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When most people think about pharmacists they recall the person standing behind the counter at their local drug store. While this is certainly one option for graduates of PharmD programs there are many others. Pharmacists work in large hospitals, in drug development, for pharmaceutical companies and in private care facilities. While they do not directly prescribe medication to patients, they dispense medication, help answer the patients questions and are responsible for ensuring drug quality. There are also different specialties within the field.
Pharmacists undergo considerable training in human physiology and the principles of drug therapy and pharmacokinetics. However, once they graduate many enjoy flexible hours, a good salary, job security and a knowledge that they are helping patients. Women are well represented in this field and enjoy the same job benefits as men.
The PharmD degree process takes 6 years. The first two years are pre-professional and may be completed at any undergraduate college, however certain schools have partnerships with professional pharmacy programs that better your chances of admittance. Make sure to complete all prerequisites of schools you are interested in. After completing these two years and obtaining a passing score on the Pharmacy College Admittance Test (PCAT) students then begin their professional training. This phase takes four years and includes courses in such subjects as chemistry, anatomy, physiology, and biology. Also included are clinical rotations in a variety of settings. While this is the fastest route to obtaining a PharmD. it is not the only one. Many student do not realize that pharmacy is for them until their junior or senior year of undergraduate training. These students can still apply to professional programs. Once admitted they complete the same four years of professional training. In addition to these four years some states require a period of internship (typically 1500 hours) be completed post graduation before a pharmacist can practice in a non-internship setting. You must check to make sure you complete the requirements of the state in which you intend to practice.
Holders of the PharmD. can now enter the workforce in non-clinical positions. However many choose to complete a residency to become a clinical pharmacist with more patient interaction and clinical responsibility. These residencies typically last 2-3 years. Others elect to complete a fellowship in very specific areas of pharmacologic science. Pharmacist opting for a fellowship usually intend to pursue research.
The first exam pharmacists face is the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT). One must pass the PCAT before beginning the professional phase of pharmacy training. The PCAT is a four hour test consisting of 240 multiple choice questions and two writing topics. The six content areas tested by the PCAT are verbal ability, biology, chemistry, reading comprehension, quantitative ability, and writing skill.
The next set of exams for pharmacy students is the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX). The Naplex is a 185 multiple choice question computer based exam. Of the 185 questions only 150 are used to calculate your score, but you will not be told which 150 are the operational questions. The majority of the questions will be in scenario based formats. The test covers three key areas of content: assuring safety and efficacy of pharmacotherpay and optimization of therapeutic outcome (54% of th exam), assuring safe and accurate preparation and dispensation of drugs (35%), and providing healthcare information and promoting public health (11%). The total time alloted for the test is four hours and fifteen minutes. To practice for this exam some students take the Pre-NAPLEX offered by the same company that writes the NAPLEX.
Most states also require pharmacists to take and pas the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence exam (MPJE). This exam combines federal and state specific law questions to serve as a state law examination. The questions are tailored to the state you have indicated will be your primary area of practice. The exam is computer based and consists of 90 questions, of which only 60 are used to calculate your score.
The first step in applying to pharmacy schools is to complete a PharmCAS application. This centralized application service gathers basic information such as a personal statement, transcripts and test to submit to all schools you have indicated you are interested in. The fee charged by PharmCAS increases with the number of schools you select. Once schools receive and review this information they may ask you for supplemental data such as essays and letters of recommendation. Often there is also a fee associated with this secondary application. If a school you are interested in does not use PharmCAS you must contact them individually to make sure you complete all application requirements.
Once they have received your primary and secondary application and all supporting materials schools may invite you for an interview. These usually consist of one or two interviews about you career goals, experiences and opinions. Some schools may also include scenario questions to asses your reasoning skills or ask you to write a short essay. Business attire should be worn to the interview.
Once you have interviewed you must sit back and wait for a decision. SHould you be placed on a waitlist you should express your continued interest in the school and update them should anything significant change about your application.
There are many specialties within pharmacy, below are some of the specialties JAWS viewers have requested to learn more about. If you have a specialty you'd like to se added contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A site for prepharmacy students to search members based on a range of criteria to see how various students stood up against specific pharmacy schools.
PharmCAS The primary application service for applicants to schools of pharmacy.
PCAT Information about the PCAT from the company that administers the exam.
US Schools A list of US schools accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education.
Naplex: Evolution, Purpose, Scope and Educational Implications An article about changes in the NAPLEX exam
Getting Your License Information from the American Pharmacists Association about licensure requirements for both US and foreign students.