The life of a pharmacist is one that requires a passion for science and community care. Learn what types of characteristics and traits are often found in pharmacists and get an insider’s take on the ins and outs of this well-known profession.
Author: Dr. Lauren Simko, PharmD
The profession of pharmacy has roots dating back to 754 AD in Baghdad, with the first college of pharmacy opening in 1821 in the U.S., now known as the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science. This is a profession that has a strong historical significance in the U.S. while having an incredible global impact.
I am a practicing pharmacist of 20 years. I’m licensed in three states with certificates to immunize, in Substance Abuse referral and treatment, and in pharmacogenomics. I’m here to share my insights into the profession that will include educational expectations, on-the-job experiences, various working conditions, and more.
Maybe you’re considering getting into the pharmacy field, or perhaps you would like to learn more about this unique industry. Whatever reason you’re here, there’s a lot to cover about this phenomenal profession.
Passion Born From a Love of Healthcare, Science and The Community
I knew I wanted to be a pharmacist in high school. It was during this period I discovered a true love of chemistry and science. This passion, coupled with the friendship between my family and our pharmacist, allowed me to recognize that a career in healthcare was right for me. But I couldn’t decide which area to choose.
Veterinary? Medical? Pharmacy? Nursing? All of these choices were so vastly different. Ultimately, I realized pharmacy was the right choice for me. I knew by becoming a pharmacist I could provide care to anyone who walked into the pharmacy while forming close bonds with my community. It was a clear fit.
What It Takes to Become a Pharmacist
Regardless of a chosen position within the pharmacy field, there are a few particular personality characteristics that are best suited for this profession.
Having a strong moral character is vastly important as decisions are made frequently that rely on good ethics and choosing the correct path.
Having empathy and a passion for serving others is essential.
Attention to detail is an absolute must. The pharmacist has ultimate responsibility for delivering an accurate, quality product while paying strict attention to all medical steps to reduce any chance of error for patients.
Being able to handle a wide variety of patient personalities is also an important consideration when deciding to enter the profession. It is important to realize that patients are often dealing with underlying illnesses or are experiencing a new and unknown health need. Whether it be due to acute illness like an infection or injury, or something more chronic, like diabetes or cancer, these patients are experiencing stress.
Pharmacy employees must be prepared to deal with the full gamut of patient personalities. Some are patient and caring, others can be irrational and mean, and some can be understanding while still being upset.
While on a pharmacy team, there are also internal interactions to consider. Fellow co-workers, nurses, doctors, therapists, and various office managers and staff will all interact with pharmacy personnel on any given day.
These persons are often also under stress due to their own patient loads. It’s important to remember to be gracious and kind, and to allow these relationships to remain strong and ultimately assist in providing the patient with the best care possible.
Pharmacists vs. Technicians
There are two key pharmacy roles: a pharmacy technician and a pharmacist. A pharmacy technician performs many of the administrative tasks required within a pharmacy, from day-to-day customer service to measuring out medications for prescriptions. They typically work directly alongside a pharmacist and support them in filling orders and managing logistics.
A pharmacist, on the other hand, has an incredible breadth of knowledge in medications and is focused on advising people on the right medications. They actively communicate with doctors to determine the best healthcare solutions and they even administer vaccinations. Pharmacists direct pharmacy technicians in the office and help to train current technicians into becoming pharmacists.
Educational Requirements For Pharmacists and Technicians
Pharmacists are now required to graduate with a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree which requires six years of college education and a vast amount of clinical practice. That clinical experience includes rotations where students work on-site unpaid in order to learn various aspects of pharmacy and enhance their hands-on understanding.
Students must also pass their North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination® (NAPLEX) and Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination® (MPJE) exams before becoming a registered pharmacist (RPh) and are able to practice solo in their state. Pharmacists must also be licensed in each individual state they choose to practice in.
Comparatively, pharmacy technicians must have a high school diploma while each state and company will have specific areas of education or certification that are required. Some states require pharmacy technicians to be nationally certified while others do not have this requirement. The most common certification for technicians is the Certified Pharmacy Technician (CPhT) offered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB).
Regardless of the requirement, certified technicians typically receive a higher pay grade and have more responsibilities than non-certified due to their training and education. When compared to pharmacists, technicians do tend to have lower salaries.
The average pharmacy technician salary is estimated at $32,700 while a pharmacist’s average annual salary is around $123,000. However, technicians typically do not carry the excessive student debt that pharmacists have upon graduation.
The Day-to-Day Reporting Structure
No matter the setting of a pharmacy team, there is a high level of teamwork involved. No pharmacist, technician, or other employee can operate an entire pharmacy themselves. Retail chain settings such as CVS, Walgreens or Rite Aid typically have a formal structure starting with the CEO and branching out.
Pharmacies in chain settings typically report to a District Manager who may or may not be a pharmacist. This person is responsible for ensuring the pharmacy achieves various metrics to meet company standards. Other sectors such as hospital and long-term care may have similar structures, with titles such as Director/Vice-President of Pharmacy having responsibility for oversight.
Independently owned pharmacies tend to have a less formal structure, of course, dependent upon the individual ownership. Some independent pharmacies may have as little as one pharmacist (typically the owner) and one technician. Others may have multiple stores, owners, and team members.
No matter the area, pharmacy technicians and interns on duty follow the direction and guidance of the pharmacist currently on duty. A Pharmacy Manager, or Pharmacist-in-Charge (PIC), is the person who has their name on the pharmacy license and is the one that is legally responsible through the state board of pharmacy for actions occurring in that pharmacy.
Typically, the Pharmacy Manager reports to the District Manager or the Director of Pharmacy, while all other staff reports to the Pharmacy Manager, but this can vary depending on the setting and the needs of the individual company.
Daily aspects of pharmacy jobs differ in the setting, but what remains consistent is ensuring the patient records are fully documented, all medications are dispensed according to state and federal law, all company policies and procedures are followed, and medication is stored, returned, and inventory always properly handled.
Pharmacists Are Here To Help Others
Pharmacy technicians, interns, and pharmacists all care about their patients. We work in a profession where our careers and responsibilities can continue to grow and meet our ever-evolving personal, family, and professional goals or needs.
Being a pharmacist has been an amazing choice for me and my family, and I love helping patients, assisting my community, and being able to work with people that have many similar traits.
Pharmacists are a part of practically every person’s life, and we are honored to help those in our communities receive the health care they need in some of their most vulnerable times.
Dr. Lauren Simko, PharmD, graduated from Duquesne University in May 2000. Since receiving her pharmacy degree, she has served in a variety of pharmacy roles including Pharmacy District Manager, Director of Pharmacy Sales, and Vice President of Pharmacy Operations. She has experience in retail, LTC, hospital, specialty, and 340b areas of pharmacy. Lauren is currently employed as a Performance Specialist/Director of Operations at Pharmacy Development Services.
Lauren is also the Immediate Past-President of the Pennsylvania Pharmacists Association, serving on the Board of Directors since 2012. In addition, she serves on the Board of Directors of Dayspring Homes, Inc., and is co-founder and Vice President of The Pittsburgh Melanoma Foundation. Lauren resides just outside of Pittsburgh, PA with her two teenage children.