A student in Waterloo's pharmacy degree program holds a tray of pills while wearing a white lab coat.

If you're passionate about the health of your community and want to play a role in improving the lives of others, a career in pharmacy may be right for you.

A pharmacist is vital in helping people get well, and as our population ages and treatments become more complex, the need for pharmacists continues to grow. Whether through prescriptions, vaccinations, or asking about a remedy to an ailment, pharmacists are on the frontline of health care, ensuring the safe and effective delivery of drugs.

How do you know if pharmacy is right for you?

If you value helping people and working in teams, enjoy science, like challenges, and are an effective communicator, then pharmacy may be for you.

"Pharmacists need to be able to take initiative, adapt to different situations, handle stress, think critically and solve problems, work well with others, show leadership, handle ethical dilemmas, and commit to lifelong learning," says Kaitlin Bynkoski, director of admissions and undergraduate affairs at Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy.

Key characteristics and skills needed to be an effective pharmacist

Characteristics

  • a good memory
  • attention to detail
  • aptitude for science
  • interest in continual learning
  • empathy
  • altruism

Skills

  • interpersonal communications
  • team work
  • leadership
  • analytical thinking
  • counselling
  • problem solving

Source: Pharmacy4me


How to become a pharmacist in Canada

  1. From high school, you'll study at university in what's called an undergraduate program. You would normally study science and typically for two years or more.
  2. You’ll then apply to a pharmacy program at university, which takes a further four years to complete.
  3. Once you finish your pharmacy degree, you’ll write a national board examination through the Pharmacy Examining Board of Canada (PEBC).
  4. You also need practical hands-on experience though co-op, an apprenticeship, or an internship; and be fluent in English and/or French.

From high school, you should choose an undergraduate program that gives you the flexibility to take the courses required for admission into a pharmacy program.

What should you study first?

If you want to become a pharmacist and are applying from high school, there isn’t a specific undergraduate program you must take first.

An undergraduate program usually takes three or four years to complete, but you can apply to a pharmacy program after two years if you've taken the courses required for admission.

Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy provides a list of the required university courses you need to take for admission to the program.

From high school, you should choose an undergraduate program that gives you the flexibility to take the courses required for admission into a pharmacy program.

At Waterloo, we recommend the Biology, Biomedical Sciences, or Honours Science undergraduate programs as they offer the most flexibility to meet these requirements.

 

Where can you study to become a pharmacist?

There are 10 schools of pharmacy in Canada, including Waterloo’s School of Pharmacy which is home to Canada’s first and only co-op pharmacy program.

 

Pharmacists wear white coats and many hats

There’s more to pharmacists than you think. In addition to being at your community pharmacy, pharmacists are on the frontlines of every aspect of healthcare — helping to ensure better outcomes for patients. (Source: pharmacistsforhealthierlives.org)


My experience volunteering at a pharmacy has inspired me to continue my studies towards becoming a pharmacist. It’s motivated me because I can give back to the community and do something that I enjoy.

Tiffany, Waterloo Science student

As part of learning how to become a pharmacist, a Waterloo student reviews notes with a professor with pill bottles in the background.

Being a pharmacist involves strong communication skills, the ability to work in a team, attention to detail, and empathy when helping community members.


Canada has approximately 42,500 licensed pharmacists working in more than 10,000 pharmacies. Of those, 70% work in community pharmacies, 15% work in hospitals, and 15% work in settings such as the pharmaceutical industry, government, associations, colleges, and universities.

Canadian Pharmacists Association

Tips for students considering pharmacy as a career

"Volunteer at a pharmacy and make sure you enjoy every aspect of it. It’s important to choose a career that you love and won’t get tired of. You can get some great experience and advice from pharmacists that can help your applications," says Tiffany, a Waterloo science student who plans to study pharmacy.

She recommends researching the different pharmacy requirements and planning out when to take the required courses.

Tiffany says that there isn't a rush on taking the required courses, and that it's important to have a balance of courses you need to take and courses you’re interested in.

She adds that "it’s a good idea to research the pharmacy programs since they’re all different in how the courses are taught, campus life, co-op opportunities, etc. Each university is unique and it’s important to select a program that fits your needs the best."

 

The business side of pharmacy

Pharmacists may work as a salaried full-time or part-time employee of a drugstore chain or independent pharmacy. They may also be employed as managers, taking on duties such as business administration, budgeting, hiring staff and handling customer complaints.

Some pharmacists own their own pharmacies. In addition to their roles as pharmacists, owners also undertake management duties and business operations such as building rental and maintenance, utilities and bill payments, book-keeping and payroll, business registration and licensing and government and regulatory reporting (Source: Pharmacists' Gateway Canada/National Association of Pharmacy Regulatory Authorities)

Pharmacists play an important role in Canada

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