How to Become a Pharmacist (Pharm D Background Info, Application Process, Pharmacy Careers)

Intro
With an ever increasing demand for health care, more and more students are considering a career as a pharmacist. Before you make that decision, you should become aware of the requirements and career opportunities available for pharmacists. As a pharmacy school student, I have not only experienced the application process but also researched many aspects of the pharmacy profession.

According to a May 2008 BLS report, there are 266,410 pharmacists in the United States who earn an average of $50.13/hour ($104,620 annually). Salaries vary based on geographical location, employer, and other factors. Many newly registered pharmacists report huge signing bonuses in more rural or in demand areas.

As time passes, pharmacists continue to be given more and more responsibilities within the health care system. Contrary to popular belief, a pharmacist’s job does not constitute counting pills from 9 to 5. Only 62% of pharmacists hold traditional community (retail) pharmacy positions (BLS). Other exciting pharmacy careers include positions in a clinical setting (administering drugs as a part of a medical team), a research lab, a government agency (e.g. poison control), a university, a corporation, a nuclear pharmacy (compounding and dispensing of radioactive materials for use in nuclear medicine procedures), and many others. Unlike other medical professional careers, pharmacy has a diverse range of careers available. In addition, most pharmacists do not need any residency experience for most careers (you will need 1-2 years of residency experience to become a clinical pharmacist).

The Increasing Demand for Pharmacists
Pharmacy careers expect a whopping 22% growth in jobs available from 2006 to 2016 (May 2008 report). With the population aging and filled prescriptions increasing, the demand for pharmacists is projected to grow in all pharmacy settings. Although job placement varies based on geographical location, pharmacists will have little trouble finding a job.

Pharm.D. degree
The Doctor of Pharmacy Degree (Pharm.D.) requires a minimum of 2 years of undergraduate coursework (most students receive a bachelor’s a degree prior to starting pharmacy school) followed by 3 to 4 years of Pharmacy school. Out of high school, students can apply for Pharmacy schools that have a joint undergraduate and Pharm.D. program which lasts from 5 to 7 years. These programs are also known as “0-6 programs” or “early assurance programs.” It is important to note that a Doctor of Pharmacy Degree is different than obtaining a Ph.D. or M.S. in Pharmacy. The Bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy has been phased out for the most part, although you may occasionally hear about a registered pharmacist (R.Ph.), who only received a B.S. in pharmacy before the implementation of the Pharm.D. as the norm for pharmacists. I don’t know much about online Pharm.D. program, but I am very skeptical about these programs as pharmacy school is very rigorous with many hands on labs, which would be impossible to do online. Pharmacists are technically doctors (Dr.), but many opt to just place the ‘Pharm.D.’ title after their names.

Undergraduate Majors
There is no requirement or restriction on undergraduate majors for pharmacy school. Many students choose to pursue Biological Sciences and Chemistry majors as many of the pharmacy prerequisites are requirements for those majors. Other students pursue a wide variety of majors (business, art, psychology, economics, engineering, etc.) before beginning their pharmacy careers. In the end, successful completion of prerequisites is what really matters; however, choosing a biology or chemistry (or similar major) may give you a stronger science background to prepare you for the material presented to you in pharmacy school.

PharmCAS
PharmCAS (Pharmacy College Application Service) is the “centralized application service for applicants.” Although a majority of the pharmacy schools use this service, there are a few pharmacy schools that choose not to use PharmCAS. Students use PharmCAS to submit Letter of Recommendations (done either online or by paper), transcripts, a personal statement, and additional application information. This service is not free, and you will need to pay $140 for first pharmacy school and $40 for each pharmacy school after that. It is important to note that some pharmacy schools require you to send in some of the application material DIRECTLY to them in addition to sending it to PharmCAS.

Supplemental Application
Many schools also require a supplemental application and an additional fee in addition to the PharmCAS application. The supplemental application usually contains essays which gives a clearer picture of the candidate and his or her fit with a pharmacy school. PharmCAS has a pharmacy school information page, which lists all of the pharmacy schools and their specific application requirements.

Interview
Every pharmacy school requires the infamous interview process to judge your fit for their program. Although the weight placed on the interview varies from school to school, one’s performance at an interview is a significant factor to receive admission to pharmacy schools.

Prerequisites
Prerequisites vary greatly from school to school. You can also find browse the school list supplied by PharmCAS to get more information on the perquisites. You may apply for pharmacy programs before completing all of your prerequisites, but you must complete them before matriculation. For exact course equivalencies (exact course numbers from your institution), check to see if the school you are applying for has a webpage that allows you to check to see the exact course numbers from different schools. I know that USC and UOP have this available for students. UCSF and UCSD has their course equivalencies listed on Assist.org.

Prerequisites can be taken at your primary institution or at a community college. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, it is more economical to attend a community college to knock out all your prerequisites. If you are currently enrolled as an undergraduate at a university, it is generally okay to take a few prerequisites at a junior college; however, you do not want to make it seem as if you are dodging all the difficult course requirements.

PCAT
The PCAT is the “Pharmacy College Admissions Test.” Not all pharmacy schools require the PCAT (14 pharmacy schools that use PharmCAS do not require it, my other article lists these schools). The material covered on the PCAT as described from the AACP website: The PCAT is divided into separate sections, or subtests, each of which is timed separately. During the time allowed for each subtest, you will be permitted to work only on that section. You will not be allowed to go back to earlier subtests or on to later ones. As you work on each section, you may find it useful to first answer the questions that are easy for you, skipping over those questions to which you will need to return for further thought. There are six content areas measured by the PCAT in seven (7) separate subtests:

o The Verbal Ability section
o The Biology section
o The Reading Comprehension section
o The Quantitative Ability section
o The Chemistry section
o The written essays (2)

GPA
Your GPA (overall and science) is the most important aspect of your application profile. Each school has different standards when it comes to GPA, and by browsing the PharmCAS pharmacy schools page you can get an idea of what different pharmacy schools expect. Remember that an average GPA means that students with GPAs under and above that value are accepted. Schools may vary on how they consider scoring classes that you retake, so you should get in contact with pharmacy school admission offices to get more information.

Letter of Recommendations
One to four letters of recommendations are required in the application process for pharmacy schools. Schools differ on who they accept letters of recommendations from, so it is important to know what is acceptable by looking at the school profile pages on PharmCAS. Generally speaking, receiving letters of reference from pharmacists and science professors who know your ability and potential on a personal level will be the most beneficial.

Financing Pharmacy School
Like other professional degrees, financing your way to a Pharm.D. is significantly more costly than undergraduate programs. Government grants that you may have received for your undergraduate program are usually no longer available, so paying for your tuition will primarily depend on student loans. Make sure you apply for FAFSA before their deadline, so that you are considered for some of the government loans. It is also a good idea to apply for national, school, corporate, online, and local scholarships. Any money that you can get for free to pay down your tuition will mean less money you will be paying on interest for the life of the loan. Even a $1000 scholarship will decrease your loan amount by $1000 along with all the interest you would have paid during the life of the loan. I will provide a list of scholarships that are available in the near future.

Pharmacy Experience
Although pharmacy experience is not a requirement for admission into pharmacy school, working in a pharmacy is a great way to beef up your resume and also get a feel for what it is like working in a pharmacy. You may also consider obtaining your Pharmacy Technician license so that you may be given more responsibilities within the pharmacy. See if accepted students at different pharmacy schools have had pharmacy work experience or a pharmacy tech license by searching applicant profiles.

Dual Degrees
In addition to the Pharm.D., some students may pursue an additional degree (MBA, JD, PhD, MPH, etc.) in order to fill more specific niches in the pharmacy world. You can check which pharmacy schools offer dual degree programs on PharmApplicants.com (Useful Links -> Dual Degree Chart). If you are interested in any of these programs, you should definitely start by researching them on pharmacy school websites or contacting the office of admissions of pharmacy schools to get more information. Additional requirements (such as the GMAT and additional letters of reference) are expected for most of these programs. At some universities, these dual degree programs may eliminate your summer vacation or have you fall back a year from your pharmacy class as you complete your additional degree before going back to your pharmacy studies.

What a Pharmacy Technician Does

What Does a Pharmacy Technician Do?

I have been writing articles on why and how to become a pharmacy technician, but some recent feedback has made me realize I left out the obvious. What is it that pharmacy technicians do in a pharmacy? Most people figure they help the pharmacist enter prescriptions and count pills. This is true for an outpatient pharmacy, also called a retail pharmacy, but there are many roles for pharmacy technicians in healthcare. The rest of this article will list different types of pharmacy settings and the roles that pharmacy technicians have in these settings.

Community/Retail Pharmacy:

I have worked retail, and I prefer other settings; however, it is where a large percentage of pharmacy technician jobs are found. What a pharmacy technician can do is determined by the state they work via state laws and rules. In general, technicians cannot provide clinical information to patients or be the final check for prescriptions. In some states, technicians are allowed to provide information on over-the-counter (OTC) medication (ie, medications that do not require a prescription, such as, acetaminophen and ibuprofen). Pharmacy technician tasks include, but are not limited to:

• Collecting patient information (insurance and personal information as needed)
• Entering and processing prescriptions in the computer system
• Filling and selling prescriptions
• Requesting refills from doctor offices for patients
• Compounding medications that are not commercially available
• Ordering medications
• Restocking shelves
• Answering the phone
• Working with insurance companies on approving payment for certain medications
• Maintaining the cash register and conducting accounting functions

Hospital Pharmacy:

There are many different roles for pharmacy technicians in a hospital pharmacy. I know this type of pharmacy best since this is where most of my work has been. The most common are technicians who work in the central pharmacy. In addition we have decentralized techs, sterile compounding techs, billing techs, OR techs, narcotic techs, database techs, automation techs, team lead techs, and buyer techs. These technicians as a whole perform the following tasks, but not limited to:

• Filling new orders, this includes a variety of medications from oral medications to specially prepared sterile compound medications (including chemotherapy meds)
• Answering the phone
• Tubing medications (if the pharmacy has a pneumatic tube station)
• Preparing medications for delivery
• Delivering medications
• Assisting floor pharmacists with medication histories
• Assisting floor pharmacists with IV drip checks
• Handling missing dose calls
• Billing medications where nurse charting does not bill
• Maintaining the pharmacy database
• Restocking operating rooms and anesthesia trays with appropriate medication
• Dispensing and tracking all controlled substances throughout the hospital
• Maintaining automation equipment [automated dispensing cabinets that store medication on nursing units, automatic fill systems (typically called Robot-Rx)]
• Purchasing of all medication and supplies needed in the pharmacy
• Leading and managing the technician workforce, including upkeep of schedules

Long-Term Care Pharmacy:

I have worked at a couple of long-term care pharmacies, and I think it is a great place to be a technician. They typically employee a lot of techs because the work load lends itself to a lot of technician tasks. These pharmacies provide the medication needs for nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and psychiatric facilities. The typical pharmacy is located in a warehouse. It does not have an open pharmacy for people to come to; they receive orders by fax and deliver all medications via couriers or drivers to facilities. The oral medication is filled in blister packs (cards of 30 tabs that are used to provide a 1 month supply of medication), or some other mechanism that provide the facility with an extended amount of medication doses that can be safely and cleanly kept until doses are due. Pharmacy technician tasks include, but are not limited to:

• Filling new and refill orders (different from hospital because of the number of doses provided)
• Processing new order and refills coming through the fax machine
• Order entry of prescriptions and printing of labels for fill techs
• Sterile compounding of medications (although there aren’t as many sterile compounded medications as a hospital, there are still enough that most long-term care pharmacies have a few techs specialize in sterile compounding
• Billing medications to homes
• Controlled substance dispensing and documentation
• Ordering medications and supplies
• Restocking medications that are returned that are still suitable for reuse.

Home Infusion Pharmacy:

These pharmacies primarily care for patients that require some form of IV or other non oral medication, and want to receive the therapy at home (hence the name home-infusion). I have also worked in a home-infusion pharmacy. As a tech I had a lot of experience in sterile compounding, and found my self in any position that needed a IV room tech. Pharmacy technician tasks include, but are not limited to:

• Compounding sterile preparations in the clean room
• Preparing supplies associated with sterile medication administration for delivery
• Billing medications delivered to patients home
• Coordinating deliveries of medications with patients
• Entering orders in the pharmacy order entry system

Nuclear Pharmacy:

No, I have not worked in a nuclear pharmacy (I am sure you were staring to think I got around quite a bit, but I have been in pharmacy for about 17 years). I have some friends who work in a nuclear pharmacy. The hours are interesting; they usually come in at about 3 AM and work until about noon. These types of pharmacies make radioactive compounds and they need to be made in a way that when they are delivered to the hospital or clinic administering them, that the dose has degraded to a specific amount. Without going into too much detail, these medications have short half-lives. So they have to time the compounding of the product with the time it takes to deliver the medication and the time the patient is to receive the dose. The job pays well, but as you can imagine, there are not a ton of these positions available. Pharmacy technician tasks include, but are not limited to:

• Preparing radioactive products
• Cleaning and preparing sterile compounding areas
• Entering orders into the pharmacy system
• Coordinating dose due times with deliveries and preparation
• Billing products to hospital or clinic

Health Plans/HMO Pharmacy Group:

I saved this one for last because it is a lot different. Most healthcare plans have a pharmacy department. They manage the pharmacy benefit of the health plan. I have worked with my companies health plan and have spent some time with the pharmacy department. Pharmacy technician tasks include, but are not limited to:

• Answering phone calls and providing support for patients on the pharmacy benefit
• Reviewing prior authorization requests
• Providing support to physicians and drug companies for information requests
• Supporting the pharmacists in the department with database and projects as needed

As you can see, pharmacy technician roles can be very diverse. The best advice I can give you is to figure out what setting you would most like to work in and obtain some experiential hours in that setting. I have found that the type of pharmacy you train in is typically the type of pharmacy you end up working in.

Computers and Cheap Watches

There are tons of expensive watches out there that cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars. The majority of these watches are all classic, mechanical pieces that have so many features it makes telling time incredibly difficult. What is the point of spending all that money for something that is not even going to serve the intended purpose? That is why one should greatly consider computer powered, cheap watches, also known as digital watches.Although many digital watches have a very low cost, there are many out there that can be almost as expensive as traditional watches. If you want a watch to look classy, then there is no point in shelling out tons of cash for a good looking digital watch, so those should be avoided. If you want to save money, then a digital watch is perfect for you. You can get a fairly decent digital watch for between twenty and fifty dollars, and there are some out there that are as low as ten dollars, but the quality of said watches is very low.Digital watches are great because they cost so little and serve the purpose of a watch exceptionally well. With a traditional watch, it can be somewhat difficult to tell the time, at least at a moment’s notice. Digital watches enable you to look quickly down at your hand and know the time right to the second, as long as the time you set it to is accurate.As computers and technology become more sophisticated, so will digital watches. Already at this point in time, there are many watches that have features that used to be found only in decades old computers. Thinking about that, it is amazing to think how far we have progressed. Who knows, perhaps we will be playing three dimensional games on our watches in just a few years. With the way things are going, that is not too far out there.