Job Duties

Pharmacists dispense drugs prescribed by physicians to patients. They inform patients about the medications they’ll be using and inform physicians of information regarding drug selection, dosages, interactions, and side effects. They help make sure patients use drugs safely and effectively by keeping track of their progress and their responses to the drugs. Many pharmacists work within a particular community, such as in a drugstore, healthcare facility, hospital, nursing home, or mental health institution. In these settings, they offer counseling to patients about prescription drug use, including some over-the-counter drugs. Sometimes their advice goes outside the boundaries of drugs to include diet, exercise, stress management, or home healthcare supplies. Some pharmacists own or mange a community pharmacy, which includes duties such as supervising other workers, ordering inventory and supplies, and generally directing the operation of the pharmacy.

One important aspect of the work of pharmacists is record-keeping. Computerized records are used to keep track of a patient’s drug therapy history and to make sure harmful drug interactions do not arise. Pharmacists are assisted by pharmacy technicians and pharmacy aides in dispensing prescriptions. Pharmacists often supervise the work of pharmacy students who intern in their pharmacy as part of their requirements for graduation and licensure.

Job Skills

Pharmacists need to have an aptitude for science. They should be conscientious and have the ability to pay close attention to detail, as their decisions can often have a drastic impact on the lives of others. They also must have good communication skills and a passion for helping people.


In 2002, pharmacists earned a median annual salary of $77,050. Earnings ranged from the lowest 10%, who earned less than $54,110, to the highest 10%, who earned more than $94,570. The following shows the median annual salaries for the industries employing the highest numbers of pharmacists:

  • Grocery stores — $78,270
  • Health and personal care stores — $76,800
  • General medical and surgical hospitals — $76,620

Training and Education

All U.S. States require a license to practice pharmacy, which can be obtained only after graduation from a college of pharmacy accredited by the American Council on Pharmaceutical Education (ACPE). Applicants for licenses must also pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) and the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE), except in California where a different test is administered. Almost all States do not require extensive re-examination in order to maintain pharmacy licenses, but most require continuing education. Many pharmacists are licensed to practice in more than one State.

About 85 colleges of pharmacy are accredited by the American Council on Pharmaceutical Education to grant the degree of Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.). This degree can only be obtained after at least 6 years of postsecondary study and the successful completion of a State licensure exam. Entry requirements to these programs usually include courses in mathematics and natural sciences, such as chemistry, biology, and physics, as well as courses in humanities and social sciences. 50% of colleges of pharmacy require their applicants to take the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT).


In 2002, pharmacists held about 230,000 jobs. About 62% worked in community pharmacies. Most community pharmacists were salaried.

Job Outlook

Between 2002 and 2012, employment of pharmacists is expected to increase faster than the average. This is due to a growing elderly population, whose pharmacy needs are rising due to their increased use of medication. Employment opportunities are expected to be excellent because the number of qualified graduates of colleges of pharmacy is expected to be lower than the number of job openings.

For more information on becoming a pharmacist, please see our directory of schools offering Medical Training