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Pharmacists dispense drugs prescribed by physicians and other health practitioners and provide information to patients about medications and their use. They advise physicians and other health practitioners on the selection, dosages, interactions, and side effects of medications. Pharmacists must understand the use, composition, and effects of drugs. Compoundingthe actual mixing of ingredients to form powders, tablets, capsules, ointments, and solutionsis only a small part of a pharmacist's practice, because most medicines are produced by pharmaceutical companies in a standard dosage and form.
Pharmacists in community (retail) pharmacies answer customers' questions about prescription drugs, such as possible adverse reactions and interactions. They provide information about over-the-counter drugs and make recommendations after asking a series of health questions, such as whether the customer is on any other medication. They also give advice about durable medical equipment and home health care supplies. Those who own or manage community pharmacies may buy and sell nonhealth-related merchandise, hire and supervise personnel, and oversee the general operation of the pharmacy.
Pharmacists in hospitals and clinics dispense medications and advise the medical staff on the selection and effects of drugs. They may make sterile solutions and buy medical supplies. They also monitor drug regimens, advise patients on the use of drugs when they are discharged from the hospital, and evaluate drug use patterns in the hospital.
Pharmacists who work in home health care prepare medications for use in the home and monitor drug therapy.
Most pharmacists keep computerized records of patients' drug therapies to ensure that harmful drug interactions do not occur. They may also teach health professions students.
Some pharmacists specialize in specific aspects of drug therapy, such as drugs for psychiatric disorders, intravenous nutrition, or the diagnostic use of radiopharmaceuticals.
Pharmacists usually work in clean, well-lighted, and well-ventilated areas. Many pharmacists spend most of their time on their feet. When working with potentially dangerous or sterile pharmaceutical products, pharmacists wear gloves and masks and work with special protective equipment. Many community and hospital pharmacies are open long hours or around the clock, so pharmacists may work evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays. Pharmacists who consult may travel to nursing homes or other facilities.
About 1 out of 6 pharmacists worked part time in 1994. Most full-time salaried pharmacists worked about 40 hours a week. Some, including most self-employed pharmacists, worked more than 50 hours a week.
Pharmacists held about 168,000 jobs in 1994. Three out of 5 worked in community pharmacies, either independently owned, part of a drug store chain, or part of a grocery or department store. Most community pharmacists were salaried, but a substantial number were self employed. About one-quarter worked in hospitals, and some worked for health maintenance organizations (HMO's), clinics, home health care services, nursing homes, and the Federal Government.
Some pharmacists hold more than one job. They may work a standard week in their primary work setting and also work part time elsewhere.
A license to practice pharmacy is required in all States, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories. To obtain a license, one must graduate from an accredited college of pharmacy (a few States allow graduation from certain foreign pharmacy programs), pass a State examination, and serve an internship under a licensed pharmacist. In 1995, all States except California and Florida usually granted a license without extensive reexamination to qualified pharmacists already licensed by another State. Many pharmacists are licensed to practice in more than one State. Most States require continuing education for license renewal.
At least 5 years of study beyond high school are required to graduate from programs accredited by the American Council on Pharmaceutical Education. A Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Pharmacy, the degree received by most graduates, takes 5 years. A Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) normally requires at least 6 years, during which an intervening bachelor's degree usually is not awarded. Those who already hold the bachelor's degree may enter Pharm.D. programs, but the combined period of study is usually longer than 6 years. In 1995, 75 colleges of pharmacy conferred degrees. The number of schools offering the Pharm.D. as the only professional degree increased to 27 and the number offering the B.S. in Pharmacy as the only professional degree continued to decline, reaching 25.
Requirements for admission to colleges of pharmacy vary. A few colleges admit students directly from high school. Most colleges of pharmacy, however, require 1 or 2 years of college-level prepharmacy education. Entry requirements usually include mathematics and basic sciences, such as chemistry, biology, and physics, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences. Some colleges require the applicant to take the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (P-CAT).
All colleges of pharmacy offer courses in pharmacy practice, designed to teach students to dispense prescriptions, communicate with patients and other health professionals, and to strengthen their understanding of professional ethics and practice management responsibilities. Pharmacists' training increasingly emphasizes direct patient care as well as consultative services to other health professionals.
The bachelor's degree in pharmacy is generally acceptable for most positions in community pharmacies. However, a growing number of hospital employers prefer that a pharmacist have a Pharm.D. degree. A master's or Ph.D. degree in pharmacy or a related field usually is required to do research, and a Pharm.D. with additional residency or fellowship training, master's, or Ph.D. usually is necessary for faculty positions.
In 1994-95, 60 colleges of pharmacy awarded the Master of Science degree or the Ph.D. degree. Although a number of pharmacy graduates interested in further training pursue an advanced degree in pharmacy, there are other options. Some enter 1- or 2-year residency programs or fellowships. Pharmacy residencies are organized, directed, postgraduate training programs in a defined area of pharmacy practice, such as pediatrics, cardiology, oncology, or hospital pharmacy anagement. Pharmacy fellowships are directed, highly individualized programs designed to prepare participants to do independent research.
Areas of graduate study include pharmaceutics and pharmaceutical chemistry (physical and chemical properties of drugs and dosage forms), pharmacology (effects of drugs on the body), and pharmacy administration, including social-behavioral aspects of patient care.
Prospective pharmacists should have scientific aptitude, manual dexterity, and good interpersonal skills.
In community pharmacies, pharmacists usually begin at the staff level. After they gain experience and secure the necessary capital, many become owners or part owners of pharmacies. Pharmacists in chain drug stores may be promoted to supervisory pharmacist at the store level and then at the district level, and later to an executive position within the chain's headquarters.
Hospital pharmacists may advance to director of pharmacy services or to other administrative positions. Pharmacists in the pharmaceutical industry may advance in marketing, sales, research, quality control, production, packaging, and other areas.
Employment of pharmacists is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2005, due to the increased pharmaceutical needs of a larger and older population and greater use of medication. As in other occupations, most job openings will result from the need to replace pharmacists who leave the profession.
The increased number of middle-aged and elderly people will spur demand in all practice settings. Projected rapid growth in the elderly population is especially important because the number of prescriptions influences demand for pharmacists, and the elderly use more prescription drugs, on average, than younger people.
Other factors likely to increase demand for pharmacists through the year 2005 include the likelihood of scientific advances that will make more drug products available; new developments in administering medication; and increasingly sophisticated consumers seeking more information about drugs.
The number of pharmacists in health services is expected to grow as pharmacists consult more and become more actively involved in patient drug therapy decision-making. The increased severity of the typical hospital patient's illness, together with rapid strides in drug therapy, will sustain demand for pharmacists in hospitals, HMO's, and other health care settings.
Because of efforts to control prescription drug costs, retail pharmacies are taking steps to increase their prescription volume to make up for declining dispensing fees. Employment of community pharmacists would grow even more rapidly were it not for automation of drug dispensing that allows pharmacists to fill more prescriptions, and greater use of pharmacy technicians. If enrollments in colleges of pharmacy continue to rise, pharmacists may face competition for jobs.
Median weekly earnings of full-time, salaried pharmacists were $954 in 1994. Half earned between $757 and $1,111. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $511 and the top 10 percent more than $1,319.
According to a survey by Drug Topics magazine, published by Medical Economics, Inc., average base salaries of full-time, salaried pharmacists were $53,600 per year in 1994. Pharmacists working in chain drug stores had an average base salary of $54,900 per year, while pharmacists working in independent drug stores averaged $49,000, and hospital pharmacists averaged $54,300. Overall, salaries for pharmacists were highest in the West and second highest in the East. Many pharmacists also receive compensation in the form of bonuses, overtime, and profit-sharing.
Persons in other professions who work with pharmaceutical compounds are pharmaceutical chemists and pharmacologists.
For information on pharmacy as a career, preprofessional and professional requirements, programs offered by all the colleges of pharmacy, and student financial aid, contact:
American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, 1426 Prince St., Alexandria, VA 22314.
Information on requirements for licensure in a particular State is available from the Board of Pharmacy of the State or from:
National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, 700 Busse Hwy., Park Ridge, IL 60068.
Information on specific college entrance requirements, curriculums, and financial aid is available from the dean of any college of pharmacy.
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