So you want to be a pharmacist?

What you will learn in this section...

  • Why become a pharmacy student?
  • The ins and outs of the profession
  • Major responsibilities of pharmacist

PCAT basics

Welcome to the As you are here, we can assume that you are planning to participate in the PCAT (Pharmacy College Admission Test) exam in the hope of entering a prestigious college of pharmacy in the United States. Much of this book is dedicated to helping you get a rudimentary understanding about the sciences related to Pharmacy so you have a sure footing before you start with the exam.

Pharmacy is the specific branch of science in which students study all the steps from preparing medicinal products to the dispensing the finished pharmaceutical product. The study links the biological sciences with the chemical sciences.

This chapter includes the importance of becoming a pharmacy student, the scope of the pharmacy profession, the ins and outs of the profession, career opportunities, and the reasons why you should participate in PCAT exam although you may know this already!

Considering Your Careers as a Pharmacist

Pharmacists are an elite group of health care professionals who are the lead clinicians in many pharmaceutical professions. They execute a wide array of different tasks to ensure patients' get the medicines they need in a safe and timely manner. Most importantly in a community pharmacy setting, pharmacists are the last line of defense when it comes to medical errors after a prescription has been written.


The importance of this cannot be over stated as human error with medicines can have dire consequences. Studying pharmacy is an excellent opportunity to become a part of this elite group of society. There are so

many benefits, we cannot list them all, but here are what we believe to be the most important:

  • A broad-spectrum career: There are around seventeen distinct specializations in which a fresh pharmacy professional can build their career. Pharmacy is an excellent blend of science, medical, health care, patient contact, business, and technology, more on this later.
  • An essential part of the medical or health care structure: Ensuring the safety and effectiveness of drugs or medicines to the patients is just one of the major responsibilities of a pharmacist.
  • Admirable earning opportunities: Not just in western countries, but also, all over the world pharmacy is regarded in one of the most highly paid job sectors. According to the 2010 "Pharmacy Compensation Survey" Directors of Pharmacy which is one of the highest positions a pharmacist can have earnings up to $125,200 per annum whereas the lowest paid pharmacists were Mail Order Staff Pharmacists who still command a meaty pay packet of at least $109,300 pa.
  • Excellent job opportunities: There is an increasing demand for pharmacists, as the profession is branching out in to new and exciting specializations.
  • A reliable profession: Pharmacy has been around for thousands of years, archaeologists have found prescriptions written on papyrus from ancient Egypt. There's an old saying that two things are certain in life, death and taxes. You can pay the taxman to stop the IRS knocking on your door and you can pay the pharmacist to stop death knocking aswell!

The aptitude required to be a successful pharmacist is quite varied, but in general, you need to be extremely proficient in maths and the sciences, you need to have excellent judgment, be conscientious and dependable. You need to be pedantic with detail and be as close to 100% certain that your work is correct as it can be. Decisions in pharmacy can have real life, extremely important repercussions to a patients' well-being, meaning every decision you make can potentially save or destroy a life.

Excellent communication and interpersonal skills are a must, pharmacists often need to explain treatments to their patients, as well as coordinate other medical professionals to get the most out of the modern multidisciplinary medical team. Being personable is also a useful skill in a pharmacists arsenal, as patients can often find physicians unapproachable and would much rather ask their pharmacist about their medications for free! A pharmacist needs to be adaptable; medicines and medical procedures are constantly developing, medicine is one of the most dynamic fields there is. This dynamism means you will need to learn lots of information, with the understanding that the knowledge is not stagnant, it changes as new developments are always on the horizon.

Lastly, computer literacy will become ever more important in the pharmacy sector and should be of interest to you, as by the time your graduate information technology is predicted to revolutionize the pharmacy sector. Although some independent retail pharmacies have yet to connect to the internet, computerization has been exponential in growth. While doctors still scribble prescriptions in an illegible hand, that is likely to change soon with the introduction of electronic transmission of prescriptions is thought to be the next revolutionary wave in medicine.

Everyday, pharmacists need to employ a wide range of skills to make certain of optimal outcomes for patients. When considering becoming a pharmacist you should be sure that you are comfortable with the rudimentary skills of being a pharmacist:

  • Establish a committed relationship with individual patients.
  • Assemble, combine and interpret appropriate patient information.
  • Define and prioritize the potential and actual medication-related problems of the patient.
  • Design a desired pharmacotherapeutic outcome for a respective medication-related problem.
  • Establish realistic therapeutic alternatives to achieve each desired outcomes.
  • Besides providing pharmaceutical care to patients, pharmacists also educate patients and advise physicians and other health-related professionals on the indication, selection, dosages and administration, drug interactions, toxicity, and adverse reactions of drugs and medicines.

Figuring out what today's pharmacist does

In today's world of advanced pharmacotherapy, pharmacists are working in an ever-expanding range of health care sectors. Although today, most of the pharmacists in the US work in the community sector (primary healthcare) and hospital sector (secondary healthcare), pharmacists are major players in the diverse field of health care including regulatory affairs, drug research, biopharmaceutics (making biological drugs), pharmaceutical product management, development, quality assurance, and quality control.  

Despite the profession's diversity, all pharmacists work on one ethical purpose: to help patients improve their health. Whether this is putting a label on a box, putting tablets into a bottle or formulating a new medicine, the benefits of pharmacy is often hidden, but its certain someone's dear old grandma taking her medicines every day, wouldn't be too happy without her trusty pharmacist.

Ultimately, pharmacists engage in a series of sequential steps to ensure that individual patients receive cost-effective pharmacotherapy that with the end result of optimal, desired, therapeutic outcomes. For that, pharmacists collaborate with patients, patient caregivers, physicians, nurses, and other health-care providers to initiate, monitor, modify, and discontinue pharmacotherapy it is a real multidisciplinary profession!

There are a huge amount of benefits to becoming a pharmacist, but with everything in life, it is not always that simple. The pharmacy profession maybe in 3rd top job in the US, however, it doesn't come without downsides. For instance, pharmacists are usually the first point of care for many patients, this means they are usually the first contact to sick people in the community, so you should be prepared to get a lot of colds! Secondly, as pharmacists are generally managing a store at the same time as being a clinician, they often have to put their financial requirements in front of clinical requirements. This dichotomy has led to pharmacists selling cigarettes within their stores although this is proven to increase cancer rates!

Sizing up your prospects

In order to size up your prospects about pharmacy, first, make sure that you actually want to study pharmacy. Taking the PCAT also costs more than $100 every time so make sure you are determined. No matter how determined you are, studying pharmacy will be your worst nightmare if you can't keep concentration and study on a regular basis. Although PCAT will be one of toughest exams that you ever take, you will encounter more struggles ahead, if somehow you pass the exam and then all of a sudden realize you are not enjoying it anymore you will be very disappointed. So, think again about the profession and think hard, size up your prospects convincingly. 

To size your prospects about studying pharmacy, make sure you understand:

  • You need to have an inherent interest in studying biological and chemical sciences.
  • Why you want to study pharmacy.
  • You are well determined to the biological sciences.
  • Other options and have weighed up the pro's and con's of each.
  • That there are other professions which enable you to study similar aspects.
  • You want to work for the well-being of humans.
  • Your morality and ethics will always be with you.
  • You are personable and comfortable in making relationship with others.

As you want to build your career studying pharmacy, first, you need to know that a well-balanced high school and college education is an essential. So when you enter college, you'll need to take General Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Math through calculus, Physics, General Biology, Microbiology as well as any other core courses. This really is the first step in your mission to obtain a certified degree in pharmacy, particularly in the fields of science and math.

The Doctor of Pharmacy degree (often abbreviated as Pharm.D. or PharmD) program requires minimum two years to maximum four years of pre-professional (prerequisite) coursework, followed by another four academic years of study in the professional program. Most pre-pharmacy students enter into the four-year courses to complete the prerequisite courses.

Among full-time salaried pharmacists, about ninety percent of them work approximately 40 hours per week, and rest of the ten percent work about 50 hours per week. Around sixty percent of the pharmacists in U.S. work in community pharmacy that are an independent or retail chain. These community pharmacists mainly provide counselling to patients on the over-the-counter (OTC) medicines as well as prescriptions. However, depending on the personal preferences, pharmacists also work in various other health care settings.     

Pharmacists are responsible for identifying the need, determine the necessity, and resolve medicine ­related complications on behalf of the patients under their care. These complications are described broadly as unanticipated events that are of physiological, psychological, economic, or social origin. The most common patient scenarios, which a pharmacist may encounter, include:

  • Incorrect administration of a medication.
  • Not taking the medicines according to dose requirements.
  • Overdosing of the prescribed medications.
  • Taking or receiving expired medications.
  • Adverse reactions to correctly prescribed medication.
  • Experiencing side effects and loss of effectiveness of drug due to drug-drug or drug-food interaction.
  • Administration of a drug that doesn't have any valid indication from a physician.

Pharmacists are also responsible for assuring specifications related to the quality, quantity, and source of supply of all chemicals and pharmaceutical products and apparatus used in analysis and treat­ment purposes. If appropriate, the standards of these products should be compared with the standards of the official compendia like USP (United States Pharmacopeia).

Checking out specializations in your future career

Numerous opportunities exist for pharmacy professionals who want to extend their role in providing extensive services related to medicine provision. Accordingly, you need to know that within pharmacy, there is a potential trend to specialize in areas relating to professional interest. When you will complete your regular pharmacy courses, you may have the option to specialize either in a specific type of role (e.g. patient care or drug development), or in a specific field of health care (e.g. clinical pharmacy or industrial pharmacy).  

About 60% - 70% of pharmacists prefer community and hospital pharmacy as a first choice for their future profession. However, in addition to hospital and community pharmacy practices, you may also specialize in the following fields of pharmacy.

  • Nuclear Pharmacy: Development, quality assurance, management and administration of the radioactive drugs as well as substances that are generally used in a hospital or pharmaceutical setting.
  • Consultant Pharmacy: Educating or providing training on pharmacy services and systems to other medical related institutions (e.g. nursing homes).
  • Clinical Pharmacy: Educating or counseling the physicians and other medical staff on the therapeutic use, adverse reactions, and handling precaution of drugs and medicines in specialized areas of practice including ambulatory care, neurology, psychiatry, pediatrics, cardiology, critical care, etc.
  • Industrial Pharmacy: Although, most of the pharmacists in the US mainly work in the product management department, but a select few (around 1%) of pharmacists passionately work in pharmaceutical production, quality control, quality assurance, and product development departments as well.

Other areas in which pharmacists can practice includes the academic pharmacy, military pharmacy, regulatory affairs related positions in Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control, health regulatory agencies, Public Health Service, and government service.

  • Community pharmacy
  • Hospital pharmacy
  • Health regulatory agencies
  • Clinical pharmacy
  • Compounding pharmacy
  • Veterinary pharmacy
  • Drug research opportunities
  • Pharmacy industry
  • Ambulatory care pharmacy
  • Consultant pharmacy
  • Public health service
  • Government service
  • Medical and scientific publishing

Knowing What the PCAT Can Do For You

The PCAT exam will be the greatest obstacle that you will face as part of the admission process to a pharmacy school. This exam is indeed one of the toughest exams that you have ever participated and possibly will participate in!

Nearly all US and Canadian based pharmacy colleges depend upon candidates PCAT scores to judge the incoming candidates. Therefore, if you plan to join a college of pharmacy, it is a good idea to plan in advance and prepare for the PCAT. Preparation for PCAT, however, is not just about learning all that is given in science books. It requires you to understand the test before you begin the drill-and-practice routine, hence it is a really good idea to read this book and read it thoroughly.

The reason the PCAT was created was to establish a standard test for pharmacy school applicants by which their skills can be measured in a more pragmatic, practical way. In addition, these skills are measured critically in pharmacy schools, because it determines how a student of first-year will be able to succeed. Although, the basic principle behind the PCAT and SAT exam is quite similar, and applicants experience nearly similar difficulty level, but in many ways, the PCAT is much more complex and challenging.

Peeking at the PCAT

PCAT is the official, computer based admission test endorsed by the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) for entering into the pharmacy schools in U.S.A. The standardized PCAT exam is intended to assess skills deemed most critical to being a pharmacy student. In addition, as PCAT is a skill-based test, this test is usually taken to assess your critical thinking as well as problem solving skills. In this test, your skills will be measured in six different aspects. The PCAT examiner will not only assess you basic concept in Biology, chemistry, and quantitative ability but also they will measure your verbal, reading, and writing ability based on problem solving attitude.

International recognition

The PCAT can be an intellectual tool in identifying applicants' both academic strengths and weaknesses, and eventually it suggests educational support required by applicants. By comparing mean writing scores to earned writing scores, or by comparing percentile rates in different multiple-choice subtests, a pharmacy school or college will be able to emphasize applicants' areas of expertise and weakness and to determine candidates who may require additional academic support.

As PCAT standardized test results emphasize information concerning the ability of an applicant, your PCAT score will be internationally recognized. If you could get higher scores in the exam, you will have the opportunity to enter not only in the prospective pharmacy schools in U.S. but also with the higher percentile rate, you will be able to apply in numerous pharmacy schools all over the world. Moreover, you need to know that for foreign applicants in U.S., students who are from not well renowned institutes, PCAT is the only way to evaluate their potential.

Last modified: Wednesday, 17 January 2018, 5:23 AM