How to Go From Pharmacy Technician to Pharmacist

Working as a pharmacy technician gives you an opportunity to help others while earning a decent wage. But if you’re a pharmacy technician and want to advance your career, you may be wondering what it would take to become a pharmacist.

To advance from pharmacy tech to pharmacist, you will have to complete prerequisite undergraduate courses, apply to and complete pharmacy school, and take your licensing exam. 

This guide goes over each of these steps in more detail, including how long each step takes and how to improve your chances of success. 

Steps to Advance From Pharmacy Tech to Pharmacist

If you already work as a pharmacy technician, you have a good head start. Having some prior knowledge about different medications and how a pharmacy runs will help make progress easier. 

In addition, having pharmacy technician experience looks great on pharmacy school applications. 

The pathway from being a pharmacy tech to a pharmacist requires the following: 

1)  Complete Required Prerequisite Work

Before you can apply to pharmacy school, you will have to complete prerequisite courses. Most pharmacist programs require about two years’ worth of undergraduate courses. 

Common pharmacy school prerequisites include: 

  • Anatomy 
  • Physiology
  • Anatomy and Physiology Lab
  • Biochemistry
  • General Chemistry
  • Humanities
  • Microbiology
  • Physics
  • Psychology
  • Calculus
  • Social Science
  • Statistics

While having a bachelor’s degree isn’t technically required, earning a science-based bachelor’s degree will help you get your prerequisites done and make you a more competitive applicant for pharmacy school. If you apply to a less competitive school, earning an associate degree may be enough to fulfill the requirements. 

Some schools offer specific programs that include a few years of undergraduate courses—leading to a bachelor’s degree—and four years of pharmacy school. For example, the University of Delaware and Thomas Jefferson University have a partnership where students take three years of undergrad classes at UD and four years of pharmacy school at TJU.

2) Apply to Pharmacy Schools

Prior to January 2024, pharmacy school applicants had to take and pass the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT). However, this test has been retired and is no longer administered. A new admission exam may be developed in the next few years. 

Since the admission exam is no longer required, applicants have to find other ways to stand out in applications. Students can improve their chances of being selected by having excellent grades, getting experience as a pharmacy technician, volunteering in the community, and getting good letters of recommendation.   

The good news is that pharmacy school is considered pretty easy to get into, with an average acceptance rate of around 87% over the past few years. The minimum requirements for most pharmacy schools include having at least a 2.5 to 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale, good letters of recommendation, a strong admissions essay, and experience either shadowing a pharmacist or working as a pharmacy technician. 

Most Doctorate of Pharmacy Programs require students to use the Pharmacy College Application Service. The application service allows students to keep grades, letters of recommendation, and test scores organized while making it easier for colleges to compare students fairly.  

3) Attend Pharmacy School

Most students spend about six years earning their Doctorate in Pharmacy Degree and preparing to take their licensure exam. This includes prerequisites and graduate-level courses. 

Those who already have a bachelor’s degree may be able to complete a three-year-long accelerated program. 

To be eligible for licensure, you should choose a program that has been accredited by the  Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE).

Courses included as part of a pharmacist curriculum will include: 

  • Medical Terminology
  • Biochemistry for Pharmacy
  • Calculations in Pharmacy Practice
  • Medication Dispensing
  • Physicochemical Principles of Drugs
  • Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Health Systems and Patient Safety
  • Patient Assessment
  • Research Methods and Biostatistics
  • Foundations of Public Health
  • Pharmacotherapeutics 
  • Immunopharmacology and Biotechnology
  • Professional Development Seminars
  • Pharmacy Practice Law
  • Ethics in the Health Care Professions
  • Literature Evaluation and Evidence-Based Practice
  • Delivering Medication Therapy Management Services

4) Complete Clinical Experience

Pharmacist students will also have to participate in clinical experience with a working pharmacist. 

Most students will spend some time working in a retail pharmacy and some time working in a hospital. Students can also choose to specialize in certain areas, such as chemotherapy or emergency medicine. 

Pharmacy students should plan on spending a significant amount of time getting clinical experience. Many pharmacist students spend up to 60 hours per week in clinical hours. Most students find that it is impossible to work while completing their doctorate of pharmacy degree. 

Most states require pharmacist students to complete at least 1,500 clinical hours before taking the NAPLEX exam. Students in Florida have to complete 2,080 hours, which is more than any other state requires. 

5) Take NAPLEX and Other Required Exams

After completing a PharmD program, candidates are required to take and pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX)

The NAPLEX is a 225-question test with a 6-hour time limit. It covers topics such as pharmacology, dosage calculations, pharmacy law, and patient care. The exam fee for each attempt is $620. 

The exam is challenging, but most students pass on their first attempt. In 2021, the NAPLEX passing rate for graduates of ACPE-accredited pharmacy schools was 84%.

Most states also require pharmacists to pass the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination (MPJE), which covers federal and state pharmacy practice laws. The MPJE is not required in Arkansas, Idaho, or California. However, California residents must take and pass the California Practice Standards and Jurisprudence Examination (CPJE). 

6) Apply for Your Pharmacist License

After passing your exam, you will have to apply for a pharmacist license with your state board of pharmacy. 

Each state has slightly different requirements, but most require candidates to submit proof of graduation from a pharmacist program, passing the required exams, a background check, and drug screening. 

7) Apply for Jobs

Job opportunities for pharmacists are expected to increase by 3% between 2022 and 2032, with about 13,400 job openings projected each year. The majority of pharmacists, 42%, work in retail pharmacies. Others work in hospitals, mail-in pharmacies, and ambulatory healthcare centers. 

You can use job search sites like Indeed, LinkedIn, and Monster to find jobs. You also may be able to secure a position after building relationships during clinical or residency hours. 

Practicing interviews and having someone look over and edit your resume will improve your chances of landing your dream job.

8) Start Your Career as a Pharmacist!

After you are hired as a pharmacist, you will have to maintain your license to continue working. Each state board of pharmacy has different requirements for continuing education, licensing fees, and paperwork. 

Most states require pharmacists to renew their licenses once every two years, and fees range between $150 to $200 for each renewal. 

Do Pharmacy Technician to Pharmacist Bridge Programs Exist?

There are a few pharmacy technicians-to-pharmacist bridge programs. These programs are usually designed to help people who are already certified pharmacy technicians and want to advance their careers. 

Here are some schools that offer pharmacy technician to pharmacist bridge programs:

  • University of Cincinnati – Online Pathway
  • St. Louis College of Pharmacy – Accelerated PharmD Program
  • Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS) – PharmD Pathway
  • North Dakota State University – Pathway Program
  • Ferris State University – Pharmacy Technician to PharmD Bridge
  • University of Florida – Working Professional PharmD (WPPD) Program

Even if you do not enroll in a technician-to-pharmacist program, earning an associate degree as a pharmacy technician will help you get many prerequisites out of the way while helping you build your resume. 

How Long It Takes to Go From Pharmacy Tech to Pharmacist

The time it takes for you to go from pharmacy tech to pharmacist depends on whether or not you completed any formal education and training as a pharmacy technician. 

If you did not receive formal education or graduated from a certificate-only training program as a pharmacy tech, becoming a pharmacist will take about six years.

If you earn an associate or bachelor’s degree as a pharmacy technician, you may be able to choose an accelerated doctorate of pharmacy program and graduate in three to four years. 

Cost of Pharmacy School & Financial Aid Options

Because they are doctorate programs, pharmacy schools can get very expensive. 

Average costs for public schools are $23,000 for in-state students and $38,000 for out-of-state students. Private pharmacy schools average $44,000 but can cost upwards of $80,000 per year. 

While the cost of school is high, most pharmacists find that the salary they earn is worth the investment. Pharmacists earn an average of $136,030 per year. In addition, there are many grants and scholarships available for pharmacy students. 

Students hoping to apply for pharmacy school can start by applying for grants or student loans through FAFSA. There are federal grants and student loans that you can use to help pay for college.

Scholarships are a great option for covering the cost of pharmacist school. There is no limit to how many scholarships you can apply for, so trying to get a few smaller scholarships in addition to larger ones can make a big difference. 

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