensed pharmacist in the United States, you must pass the NAPLEX exam. The exam tests your knowledge and skills of pharmacy practice, medication therapy management, pharmacology, and safe pharmacy practices. Passing this exam demonstrates your competency and ensures that you meet the professional standards to practice safely.

Pharmacist Education

When deciding how to become a pharmacist, there are two main educational paths to attaining your Pharm.D. You can complete a four-year bachelor’s program before applying to a graduate program or enroll in a direct-entry program.

Other educational paths exist, such as completing a non-degree pre-pharmacy program or entering graduate school after two years of undergraduate study. However, many Pharm.D. programs and employers prefer people who have earned a bachelor’s degree.

Doctor of Pharmacy Degree

Regardless of your path, you must obtain a Pharm.D. to become a licensed pharmacist. This program provides the necessary background knowledge and clinical skills to successfully pass the licensing exams and fulfill the pharmacist role.

In the past, passing the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT) was necessary for admission to pharmacy programs. However, the exam was discontinued in January 2024.

  • Admission Requirements: Two years of undergraduate study (bachelor’s preferred), science and math prerequisites (varies from program to program), average 3.0 GPA, interview, letters of recommendation
  • Program Curriculum: Pharmaceutical calculations, biochemistry, medicinal chemistry, anatomy and physiology, drug delivery systems, pharmaceutical law and ethics, health care system, public health, applied practice
  • Time to Complete: Four years
  • Skills Learned: Attention to detail, communication, interpersonal, management, advocacy, multitasking, mathematical and scientific aptitude

Pharmacist Licensure and Certification

Pharmacists need a license to practice in any state. To obtain one, they must have a bachelor’s degree in a science-related field and complete a Pharm.D. program. They must also pass the NAPLEX and either the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (a test that checks knowledge of pharmacy laws and regulations) or a similar state-specific exam.

License renewal usually requires 30 hours of continuing education through the ACPE every two years.

While not required, pharmacists can obtain certification in various specializations offered by the Board of Pharmacy Specialties.

Pharmacy specialization options include:

  • Cardiology: Experts on medications specifically designed for people who have or are at risk for heart problems
  • Oncology: direct patient care for those managing cancer
  • Pediatrics: specialize in understanding the impact of medications on children from birth to age 18

Working as a Pharmacist

Once you have completed your education, start your job search by networking, attending job fairs, and utilizing job boards. Consider internships and volunteer opportunities to gain relevant experience. Pharmacists commonly work in hospitals, where they manage medications and collaborate with healthcare professionals, and in retail pharmacies, where they dispense medications and educate patients.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS), pharmacists earn an average annual salary of $128,090. The BLS projects 3% annual growth for the profession between 2022-2032, which is on par with the national average.

Practice setting and geographic location greatly influence pharmacist pay, with the top-paying industry being ambulatory healthcare services.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Pharmacist

The typical time to become a pharmacist is eight years — four to earn an undergraduate degree and four to earn a doctorate. Direct-entry programs, which take six years to complete, are also common.