How to become a pharmacist

Few career fields are projected to grow faster than health care in the coming years. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that 14 of the 30 largest-growth occupations between 2012 and 2022 will be in health care, and there are two simple reasons why: A larger share of Americans is projected to be insured under the Affordable Care Act, and the population is aging. Therefore, a growing number of people are likely to be seeking out medical care and prescriptions in the years to come.

Careers in pharmaceuticals can be a prudent choice for those concerned about job security, with 14 percent growth predicted for this career from 2012-22. But being a pharmacist means a lot more than wearing a white lab coat and checking for drug interactions. There are a variety of career paths you can take within the field of pharmaceuticals, whether you prefer to work with patients or conduct research.

Educational requirements for pharmacists

In order to work as a pharmacist you will need to earn a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree through an accredited program. The steps to earn this degree may include:

  • Studying biology, chemistry or anatomy for at least two years*
  • Earning a qualifying score on the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT)
  • Graduating from a four-year Pharm.D. program
  • Completing supervised work/internships
  • Passing the North American Pharmacist Licensing Exam, as well as the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam

Some requirements may differ depending on the state in which you wish to practice, so it's important to check with your state health board to find out what the specifics are.

For practicing pharmacists, some daily duties might include:

  • Filling patient prescriptions, including calculating dosages and preventing negative drug interactions
  • Educating patients on the proper use of medications
  • Completing insurance forms
  • Billing insurance companies for patient care

How much can pharmacists make?

Pay for pharmacists can differ depending on what state they work in, how much experience they have and who their employer is. The BLS salary data show that the mean annual wage for pharmacists in the U.S. was $116,500 in 2013. The average annual wage for the five top-paying states (Alaska, California, Maine, Vermont and Wisconsin) was $123,008 in 2013.

Individual metro areas also have large variations in wages, with some being significantly higher paying that others. According to the BLS, the top-paying areas in terms of annual mean wages in 2013 include:

  • Gadsden, AL: $154,700
  • Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA: $ 151,270
  • Pascagoula, MS: $149,530
  • El Centro, CA: $147,740
  • Dalton, GA: $141,460
  • Chico, CA: 139,840
  • Brownsville-Harlingen, TX: $138,570
  • Anniston-Oxford, AL: 138,360
  • Fresno, CA: $136,140
  • San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, CA: $136,060

In addition to being home to some of the most lucrative cities for pharmacists, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia are all ranked high on the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center's Cost of Living index. Mississippi ranks No. 1 with the lowest cost of living in the country, and Alabama and Georgia are ranked No. 8 and 11, respectively.

To see a full list of sources and find out more details about how to become a pharmacist, check out the infographic below.


Cost of Living Data Series: First Quarter 2014, Missouri Economic Research and Information Center,

Occupational Employment and Wages: Pharmacists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2013,

Pharmacists, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,

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