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Special Feature: Careers in Pharmacy

Drug developer. Clinical researcher. Scientific administrator. Community pharmacist. Health-care team member. Professor. Pharmacy owner. Career options for Pharm.D.s span the full length of a drug's life, from the research lab to the corner pharmacy. And the demand for pharmacists is rising.

The April 2006 issue of Money magazine put “pharmacist” ninth in its list of the top 50 jobs in America. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 230,000 pharmacists were employed in 2004, a number they expect to rise 25% by 2014. And even now, demand for pharmacists outstrips supply, apparently: As of January 2007, chain pharmacy companies had 3904 vacancies for pharmacists, according to the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. Finally, pharmacists make decent money: According to BLS, the median salary for pharmacists in 2004 was $84,900. A 2006 Pharmacy Compensation Survey put the average for staff pharmacists at $98,300.

Pharmacists are biomedical-science generalists: To make it as a pharmacist, you need a strong understanding of anatomy, biology, chemistry, physics, calculus, statistics, and--especially--pharmacology. But pharmacists are also clinicians, so they need strong people skills: Those who work in retail settings counsel patients and field medical inquiries. Hospital pharmacists must be able to explain clearly a medication's indications, side effects, and contraindications to patients--and doctors--who may not be at their most coherent.

As with any (especially clinical) science job, earning the right to practice takes time. In the United States, to be a fully licensed pharmacist, you need a doctor of pharmacy, or Pharm.D., degree; nearly 100 U.S. universities have Pharm.D. programs. Students can enter some prepharmacy programs directly from high school; these students must spend 2 years in intensive science and math training prior to the 4-year Pharm.D. program proper. Most students, however, transfer into Pharm.D. programs after 2 years or more of college coursework, or after completing a bachelor's degree. This gives the Pharm.D. the distinction of being one of the few doctoral degrees you can get without earning a bachelor's degree first.

Outside the United States, requirements vary. In the United Kingdom, for example, a master of pharmacy (MPharm) degree is required, which, despite its name, is a 4-year undergraduate degree. After an additional year of preregistration training in a pharmacy, graduates are eligible to take the examination to become a licensed pharmacist. In France, pharmacists need a doctorate in pharmacy, a rigorous 6-year program with more years required for pharmacists who want to specialize or go into research.

After graduating, about 60% of U.S. Pharm.D. graduates go straight into jobs at community pharmacies--from big chains to small independent stores. But other pharmacists go to work at hospitals, clinics, mail-order pharmacies, and the federal government. Some pharmacists specialize by discipline: cardiology, pediatrics, or oncology, for example. Other niches include academic pharmacy, pharmaceutical research, drug regulation, and clinical research.

In Behind the Scenes, Pharmacists Play Key Role in Clinical Research , Karyn Hede, a freelance science writer in Richland, Washington, describes one of these niches: pharmacy careers in clinical research. Research-oriented Pharm.D. programs, and new fellowship opportunities, are formalizing the career path for pharmacists interested in working in research, either at the bench or in clinical trials research.

In French Pharmacist Finds Career Niche at Regulatory Agency , Elisabeth Pain, our contributing editor for south Europe, profiles French pharmacist Franck Diafouka, who worked in a handful of traditional pharmacy jobs before joining Europe's regulatory agency in charge of drugs. There, Diafouka works as a scientific administrator on projects that monitor drug safety and unify drug terminology.

In Pharmacists Working in the Community , Science Careers correspondent Andrew Fazekas looks at the patient-care side of community pharmacy and learns that counseling patients is becoming a more important part of a pharmacist's job.

Pharmacy Associations

Kate Travis is the Science Careers contributing editor for north Europe.

Comments, suggestions? Please send your feedback to our editor.

Photos, top to bottom: Rodrigo Senna, courtesy Ken Thai

DOI: 10.1126/science.caredit.a0700084

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