Health Care Careers - Pharmacist
Prescription drugs, which are prescribed by physicians or other health care practitioners, are not available over the counter. Pharmacists, usually in drugstores, dispense them. This is to ensure proper dosages are given to patients with accurate instructions on how to administer the drug. Pharmacists also inform patients of side effects or possible interactions, either with food or other drugs, that can cause problems. If pharmacists work in hospital settings, they fulfill requests from physicians for drugs for their patients. They are also available to advise physicians and other staff on the characteristics of a particular medicine.
Pharmacists may have to mix preparations to form certain prescriptions, which is called compounding, but most drugs sold today by pharmacists are made by drug companies.
Pharmacists are required to know how a drug should be used, what it is made of, and what effect it gives when taken. They keep records of the prescriptions they fill, usually in a computer database. As well as keeping their business organized, these records allow pharmacists to warn patients if their records show that a patient has filled a prescription that is going to interact negatively with another drug he or she is already taking.
Even though they are primarily responsible for dispensing prescription drugs, pharmacists do have knowledge of over-the-counter drugs (drugs that are available to the public without a prescription, such as aspirin or certain cold medications) and can advise drugstore customers on their proper usage. They also have knowledge of any medical equipment being sold in the drugstore. In some drugstores, pharmacists may have the responsibility of stocking other nondrug-related merchandise, such as cosmetics, and hiring and managing personnel.
In addition to dispensing drugs and fielding drug questions from hospital staff, pharmacists working in hospitals usually monitor patients' drug treatments during their stay and order medical supplies. If patients have questions about the drugs they are taking, hospital pharmacists are available to answer their questions, too. Other areas in which a pharmacist may be employed include the pharmaceutical industry, home health care, or research facilities.
Training to Be a Pharmacist
To become a pharmacist, a person must graduate with either a bachelor's degree in pharmacy or a doctor of pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree. The bachelor's degree in pharmacy is a five-year program and the doctor of pharmacy degree is a six-year program. However, by the year 2004, it is planned that all accredited programs will only offer the doctor of pharmacy. Some pharmacy programs accept students directly out of high school. For others, there is a prerequisite of one or two years of undergraduate college classes. Master's and Ph.D. (doctoral) degree programs in pharmacy are also offered by some schools.
Before pharmacists can begin to work, they must become licensed by the state in which they will be working. There are certain requirements a person must meet for licensure. Those include successfully completing a program in pharmacy from an accredited college, taking and passing a licensing examination given by the state, and completing an internship supervised by a licensed pharmacist. Like most health care fields, continuing education is very important. In fact, in order to maintain a license in some states, continuing education is required.