A pharmacist is a healthcare provider who gives you your prescriptions. But they’re also an important member of your healthcare team. They’re the person who knows the most about drugs. So, they work with your doctor and other providers to ensure you’re taking the correct medications at the right doses.

Surrounded by medicines in a pharmacy, a pharmacist fills a prescription.
A pharmacist is a healthcare provider who fills your prescription medications.

What is a pharmacist?

A pharmacist is a healthcare provider and medication expert. They ensure your medications are safe and appropriate for your needs. Some pharmacists may also:

  • Conduct health and wellness screenings.
  • Provide immunizations.
  • Help you manage your medications.
  • Provide advice on leading a healthy lifestyle.

Pharmacists work in a variety of settings, including:

  • Drug stores.
  • General merchandise stores.
  • Grocery stores.
  • Hospitals.
  • Primary care offices.
  • Specialty clinics.
  • Other healthcare facilities.

Pharmacists can help you manage and improve your health. They work with your primary care physician and other providers to ensure you receive the best possible care.


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What does a pharmacist do?

A pharmacist’s job description includes a long list of responsibilities, such as:

  • Verifying prescriptions. They confirm you’re receiving the correct medication and the proper amount.
  • Confirming any new prescriptions won’t interact with other medications you’re taking.
  • Instructing you on how and when to take your prescribed medicine.
  • Informing you about any potential side effects of a medication.
  • Creating customized medications by mixing ingredients (compounding).
  • Giving the flu vaccine and other vaccinations.
  • Educating you about general health topics including exercise, diet and managing stress.
  • Advising you on what supplies might be best to treat a health issue.
  • Working with your insurance company to make sure you get the medication you need.
  • Managing and teaching pharmacy technicians and pharmacists in training.
  • Keeping records and performing other administrative tasks.

Types of pharmacists

There are several different types of pharmacists.

Community pharmacists

A community pharmacist works in a retail store such as a chain drug store or an independently owned pharmacy. Community pharmacists give you your medications. They also answer any questions you may have about your prescriptions. They can answer questions about over-the-counter (OTC) medications and any health concerns you may have. Community pharmacists also provide services such as giving flu vaccines.

Clinical pharmacists

A clinical pharmacist works in a hospital, clinic or another healthcare setting. Clinical pharmacists usually don’t spend time filling prescriptions. They’re more involved in direct patient care. They may work with your doctor or other members of your healthcare team while you’re in the hospital. They may care for patients one-on-one in an outpatient office. Clinical pharmacists recommend which medications you should receive. They’ll also oversee how much and when you should take those medications.

Consultant pharmacists

A consultant pharmacist advises healthcare companies and insurance providers on patient medication use. They also work to improve pharmacy services at healthcare facilities. Consultant pharmacists may also give healthcare advice. For example, they may help seniors manage their prescriptions.

Pharmaceutical industry pharmacists

A pharmaceutical industry pharmacist works in the pharma industry. They work in the areas of sales, marketing, or research and development. Pharmaceutical industry pharmacists design and conduct clinical drug trials. They help develop new drugs. They may also help to create safety guidelines and ensure quality control for new medications.

Nuclear pharmacists

A nuclear pharmacist prepares and distributes radiopharmaceuticals or radioactive drugs for use in nuclear medicine tests and procedures. Radiopharmaceuticals and radioactive drugs are important components of nuclear medicine imaging. They help treat certain conditions. A nuclear pharmacist undergoes extensive training in radiation safety and handling radioactive materials.

How do you become a pharmacist?

A pharmacist’s education includes many years of schooling. Pharmacists must have a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree to practice. This is a professional degree that includes courses in:

  • Healthcare.
  • Biology.
  • Chemistry.
  • Physics.
  • Mathematics.
  • Pharmacology.
  • Medical ethics.

Additional pharmacist education requirements include the completion of supervised work experiences in a variety of healthcare settings.

An organization such as the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) must recognize the pharmacy program. Most PharmD programs require applicants to complete at least two years of undergraduate studies before entering the graduate program. Some programs require a bachelor’s degree. Some programs also require students to take the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT).

Most PharmD programs take four years to complete. Some offer a three-year program. Others offer a six-year program to high school graduates (direct admittance after high school graduation).

Upon obtaining a PharmD degree, pharmacists must pass two exams to receive their license to practice. The North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) tests your pharmacy skills and knowledge. The Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE), or a state-specific exam, tests you on pharmacy law.

Pharmacists seeking an advanced position (such as in clinical pharmacy or research) will need to complete a one- to two-year residency. Through the residency, you receive additional training in a specialty area.

To give vaccines, pharmacists need to receive certification through the American Pharmacists Association’s Pharmacy-Based Immunization Delivery program.

Some pharmacists also choose to receive certification in an advanced area. For instance, a pharmacist may receive certification as a Diabetes Educator from the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators. Certification requires work experience, the passage of an exam and paying a fee.

In addition, pharmacists must take continuing education courses throughout their careers. They need to continue learning the most recent advances in pharmacology.

Are pharmacists doctors?

Yes, pharmacists are doctors. You might not address your pharmacist as “doctor,” but a PharmD degree is a doctorate degree. It’s similar to a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degree. A doctorate represents the increased amount of responsibility your pharmacist has in providing trustworthy, high-level healthcare.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

A pharmacist is more than just someone who hands you your medication. Pharmacists play a key role in helping you manage and improve your health. Since they know so much about medication, they’re an important member of your healthcare team. They can work closely with your doctor and other healthcare providers to ensure you receive accurate information and guidance about your health. That way, they can ensure you’ll receive the best possible health outcome.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 03/02/2023.

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