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If you ever have a question about a certain medication or you are experiencing side effects, go into a drugstore and talk to your pharmacist. Pharmacists dispense prescribed pharmaceuticals and provide pharmaceutical care for patients by identifying, resolving and preventing drug-related problems. Once upon a time, pharmacists spent their working day sorting, mixing, bottling and preparing pills, powders and ointments. These days, because of the sophistication of pharmaceutical companies, medicines arrive prepackaged with instructions, allowing pharmacists to pass their simplified preparation duties on to pharmacy technicians.

Simply put, a pharmacist is an expert on drugs and medicines who supplies medicines for the treatment or prevention of disease, according to doctors' prescriptions. Pharmacists usually specialize in a particular area of pharmacy, such as community pharmacy, hospital pharmacy or within the pharmaceutical industry. Pharmacists who work in hospital settings may be involved in clinical research and public education projects. Whatever area they work in, the pharmacist may be involved in a wide range of activities from dispensing medicines to the general public, to drug procurement for a large hospital trust, to being concerned with regulatory affairs within a pharmaceutical company.

Accordingly, a pharmacist needs a wide range of skills, from an extensive scientific knowledge about the design, production, evaluation, reactions and uses of medicines to the ability to communicate effectively with patients and doctors.

Before filling a prescription, pharmacists review a patient's medical history to make sure they are not allergic to the specific pharmaceutical and that they are not presently taking any conflicting medications. Next they fill the prescriptions by counting, pouring, measuring, or mixing the medication. Then they select a container and prepare and affix a label.

Some pharmacies now have information pamphlets that they print out to go along with the medication, which will include the side effects, proper dosage, what to take the pills with (for example, water or on an empty stomach), if the medication conflicts with any other medications or foods, and any other important information that a person needs to know before taking a drug. Nevertheless, the pharmacist tells the patient everything just mentioned on the information pamphlet, most importantly the dosages and any important ways of administration.

If a patient has any questions about the medication they are receiving or about any other medication for that matter, pharmacists will gladly answer the questions and offer solutions to health. Pharmacists know what is in every drug, how it works and how it can possibly affect different people. If a patient does encounter any serious problems or allergies to a medication, pharmacists must know how to deal with problems and suggest solutions.

Although many pharmacy technicians these days are trained to perform many of the same tasks as pharmacists, pharmacists still must supervise the technicians work, checking the dosages before they give them to the patients as well as consulting with doctors before giving patients any medications.
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  Interests and Skills  
Pharmacists must have a genuine interest in people from all walks of life, and desire to help them get better through dispensing and education about certain medications. They need good communication skills, and tact and good judgment. They must be able to work under pressure with a high degree of integrity. They must be able to work independently and with others and should have the desire to keep up to date with new ideas and advances in the pharmaceutical sciences.

Pharmacists should enjoy performing tasks requiring precision and organized methods, while synthesizing medical information. They need to ask clients what types of medications they are on, so that new ones will not conflict. Pharmacists should also be able to direct and instruct pharmacy staff.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Check prescriptions for proper dosage
  • Compound prescribed pharmaceutical products by calculating, measuring and mixing the quantities of drugs and other ingredients required and filling appropriate containers with correct quantities
  • Dispense prescribed pharmaceuticals to customers or to other health care professionals and advise them on the administration, uses and effects of the medication, drug incompatibilities and contraindications
  • Maintain medication profiles of customers including registry of poisons and narcotic and controlled drugs
  • Ensure proper storage of vaccines, serums, biologicals and other pharmaceutical products to prevent deterioration
  • Order and maintain stock of pharmaceutical supplies
  • Advise customers on selection and use of non-prescription medication
  • May supervise and coordinate the activities of pharmacy assistants, pharmacy technicians and other staff
  • Participate in basic research work for the development of new drugs
  • Formulate new drug products developed by medical researchers
  • Test new drug products for stability and to determine their absorption and elimination patterns
  • Coordinate clinical investigations of new drugs
  • Control the quality of drug products during production to ensure that they meet standards of potency, purity, uniformity, stability and safety
  • Develop informational materials concerning the uses and properties of particular drugs
  • Evaluate labeling, packaging and advertising of drug products
  • Pharmacists either work alone or in tandem with another pharmacist or with a pharmacy technician. In many store settings, they may be required to stand for most of their shifts. Pharmacists working in community and hospital settings often work rotating shifts, including evenings and holidays.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Pharmacists work in community settings such as neighborhood pharmacies, chain pharmacies and department store pharmacies, and hospitals and related institutions such as seniors' lodges and nursing homes. Some pharmacists work in sales positions representing pharmaceutical companies, providing drug detailing to physicians and pharmacists, or in industrial settings such as large pharmaceutical companies, or educational and research institutions.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Pharmacists may advance into the pharmaceutical world and work in the corporate side of pharmaceutical dispensing. Otherwise, pharmacists in community drugstores usually begin at a staff level. When they gain experience and money for funding, some become owners or part owners. Pharmacists in chain drug stores may advance to supervisor or store manager. They may also become district or regional managers. Hospital pharmacists may advance to supervisory or administrative jobs. Pharmacists who want to work in the field of research can attend graduate programs to specialize in areas of drug research. They may also participate in pharmacy fellowships designed to prepare them for research jobs.

  Educational Paths  
The educational requirement for becoming a pharmacist is a Bachelor of Science degree in pharmacy. It is composed of one year of undergraduate science studies followed by four years of pharmacy. Those in retail work must take a one-month internship, while those aiming for hospital work will need a longer residency. Space is limited in most pharmacy programs and acceptance into a pharmacy program is determined mainly by marks from the student's first year of sciences. Licensure is required for community and hospital pharmacists.

Some students also work towards a Doctor of Pharmacy degree (Pharm D). This requires about six years of postsecondary study. Entrants into the Doctor of Pharmacy program do not require a bachelors degree, since the program itself combines a bachelors and doctoral program.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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