Pharmacist Careers: Worth the Time and Effort?

When we think about a pharmacy job, we usually think about retail pharmacy. As a start, let’s explore that one, and then we’ll see about alternative pharmacy jobs. So, is pharmacy a good career?

Unfortunately, with declining wages, rising market saturation, limited opportunities, and being way over-regulated, becoming a pharmacist may not be worth it anymore. These days it seems as if you cannot justify the expense of a degree versus the return on the investment.

Even though the average salary is reported high, it’s much more difficult to get a high-paying pharmacy job than before. However, there are all kinds of pharmacy roles you can go for, not just retail. It may not be as easy as getting hired at Costco, but it sure becomes increasingly more difficult to find a high-paying pharmacy job.

The most important thing about becoming a pharmacist and having a satisfying career in pharmacy is trying to reach a point in your career where you don’t just have to accept whatever the job market gives you, but instead, build up your skills and expertise so you can have options.

Is Becoming a Pharmacist Worth It?

Pharmacist selecting a drug from pharmacy inventory

These days, there’s not much about ROI and opportunity cost to think that taking on debt and time is worth becoming a pharmacist now. You could make an argument that it might be worth it if you’re interested in the profession, and can guarantee good pay, which typically isn’t the case.

If you’re going into the pharmacy for the pay, you should know that stagnant pay is prevalent, and the market saturation is high.

As far as retail pharmacists go, mental, emotional, and physical health often suffers too much and sometimes may not be worth it. This naturally depends on the location and the setting, because many retail pharmacists are happy at their jobs. Oftentimes, fresh graduates just need some time to settle into their new job.

To learn about what is true in a pharmacist career, you should try to look for advice from practicing pharmacists, not just teachers or schools. Additionally, it’s important to try to work or spend time in a retail pharmacy or whichever path you’re looking to get into before you make the most important decisions in your life.

How Hard Is It to Become a Pharmacist?

Becoming a pharmacist isn’t too hard, but it still requires 4 years of pharmacy school, and at least 2 years of prepharmacy coursework before applying. The PCAT exam isn’t too difficult, but finding a high-paying job may be.

In other words, finishing pharmacy school isn’t necessarily hard, but the market is oversaturated at the moment, and the outlook doesn’t look great. This doesn’t mean you won’t get a high-paying job, but the traditional retail pharmacy jobs don’t have a good outlook at the moment.

With the intense curriculum, it’s essential to have a genuine interest in the field, or the educational journey might feel overwhelming.

Is Residency required to secure a good position as a pharmacist?

Getting residency is no longer a requirement for getting a satisfying clinical position as a pharmacist. There’s a way to build towards a fulfilling position as a pharmacist regardless of whether you did post-graduate training or not.

Even if you’re working in a retail pharmacy right now, you can significantly change your career. The way to get to the point of a satisfying position in pharmacy without residency takes a bit of time and requires gaining some experience, but is worth it. 

The way of securing a job without residency can be done in various ways. You could:

  • look for a job at rural hospitals, where the competition and required qualifications are lower. Here’s how it works: you move in, get your experience, then you move out and get a job in an area where you actually want to live in.
  • work the 3rd shift in a hospital, which doesn’t require a residency. You can use it to gain further credentials and jump to a day shift at the next opportunity.
  • work at pharmacies that service long-term care facilities. These facilities make sterile preparations and fill drug orders, which can get you to experience in the right places to help you qualify for that first inpatient position.

Another avenue to explore is telepharmacy, where remote consultations and services are growing, especially in rural areas lacking immediate access to pharmacists.

For some people, these aren’t exactly revelations, but for many others, these are eye-openers and career-changers. Not everyone looks at these things from the right perspective, and these examples helped many to secure a satisfying pharmacy job.

How Long Does It Take To Become a Pharmacist?

It takes 6 to 8 years to become a pharmacist, with 4 years of a regular PharmD program to complete, and 2 to 4 more years depending on if you completed a bachelor’s degree before entering your program.

In other words, you’ll need at least 2 years of pre-pharmacy coursework before applying to pharmacy school, where some opt to get a bachelor’s degree beforehand. Then you have PCAT for most schools, then 4 years of pharmacy school, and finally NAPLEX licensure exam and individual state MPJE law exams.

Is Pharmacy School Worth It?

Pharmacy is a great career path, but it requires planning your career, selecting a good school, and effectively paying off your school debt if you had any, which can be high for pharmacists. If you can manage to do all that, then pharmacy school is definitely worth it.

One of the main problems with pharmacy schools today is the rise in low-quality schools producing low-quality pharmacists and being unable to guarantee them permanent positions afterward. Selecting a good pharmacy school should be your #1 priority.

When researching pharmacy schools, it’s beneficial to review their partnerships with hospitals and pharmaceutical companies, as these collaborations often result in valuable internship or job placement opportunities for students.

Then, if you took on a student loan, you will need to plan to pay off that huge loan debt by selecting a good financial company, with good rates.

After that, you need to get some experience. With the job market being extremely tight, it may force you to try getting residency. An alternative could be getting some experience in various settings. Residency can be competitive, so many pharmacists get pressured into lower-paying jobs until they pay out their debt.

Selecting a good pharmacy school should be your #1 priority.

On the other hand, getting an industry or managed care position, or clinical pharmacy can be a great move, with good benefits and a satisfying career.

How Difficult Is Being a Pharmacist?

Being a retail pharmacist isn’t considered hard compared to many other professions, but there are difficulties just as well. One of those is working night shifts and weekends at most pharmacies. It can also be hard to get a vacation approved, plus you need to do management duties on top of pharmacy duties.

The job at a retail pharmacy can also be physically demanding. Additionally, customers can be spoiled, and ungrateful. On the other hand, the pay can be good, depending, plus you can learn a lot if you’re new. Not all retail pharmacies are like this, but many are. 

It’s crucial to consider the business acumen needed in a retail setting, as often, pharmacists may have to tackle inventory management, employee scheduling, or even marketing campaigns for seasonal health services.

For some, the repetitive nature of the retail setting can be monotonous, and the decision to pursue pharmacy should be rooted in a broader perspective than just retail opportunities.

Are pharmacists happy with their jobs?

The lifestyle of a pharmacist is dependent on many factors, such as the location, the store, the managers. Many pharmacists are happy with their jobs, but many more are unhappy and are leaving their jobs.

A pharmacy director of a small hospital may be happy, while a retail staff pharmacist may be unhappy due to not using the knowledge and skill they went to school for. One pharmacist may like certain parts of a retail pharmacy, such as helping others and learning new things constantly, while another one may be miserable because of the ungrateful and frustrated customers. Just like any other job – it depends.

Before embarking on this career, it’s worth shadowing various pharmacy roles to genuinely understand the daily realities and determine if they align with your long-term goals.

Is being a pharmacist stressful?

For the most part, being a pharmacist isn’t highly stressful. In fact, being a retail pharmacist may be boring to some. A hospital pharmacist is generally a step down in terms of stress for something like inpatient, but outpatient pharmacy at the VA can be much easier, and not nearly as hectic. 

Keep in mind that clinical pharmacists face high legal liability, compared to other non-physician disciplines.

How Much Do Pharmacists Make?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual pharmacist salary for 2022 was $129,920. This seems quite high, but this doesn’t mean you’ll be guaranteed $50 an hour straight out of college. 

Nowadays, you’re looking at a lower salary, with possibly long hours, night, and weekend shifts. The pay can reach $50-60 sometimes, but this isn’t a given for all states and all areas. On the other hand, some pharmacies are offering 80-90k as a starting salary, with a lot of room for growth and bonuses, but these examples are fewer in recent years.

Is It Hard to Find a Job as a Pharmacist?

In general, the pharmacist job market is currently over-saturated, and the outlook doesn’t bring too much hope. The saturation is increasing with many schools promising high salaries afterward and producing low-quality pharmacists. This further damages the market.

The saturation will only increase, and there will be a lot of surplus PharmDs on the job market in the coming years.

This has been a trend since 2009, where a bleak job market is forcing a lot of pharmacists trying to switch paths or change careers. Many of them go for the hospital or clinical option to try and get a higher salary and better working conditions.

What are the best jobs for pharmacists?

One of the better jobs in pharmacy is a PBM job. Others include being a hospital pharmacist, or a clinical pharmacist. These two are generally stable, it can be an interesting and satisfying job for the right people in the right setting

If you get to a clinical position, then most of your interaction will be with providers and nurses, which for many is a plus.

What’s the Pharmacist Job Outlook for the Future?

The overall job outlook for a pharmacist is in a decline of 3 percent for the period from 2022 to 2032. This means that the pharmacist job has declining employment, with fewer pharmacy jobs available in the future.

A typical pharmacist job is in a retail pharmacy. These kinds of jobs have a slightly negative outlook, as many pharmacists are currently looking to change careers due to bad work-life balance, low pay, and long hours.

However, several other pharmacy jobs settings are slightly more in demand, such as pharmacy jobs in hospitals and clinics.

Is Becoming a Pharmacy Tech Worth It?

These days, pharmacy technicians work a lot, but they aren’t paid nearly as much as pharmacists. Becoming a pharmacy tech may be worth it if you become one through independent study, rather than spending time and money in a school.

A lot of states don’t require schooling to become a pharmacy tech. It’s not easy to start working as one without any kind of experience, but it’s possible. You may need a few years of experience in regular community or retail before being considered to work in a hospital.

Pharmacy technician salary is generally considered way too low in most States and is currently at about $35,100 on average. A competent and efficient technician is worth a lot but generally isn’t paid much. Starting wages are also pretty low. CVS and WAG typically undercompensate their techs, while their wages at the hospitals are between $20 and $30/h on average.

Is It Harder to Be a Doctor or Pharmacist?

It’s objectively much harder to be a doctor than a pharmacist, as well as getting into med school compared to pharmacy school. Additionally, pharmacy doesn’t require residency (plus they’re easier), and generally, medicine requires a lot more sacrifices.

When it comes to getting into these colleges, you need to do certain tests called PCAT (Pharmacy College Admission Test) and MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). Comparing these two, PCAT is much easier than MCAT and requires way less preparation for most students.

Doctors generally have worse hours and more responsibility but are also paid more. Even though pharmacists can give recommendations on pharmacologic treatments, in general, pharmacists don’t have the same liability as physicians.

This is often preferable to some, as not everyone wants to be in charge of everything, mostly because of the high-stress levels.

Do pharmacists make more money than doctors?

In general, pharmacists don’t make nearly as much as doctors, and for good reason. Doctors are more liable and have worse and longer hours compared to pharmacists, which is why you’ll sometimes see hourly doctor’s pay of above $100/h.

Is Pharmacy Harder Than Nursing?

Becoming a pharmacist may be harder and much more expensive than nursing. And while the pay is getting worse for pharmacists, being a nurse can be much more difficult than it seems.

Nursing isn’t all about holding patient hands as much as cleaning up and lifting patients that weigh 300 pounds. You’ll see grief and sadness and death as well. Pharmacy, on the other hand, can be much more relaxed compared.

If you care more about direct patient care, then you may want to think more about nursing rather than the pharmacy.

What’s the Alternative Career for a Pharmacist?

There are a lot of similar professions to a retail pharmacist to pursue such as being a Medical Science Liaison, Laboratory Technician, Clinical Research Associate, Health Outcomes Liaison, Drug Information Specialist, Health Outcomes Researcher, Consultant Pharmacist, IT pharmacist, Veterinary Pharmacist, Nuclear Pharmacist, Pharmacologist, medical doctor, or a nurse.

  • Alex Mitch

    Hi, I'm the founder of! Having been in finance and tech for 10+ years, I was surprised at how hard it can be to find answers to common questions in finance, tech and business in general. Because of this, I decided to create this website to help others!