Pharmacist 101

Behind the White Coat

Pharmacists are medication experts who use their detailed knowledge of medicines to help patients get well. They are professionals who can answer health-related questions — what foods, drinks, activities, or other drugs could affect medication or what to do about a missed dose. Essentially, they’re the doctors who help people with almost anything related to the use of medicines, which means they help people to stay as healthy as possible.

What Do Pharmacists Do?

There’s more to pharmacists than you think. In addition to being at your community pharmacy, they’re on the frontlines of every aspect of healthcare — helping to ensure better outcomes for you and your family.

Pharmacists are responsible for:
  • Dispensing and creating medications and assuring that what’s prescribed is safe, suitable, and appropriate for the patient.
  • Advising patients about medicines, including how to take them, what reactions may occur and answering patients’ questions.
  • Advising other healthcare professionals about safe and effective medicine use, and secure supply of medicines.
  • Responding to patients’ symptoms and advising on the use of prescription and over-the-counter medications for sale in pharmacies.
  • Providing services to patients, such as helping them quit smoking, measuring blood pressure and managing cholesterol, and managing diabetes
  • Supervising the production and preparation of medicines and assessing the purity and quality of those medications.
  • Providing knowledge about the composition of drugs based on their chemical, biological, and physical properties, as well as their manufacture and use.
Who Helps Pharmacists? Pharmacy Technicians!
Pharmacy technicians work closely with pharmacists in drug and grocery stores, hospitals, and other medical settings to help prepare and distribute medications to patients. Among the many things they do are providing information to patients and other healthcare professionals and helping accept payments and process insurance claims. Pharmacy technicians are a vital part of the pharmacy team, ensuring that patients have healthier and happier lives and making life in the pharmacy that much easier!


How Do You Become a Pharmacist?
Pre-Pharmacy Studies: 3-4 years

Pre-pharmacy classes and coursework can be completed at almost any accredited college or university. These include biology, chemistry, and math.

Pharmacy School: 3-4 years

Most pharmacy schools require 4 years of study to earn a PharmD Degree. Some pharmacy colleges offer accelerated programs where students can earn their degrees within 3 years. Pharmacists also need at least 1,500 hours of clinical training in addition to their normal coursework.

Pharmacist Licensure Exam and State Board Requirements

Once students graduate with a PharmD, to become licensed, they must successfully complete the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) and any other licensure tests required by the state board of pharmacy before they can legally practice as a pharmacist in the U.S. In California, graduates must also complete the California Practice Standards and Jurisprudence Exam.

Where Can You Find a Pharmacist?
Pharmacists work in many different work environments. These include:

  • Community pharmacies, including those in grocery and drug stores
  • Hospitals, clinics, and other healthcare facilities
  • The government and the military
  • Veterinary hospitals
  • Laboratories and businesses


Did You Know?
Of the approximately 67,000 pharmacies in the U.S., nearly 5,600 are in California—the most of any state.

There are nearly 40,800 licensed pharmacists in California (as of June 2019), compared with 54,000 primary care physicians.

In the U.S., there are:

  • 13 billion visits to a pharmacy per year.
  • 270 million patient visits to a pharmacy each week.
  • 4,000 patient visits each week per pharmacy.

Nearly all U.S. residents nationwide (91%) live within 5 miles of a community pharmacy.

  • In cities, the average distance to a pharmacy is 1.6 miles.

Pharmacists need to take 30 hours of Continuing Education classes every two years in order to renew their pharmacist license in California.


Optional Career Development

RESIDENCY: 1–2 years of postgraduate training focused on certain patient groups or diseases in a clinical setting.

FELLOWSHIP: Individualized postgraduate training with a focus in academia, research, or industry.

OTHER CERTIFICATIONS: Licensed pharmacists may choose to become board-certified as a way to demonstrate that they have expertise in a specialty area of practice. This can include Infectious Diseases, Pediatrics, Cardiology, Critical Care, Psychiatrics, Nutrition, and others.

ADVANCED PRACTICE PHARMACIST (APh): This is a new category of pharmacists the California Pharmacists Association helped create. They can perform patient assessments, order and interpret drug therapy-related tests, refer patients to other healthcare providers, and help manage patients with chronic conditions and diseases.


The Future of Pharmacy

California has a reputation for being a trendsetter, and its pharmacists and pharmacy technicians are ready for the future! From new treatments to the increased use of digital technology to diagnose and treat diseases, healthcare is changing. As one of the most trusted and accessible healthcare professionals, those who serve in the pharmacy profession are central to the health of those they serve. The California Pharmacists Association stands by the pharmacy profession to ensure that pharmacy professionals have the ability and freedom to practice their profession to the fullest extent. To learn more about CPhA’s Advocacy Program visit