The beginnings of pharmacy are ancient. When the first person expressed juice from a succulent leaf to apply to a wound, this art was being practiced. In the Greek legend, Asclepius, the god of the healing art, delegated to Hygieia the duty of compounding his remedies. She was his apothecary or pharmacist. The physician-priests of Egypt were divided into two classes: those who visited the sick and those who remained in the temple and prepared remedies for the patients.
In ancient Greece and Rome and during the Middle Ages in Europe, the art of healing recognized a separation between the duties of the physician and those of the herbalist, who supplied the physician with the raw materials from which to make medicines. The Arabian influence in Europe during the 8th century ad, however, brought about the practice of separate duties for the pharmacist and physician. The trend toward specialization was later reinforced by a law enacted by the city council of Bruges in 1683, forbidding physicians to prepare medications for their patients. In America, Benjamin Franklin took a pivotal step in keeping the two professions separate when he appointed an apothecary to the Pennsylvania Hospital.
The development of the pharmaceutical industry since World War II led to the discovery and use of new and effective drug substances. It also changed the role of the pharmacist. The scope for extemporaneous compounding of medicines was much diminished and with it the need for the manipulative skills that were previously applied by the pharmacist to the preparation of bougies, cachets, pills, plasters, and potions. The pharmacist continues, however, to fulfill the prescriber’s intentions by providing advice and information; by formulating, storing, and providing correct dosage forms; and by assuring the efficacy and quality of the dispensed or supplied medicinal product.
The history of pharmaceutical education has closely followed that of medical education. As the training of the physician underwent changes from the apprenticeship system to formal educational courses, so did the training of the pharmacist. The first college of pharmacy was founded in the United States in 1821 and is now known as the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science. Other institutes and colleges were established soon after in the United States, Great Britain, and continental Europe. Colleges of pharmacy as independent organizations or as schools of universities now operate in most developed countries of the world.
To work as a pharmacist one must have a Doctor of Pharmacy degree, known as a Pharm.D. Pharmacy programs are usually four years long and must be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE). To gain admission one must have at least two years of college study with courses including math, chemistry, biology, physics, humanities and social sciences. Applicants generally have to take the Pharmacy College Admissions Test. Doctor of Pharmacy programs include coursework in pharmaceutics and pharmaceutical chemistry, pharmacology (effects of drugs on the body), toxicology and pharmacy administration.
In the U.S., pharmacists must pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam administered by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP). Most states also require graduates to pass the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE), a test of pharmacy law, also administered by the NABP. Other states administer another exam that tests knowledge of pharmacy law. Several states also require additional state-specific exams. All states, except California, grant license transfers from other states.
Pharmacists must have scientific aptitude and good communication skills and be detail-oriented.
Pharmacists working in independent pharmacies may become owners or part-owners after they gain experience and secure the necessary capital. Those in chain drugstores may be promoted to pharmacy supervisors or store managers, then to district or regional managers and eventually to executive positions at the headquarters. Hospital pharmacists may be promoted to supervisory positions. Those who work in the pharmaceutical industry may advance in areas including marketing, sales, research, or quality control.
Employment of pharmacists is expected to grow much faster than the average for all occupations through 2016.