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What is a Pharmacist?

Pharmacists are allied health professionals who practice in pharmacy, the field of health sciences focusing on safe and effective medication use. Pharmacists undergo university-level education to understand biochemical mechanisms of action of drugs, drug uses and therapeutic roles, side effects, potential interactions, and monitoring parameters. Professional interpretation and communication of this specialized knowledge to patients, physicians and other health care providers are functions which pharmacists provide, and are central to the provision of safe and effective drug therapy.  In many countries, pharmacists must hold the title of Doctor of Pharmacy in order to exercise their profession.

The most common pharmacist positions are that of a Retail Pharmacist or a Hospital Pharmacist where they instruct and counsel on the proper use and adverse effects of medically prescribed drugs and medicines. In most countries, the profession is subject to professional regulation  Pharmacists may also practice in a variety of other settings, including industry, research, academia, military, and government.

Specialization and Credentialing

American pharmacists can become certified in recognized specialty practice areas by passing an examination administered by one of several credentialing boards.

  • The Board of Pharmaceutical Specialties  certifies pharmacists in six specialties:

    • Ambulatory care pharmacy

    • Nuclear Pharmacy

    • Nutrition Support Pharmacy

    • Oncology Pharmacy

    • Pharmacotherapy which has two subspecialties: cardiology and infectious disease

    • Psychiatric pharmacy


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In the United States the majority (65%) of pharmacists work in retail settings, mostly as salaried employees but some as self-employed owners. About 22% work in hospitals, and the rest mainly in mail-order or Internet pharmacies, pharmaceutical wholesalers, offices of physicians, and the Federal Government.  All graduating pharmacists must now obtain the Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree before they are eligible to sit for the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) to enter into pharmacy practice.


Students must complete 6 years of professional undergraduate level training at a pharmacy school, or 4 years after receiving a bachelors degree. A bachelors degree is not required as most pharmacy schools only require two years of undergraduate education and the completion of a list of prerequisites. Competition to obtain entry into pharmacy school, however, limits the number of students admitted without a bachelors degree. Before schools went to the all PharmD programs students could do 5 years of professional undergraduate level training and receive a BScPharm with the option of continuing for one more year for the PharmD. There are currently 116 accredited pharmacy schools in the United States, and 6 of these schools offer "accelerated" 3 year PharmD programs by attending school almost year round - with fewer breaks for summer and holidays.  Wikipaedia.org

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