10 Things You (Probably) Didn’t Know About Your Pharmacist

Published: October 18, 2021
Gabrielle Pierce
By Gabrielle Pierce, PharmD, MBA
By Noah Gurr, 2024 PharmD Candidate

1. Most pharmacists have a Doctor of Pharmacy degree.

Before the year 2000, many practicing pharmacists earned a Bachelor of Science degree to practice as a pharmacist. However, since the early 2000s, the Doctor of Pharmacy degree, also called the Pharm.D., has become the most common degree earned by pharmacists going into practice in the United States. It is very likely that the pharmacist you talk to next time you have a question about your medication has a Doctor of Pharmacy degree!


2. It usually takes between six and eight years of school to become a pharmacist.

There is some flexibility in the time it takes to complete the Pharm.D. degree program, which makes it unique. To apply to pharmacy school, there are certain required classes that students must complete first. Some students choose to complete a four-year degree before applying to pharmacy school. Other students choose to attend a pharmacy school that only requires two years of undergraduate classes before applying to pharmacy school.


Pharmacy school is usually a four-year program, with the last year made up mostly of practice experience in different pharmacy settings. Students learn all about medications during pharmacy school, including how they are discovered and created, how they work in the body, and their side effects. Students also learn how to recommend over-the-counter medications that are available without a prescription and take classes about pharmacy law, leadership, and ethics. They also learn how to work as a part of a healthcare team with nurses and doctors.


3. In most states, pharmacists can give vaccines, like the flu shot.

Pharmacists are one of the most accessible healthcare providers, and many people live within a few miles of a pharmacy. Laws vary by state, but in many states, pharmacists can administer vaccines at the pharmacy. Sometimes a doctor must write a prescription for the vaccine first, but usually a pharmacist can prescribe certain vaccines.


Many pharmacies have a separate sitting area or room that can be used for giving a shot. Ask your pharmacist if you can get your next vaccine from them!


4. In many community pharmacies, the pharmacist can help teach you how to do many things!

Pharmacists can answer a lot of questions about your health. For example, if you or someone close to you has an allergy and needs to carry an Epi-pen in case of an allergic reaction, your pharmacist can teach you how to use it.


Pharmacists can also teach you how to use a blood pressure cuff to take your blood pressure at home and how to use a blood sugar monitor to check your blood sugar levels using your testing supplies.


Pharmacists can also provide tips on giving medications to children and can make suggestions for how to remember to take your medication if you sometimes forget. If you are prescribed a new medication, such as an injectable medication like insulin, your pharmacist can walk you through the steps on how to use it correctly.


5. Some pharmacists complete a residency after graduating from pharmacy school.

After pharmacy school, new pharmacists have the option of completing a residency, which means that for one year, they work as a practicing pharmacist in a clinical setting, learn from mentors in that area, and complete projects.


This is similar to the residency training that medical students complete after graduating from medical school. Pharmacy residents learn a wide range of skills that vary based on their program, including working in hospital pharmacy, acquiring research skills, teaching at a college of pharmacy, and building leadership skills.


Some pharmacists also then complete a second year of residency. These pharmacy residents will choose a specific area of healthcare to practice and learn about. Examples of specialized residency areas include working with children, called pediatrics, or providing care to people with cancer, or oncology.


6. In some states, pharmacists can prescribe certain medications.

In some states, pharmacists can write prescriptions for designated medications (under certain circumstances!). For example, in California, pharmacists are legally allowed to prescribe birth control pills if specific requirements are met. In some hospitals, pharmacists are allowed to change doses of medications or even switch a patient to a different medication if needed. Some states allow pharmacists to prescribe medications and products to help people quit smoking, including nicotine gum and nicotine patches.


7. To become licensed in most states, a pharmacist has to take two different exams: a clinical exam and a law exam.

Throughout pharmacy school, pharmacy students learn about all types of medications; they learn about how medications work in the body, interactions between medications, and how to teach patients about their medications. Once they graduate, they take an extensive clinical exam to test their knowledge about all things medication-related.


However, each state has its own laws and regulations that determine what pharmacists are legally allowed to do, and what the requirements for prescriptions are in their state. To make sure that a new pharmacist beginning to work in a particular state is familiar with all the laws they will need to follow, new pharmacists usually also have to take a state-specific law exam before applying for their pharmacist license in that state.


8. Pharmacists must take an oath when they graduate from pharmacy school.

Pharmacists take a vow when they graduate called the “Oath of the Pharmacist,” and as a part of that, they promise to dedicate themselves to the service of their community.


Many pharmacists are actively involved in their communities by volunteering with local organizations. They provide informational sessions for people in the area and sometimes even run for public office.


9. Pharmacists review your medication list for any interactions before filling your prescription.

Whenever you go to a new pharmacy for the first time, the pharmacist will likely ask you a series of questions or have you fill out a form before filling your prescription. This information might include a list of other medications you are taking, allergies to food or medications, and any past illnesses or diseases you have been diagnosed with.


Your pharmacist will carefully review all of this information before they prepare the medication. This is very important because the pharmacist uses this information to check that your medications have the right dose and instructions, and that none of your medications interact or might cause you to have an allergic reaction. Be sure your pharmacist talks to you about any side effects you may experience.


10. Pharmacists work in many different settings.

Since pharmacists are trained to be the medication expert, they work in many different settings where medications are involved. You may be familiar with some of them, such as working at a community pharmacy to fill prescriptions and provide medication counseling.


Pharmacists can also work at a doctor’s office or veterinarian’s office to answer questions about medications, check for interactions, and provide recommendations. Several pharmacists also hold public offices.


Some pharmacists work for insurance companies to help make decisions about coverage for certain medications. Pharmacists may also work in research, nursing homes, for a government agency, or at a university to help train the next generation of pharmacists.

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