Featured, Pre-Health

Path to Becoming a Pharmacist

Believe it or not, this past October was American Pharmacists Month, an initiative created by the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) to educate the public about the pharmacist’s role in improving medication and advancing patient care. While the common perception of pharmacists evokes an image of someone who interprets a physician’s prescription at a local drug store, reality can create a different picture. Instead of the “typical” pharmacists, imagine the growing group of medication therapy managers (MTM): pharmacists who serve patients as counselors by reviewing their medication history and suggesting the best way to reduce drug-related costs.  Alongside these new, proactive pharmacists, imagine a pharmacist goes on rounds with a doctor and recommends medications that meet the unique needs of a patient. Finally, imagine pharmacists in consultant positions in which they can advise healthcare facilities or insurance providers on raising the efficiency of pharmacy services.  Regardless of the form, these growing breeds of pharmacists demonstrate that the pharmaceutical industry is not simply filled with pill counters; like everywhere else in the biomedical field, it is exploding with innovation and fresh new challenges.

Since the H1N1 virus outbreak in 2009, all 50 states have granted pharmacists the right to give flu shots. Some states have even allowed pharmacists to administer vaccines. As evidenced in these expanding roles of pharmacists in healthcare, what pharmacists do now affects the public health more than ever. With this in mind, more and more college students head to pharmacy schools to pursue careers in the pharmaceutical industry.

A corner of the pre-health advising section in Clough Commons (Photographed by Alex Y. Shao)

What does it take to get into pharmacy school? The application process is similar to the one required for medical schools. The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) is a great hub of resources for learning about the pharmacy school admission process. First, the combination of a good overall GPA and PCAT (Pharmacy College Admission Test) score will always help an applicant stand out from the pool. The course requirements differ from school to school; for instance, the University Of Georgia College Of Pharmacy requires applicants to take a 3 credit-hour speech class. Besides academics, any experience in relation to pharmaceuticals or general medicine will bolster their applications. Though it may not seem like it as first glance, opportunities are plentiful, including volunteering at the Stamps Health Services Pharmacy or shadowing a local pharmacist.

Just like any professional track, the journey to becoming a pharmacist is a long and arduous process that results in a worthwhile experience at the end. For entry-level positions, aspiring pharmacists are required to hold Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm. D.) professional degrees. Pharmacy schools take four years to complete and prepare students for the technical, scientific, and patient-care aspects of the profession. The Pharm. D. education encompasses a variety of subjects, such as pathophysiology, toxicology, and biopharmaceuticals, and has clinical training integrated into the curriculum. Upon graduation from pharmacy school, graduates often pursue additional training through residencies or fellowships for one to two years. The goal of the post-graduate training is to allow pharmacists to gain direct, patient-care experience in community pharmacies, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities. Fellowships, though, provide more specialized training in biomedical research to further innovation in the pharmaceutical industry. Lastly, the graduates must pass the North American Pharmacists Licensure Examination in order to distribute medicine in the United States.

While the job market for pharmacists has been sluggish due to the downturn of the economy, experts say an aging population and increasingly complex medicines will keep industry growth healthy for years to come. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 25.4% employment growth for pharmacists between 2010 and 2020, and he earnings are expected to remain relatively high. According to the Labor Department, the median annual salary for pharmacists was $111,570 in 2010. The best-paid 10 percent made approximately $138,620 a year, while the lowest-paid made approximately $82,090. These statistics explain why the pharmacist profession is ranked third in the Best Jobs of 2012 by U.S. News and World Report.

With the continuous development in healthcare information technology, the role of pharmacists becomes wider and more complex. More sophisticated skill sets and intelligent minds are needed in the pharmaceutical industry, and the students here at Georgia Tech certainly have potential to fill these needs. For more information regarding how to prepare for pharmacy school, learn of the admission process, and learn of the career choices in pharmacy, contact Jennifer Kimble at jennifer.kimble@carnegie.gatech.edu.


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