What Is a Pharmacist?

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on November 21, 2023
4 min read

Pharmacists are health care professionals who specialize in the right way to use, store, preserve, and provide medicine. They can guide you on how to use medications and let you know about any potential side effects. They fill prescriptions issued by doctors and other health care professionals.

Pharmacists also contribute to research and testing of new drugs. They work in pharmacies, medical clinics, hospitals, universities, and government institutions.

People have been using plants and other natural substances as medicine for thousands of years. But the practice of professional pharmacy became its own field in the mid-nineteenth century.

Pharmacists distribute prescription drugs to individuals. They also provide advice to patients and other health professionals on how to use or take medication, the correct dose of a drug, and potential side effects. Plus, they can make sure that a drug won’t interact badly with other medications you take or health conditions you have.

They can also provide information about general health topics like diet and exercise, as well as advice on products like home health care supplies and medical equipment.

Compounding (the mixing of ingredients to form medications) is a very small part of a modern pharmacists’ practice. Nowadays, pharmaceutical companies produce medicines and provide them to pharmacies, where pharmacists measure the right dose amounts for patients.

In order to become a pharmacist in the U.S., a person needs a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree from an institution that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE).

Even though admissions requirements vary depending on the university, all PharmD programs require students to take postsecondary courses in chemistry, biology, and physics. Additionally, pharmacy programs require at least 2 years of undergraduate study, with most requiring a bachelor’s degree. Students must also take the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT).

PharmD programs take about 4 years to finish. Additional coursework for a degree in this field includes courses in pharmacology and medical ethics. Students also complete internships in hospitals, clinics, or retail pharmacies to gain real-life experience.

Pharmacists must also take continuing education courses to keep up with the latest advances in pharmacological science.

Pharmacists are one of the most easily-accessible health care professionals. Every pharmacy has a licensed pharmacist, and you can speak to one without making an appointment. Some of the reasons to see a pharmacist include:

Answering medical and drug-related questions

Pharmacists are qualified to answer most medical or drug-related questions you may have. They can explain what each medication you’re taking is for, how you are supposed to take it, and what you can expect while on the medication.

Is your asthma medication taken during an attack or all the time? Can you sip wine if you're on an antibiotic? When should you take your new birth control pill? Your pharmacist can help you learn what to take and when. 

Additionally, you can talk with your pharmacist about how to ease side effects of your prescriptions. Is the niacin you are taking causing a burning sensation? Is your blood pressure drug causing impotence? Or is your antidepressant robbing you of sexual desire? A schedule change could do the trick, or your pharmacist might offer options you can discuss with your doctor.

Filling your prescriptions

Once you have a prescription from your doctor, you can take it to the pharmacy where the pharmacist will fill the order. If you get all of your prescriptions filled at the same pharmacy, they can better track your medicinal history and provide you with a written history if needed.

Safely disposing of unwanted medicines

If you have any unused or unwanted medicines, it’s best to get rid of them so they don’t fall into the wrong hands. Taking them to the pharmacy is the best and safest way to dispose of them.

Simple health checks

Pharmacists are qualified to perform simple health care procedures like taking your blood pressure and temperature, testing your blood sugar levels, and checking your cholesterol. They can also diagnose everyday ailments like the cold, flu, aches, pains, cuts, and rashes, just to name a few. They’ll then be able to recommend the right treatment or let you know if you should see a doctor. 

Give advice about supplements

Taking ginseng for focus? St. John's wort for depression? Black cohosh for hot flashes? These and other kinds of supplements could potentially interact with your new prescription. Confess all to your pharmacist, who will know whether you might encounter problems and can advise you accordingly.

Help with lifestyle choices

A pharmacist can offer advice and dispenses information about disease prevention, nutrition, quitting smoking, diabetes management, and more.


You can get your annual flu shot and, in most states, other vaccines, too, at the pharmacy. Most of the time you do not need an appointment, and the whole process takes only a few minutes. 

Help with savings on prescriptions

Medication bills skyrocketing? Talk to your pharmacist. A generic antiviral medication that costs $9 might take the place of a new-to-the-market prescription brand priced at $65.

When visiting the pharmacist, you can expect that your personal and medical information will be protected and kept private. If you don’t want other customers to overhear your conversation or questions, you can ask the pharmacist to speak with you in a quiet, private area. You should feel comfortable asking them any questions you have, and they should be able to provide all the information you need regarding any medication you’re taking.