So You Want to Become a Pharmacist? The Roadmap to a PharmaD

Free from many of the stresses physicians and nurses
face, pharmacists have very rewarding lifestyles (Toronto Star)

So, you’re probably considering a career in healthcare (since you’re reading this article and all), but have you considered becoming a pharmacist? These medical professionals do more than just dispense drugs – pharmacists advise physicians about what medications to prescribe, administer vaccines, help patients manage chronic diseases like diabetes and asthma, and can even compound (mix together) drug combinations to suit patient needs. In fact, one Canadian survey found that people visit their pharmacists more than any other health-care professionals.

While a pharmacy career is quite lucrative, the path to one can be the opposite – arduous and confusing. With that in mind, here are the main steps it takes to get from being a high school student to a practising pharmacist!

Step 1: High School

In Grade 11 and 12, take university-level English, Biology, Chemistry, and advanced Math courses (if you have room in your schedule, taking physics is also a good idea!) so you’ll meet the requirements to take pharmacy school prerequisites later on in the timeline. If your school offers International Baccalaureate (IB) or Advanced Placement (AP) courses, consider taking them to lighten your course load during university.

Get involved in your community and explore your interests. If there are any clubs, teams, or councils that you are interested in, join! If not, why not create one? Volunteering/working as a pharmacy assistant can be a valuable experience – aside from building interpersonal and communication skills, it can help you determine whether you are genuinely interested in becoming a pharmacist. Even so, it’s important to remember that grades are critical; don’t let your marks drop because of extracurriculars.

Step 2: Applying to University

Pharmacy school is second-entry, meaning that you will need to enrol in an undergraduate program before applying. Most prospective pharmacy students choose to apply to life science programs like Neuroscience, Health Sciences, and Biomedical Science to fulfil pharmacy school prerequisites (listed below). Still, any program that allows you to do so will suffice.

One unique program is the University of Waterloo’s Conditional Admission to Pharmacy (CAP) status, which guarantees selected high-school students admission to the university’s school of pharmacy (given that they meet specific requirements during undergrad). Interested students must have a ‘Top 6’ average of 90% or higher, demonstrate leadership qualities, and be involved in their community.

Step 3: Undergraduate Studies

In university, you will need to complete specific prerequisite courses to apply to pharmacy school. While these differ depending on the school(s) you want to apply to, typical requirements include:

  • 2 Years of Chemistry (including organic chemistry) (with lab)
  • 1 Year of Biology (with lab)
  • 1 Year of Calculus
  • 1 Semester of Statistics
  • 1 Semester of English
  • 2 Semesters of Social Science/Humanities

Similar to high school, it is vital to ensure your GPA is high while also participating in extracurricular activities. If any schools you are interested in require it, take the PCAT (Pharmacy College Admission Test), a 4-hour exam that tests you on first-year Biology, Chemistry, Statistics and Calculus, as well as your reading and writing skills.

If you’re taking the PCAT, prepare early – most students take 1-3 months to study! (University of Toronto)

Step 4: Applying to Pharmacy School

You are eligible to apply to pharmacy school once you have completed a year of undergraduate studies. There are 10 Canadian universities with faculties of pharmacy (including the University of Toronto, University of British Columbia and Dalhousie University), and applications for each school open between July and October. Schools may ask for university transcripts, recommendation letters, test scores (e.g. PCAT, CASPer), and information about extracurriculars – depending on the strength of your preliminary application, you may be asked to attend interviews during the winter. Each pharmacy school has its own method of determining who will receive an offer, but most rely on your GPA and interview scores.

Step 5: Pharmacy School

In Canada, pharmacy schools have adopted a new type of pharmacy degree, the PharmD (Doctor of Pharmacy), which focuses more on experiential learning and the real-world applications of learning instead of theory. During the first two years of your PharmD, you’ll learn about human anatomy, the science of how certain drugs interact with the body, how to assess patients/manage various diseases, and the role of pharmacists in Canada’s health-care system. Depending on your pharmacy school, you may also undertake a research project or intern at a pharmacy during clinical rotations.

The last two years of pharmacy school offer students the opportunity to take elective courses in areas that interest them, including pharmacy management, homeopathy/alternative medicine, and pediatric pharmacotherapy. Most of these 2 years are spent in clinical rotations, which take place in various settings (community pharmacies, industrial pharmacies, hospital pharmacies, etc.).

Step 5: After Pharmacy School
Once you have your PharmD, it can take several months or even years before you are qualified to work as a pharmacist, but you can work as a supervised pharmacy intern in the meantime. You’ll need to register as a pharmacist in the province/territory you want to work in – while the process varies in each licensure board, it usually includes a jurisprudence exam (which tests your knowledge of provincial/federal drug laws) and some sort of assessment to test your clinical skills. In addition, you’ll need to complete the PEBC (Pharmacy Examining Board of Canada) Pharmacist Qualifying Exam, which tests you on the knowledge you learned in pharmacy school.

Once you’ve passed these exams and registered with the appropriate licensure board, that’s it! You’ll be a full-fledged pharmacist ready to take on the world (with your white coat, of course)!

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