Pharmacists fill medications that doctors have prescribed to people. They also provide drug information, give some medical advice within their scope of practice, and can recommend over-the-counter treatment.

A pharmacist’s expertise relates to the study and use of drugs to treat health conditions. There are various roles a pharmacist can hold. However, people may first think of community, outpatient, or retail pharmacists generally when they hear the word.

This article looks at what pharmacists do and cannot do as part of their role, specializations and types of pharmacists, examples of their daily responsibilities, and how to become a pharmacist.

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According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), pharmacists are experts in medications (drugs) and provide people with the relevant treatment and support for minor health concerns.

Information from 2014 suggests that the primary duty of a pharmacist is to check prescriptions from physicians before filling them. They ensure a person receives the correct drug and dose. They will also provide guidance on possible adverse effects and assess whether a person has any allergies to medications.

Pharmacists organize repeat prescriptions. They may also check for any side effects where appropriate, which people can discuss with their healthcare professional.

They are also responsible for:

  • checking the quality of the production
  • preparing the medications
  • ensuring the medication supply chain is within the law
  • ensuring the pharmacy premises and systems are fit for purpose
  • checking the medications suit the person prescribed them
  • advising people on how to take the medications and on any possible adverse effects (medication counseling)
  • answering all queries and questions about medications for sale in pharmacies

Services the pharmacy provides

Other services that may be available at a local pharmacy include:

Pharmacists usually fill medications that healthcare professionals prescribe to people. They also provide relevant information about the drugs and their uses.

Filling (dispensing) medications includes all of the necessary steps to translate a prescription into a medication supply that is both safe and appropriate.

As a 2020 paper discusses, pharmacists aim to protect and promote people’s health. They provide clear information about the correct use of a drug and its possible contraindications so that a person gets the maximum benefit and safe use of a drug.

As qualified medical professionals, pharmacists may also offer advice and over-the-counter (OTC) medications for a range of minor illnesses, including:

While pharmacists may be able to provide medications for minor illnesses, they cannot prescribe antibiotics and other prescription medications as they are unavailable over the counter.

If a person’s symptoms suggest something more serious, pharmacists will not be able to diagnose them. However, they can advise people to consult their doctor who will likely recommend diagnostic tests and suitable treatments.

The Board of Pharmacy Specialities (BPS) recognizes pharmacists across 14 specialties, including:

  • ambulatory care
  • cardiology
  • compounded sterile preparations
  • critical care
  • emergency medication
  • geriatric
  • infectious diseases
  • nuclear
  • nutrition support
  • oncology
  • pediatric
  • pharmacotherapy
  • psychiatric
  • solid organ transplantation

Types of pharmacists

According to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), most pharmacists work in independent or community pharmacies. Pharmacists may also work in other healthcare settings, including:

  • hospitals
  • nursing homes
  • managed care organizations
  • pharmaceutical industry
  • colleges and schools
  • federal government

Pharmacists typically need a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree from an accredited pharmacy program licensed by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE).

Pharm.D. programs usually take 4 years to complete.


Pharm.D. programs require at least a 2 year undergraduate course in a subject such as:

  • anatomy and physiology
  • physics
  • statistics
  • general and organic chemistry
  • biology
  • microbiology

Work experience

Students must also undertake supervised work experience in hospital settings or community pharmacies.


Following graduation from a Pharm.D. program, pharmacists may complete a 1–2 year residency program to train in a specialty area.

Licenses and certifications

All states in the United States require pharmacists to have a license. After completing their degree, pharmacists must pass two exams to obtain it. To maintain their license, they must complete continuing education hours. However, the number of hours varies from state to state.

Pharmacists may also choose to earn a certification to demonstrate their advanced knowledge in a specific field.

In most states, pharmacists must also have a certification to administer vaccinations.

Pharmacists provide people with the relevant drugs that their doctors have prescribed. They also can recommend OTC medications for minor health concerns and provide advice.

Pharmacists also provide other services, such as vaccinations, emergency contraception, and screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, or blood sugar.

Pharmacists cannot prescribe antibiotics or other prescription medications to people. They will also not be able to provide a diagnosis. However, they can recommend that a person speak with a doctor if their symptoms seem concerning or do not improve from OTC drugs.

There are various types of pharmacists who work across settings other than a pharmacy, including hospitals and colleges.

There are various degrees, training, and certifications that a person requires to become a pharmacist.