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How Do I Become a Hospital Pharmacist?

By David Bishop
Updated May 17, 2024
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A hospital pharmacy is a unit within a healthcare facility that dispenses medication to the hospital's patients. Hospital pharmacies do more compounding work than pharmacies commonly found in grocery and convenience stores around the United States, and the pharmacists employed by hospitals must be able to work with more complicated drug mixtures. The preparation required to become a hospital pharmacist is similar to that of a normal pharmacist, although the job sometimes requires additional qualifications. All hospital pharmacists in the U.S. will need to complete a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) program and pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX), along with any state licensing requirements. Some jobs may require additional professional experience with specialized treatments and one or more post-graduate residencies.

The first step a person should take to become a hospital pharmacist is to complete the prerequisites for admission into an accredited PharmD program. These generally include 60 hours of college-level coursework, including chemistry, biology and mathematics classes. Some students choose to complete an undergraduate degree before applying, although this will usually add two years to a student’s time in school. The Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT) is required by some programs in the U.S. and measures an applicant’s scientific knowledge and verbal and quantitative abilities. Students who don’t perform well on standardized tests should seek admission to a program that does not require the PCAT.

The PharmD program consists of four years of pharmacology training and will include several hours of practical experience to expose students to actual healthcare environments. The classes cover lab work, ethics and other issues related to patient care and prescription medicine. The PharmD is designed to give students a mastery of the scientific and mathematical concepts associated with pharmacology as well as extensive lab training and attention to detail. Some programs will also require a few hours covering specialized pharmacy environments such as hospitals and nursing homes.

Once a student has completed his PharmD program, he can either become a licensed pharmacist and enter the workplace or continue his education by enrolling in a pharmacy residency. Requirements for licensing vary by state and country. Graduates in the U.S. will need to pass the NAPLEX, a computerized test that will measure a graduate’s mastery of pharmacology concepts. After he passes the test, he can seek to become a hospital pharmacist by applying for open positions in facilities in his state.

Completing a pharmacy residency will improve a person's chances to become a hospital pharmacist by offering specialized training in this area. Graduates should select an accredited program in a hospital setting rather than in a community or managed care environment. The first year of residency will provide general training and education; the second stage, which may last more than a year, offers training in a specialized pharmacology field, such as oncology, pharmacotherapy or psychiatry. Once the residency is completed, the resident may choose to sit for the Pharmacy Board Certification Exam. After certification, the resident will be fully qualified to work as a hospital or clinical pharmacist.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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