Handing out prescription medicines to consumers is a higher calling.

Helping people follow their physician's guidance and getting them the tools they need to cope with or recover from an illness can be a difference-maker in many lives. Most pharmacists know they have chosen a gratifying profession.

They may also be gratified by the financial rewards, as pharmacists rank on the higher end of professional occupations.

Let's fill out an RX of our own, and put a microscope over physician salaries in the U.S. to see just how much the profession offers potential pharmacy professionals these days.

What Is the Average Salary of a Pharmacist?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, pharmacists earn $126,120 annually, or $60.64 per hour on the job.

Percentile-wise, the top 10% of U.S. pharmacists earned around $161,250 in 2018, while the bottom 10% of the pharmacy trade earned about $87,790.

A pharmacist's salary does depend on where he or she practices his or her vocation geographically. Also, there are some caveats on time and scheduling, too, that might factor into a pharmacist's salary.

According to the USBL, salary depends on where a pharmacist plies the trade, as follows:

  • General merchandise stores - $131,460.00
  • Food and beverage stores - $130,140.00
  • Hospitals, state, local and private - $127,330.00
  • Pharmacies and drug stores - $124,760

PayScale.com also takes a regular look at average annual pharmacy salaries, and their outlook is a bit lower than the one provided by Uncle Sam and the U.S. Labor Department.

According to PayScale, the average U.S. pharmacist salary stood at $111,525 at the end of 2018, with a broad salary range of between $76,000 and $134,000.

While pharmacy skills categories like pediatrics and hospital/clinic pharmacy are in decline, and are thus limiting salaries, other areas like retail pharmacy oncology and long-term senior care were on the rise in 2018, and are setting the table for higher pay in those categories.

How Pharmacists Fare on a Regional Basis

Geography plays a big role in how much pharmacists are paid in the U.S.

That's because supply-demand issues matter and salaries generally grow higher in high-volume urban areas where the demand for trained pharmacy professionals is robust.

Consider states like Idaho ($120,900 average salary) or Iowa ($115,000 average salary) - in low-population states, the trend tilts toward lower annual average salaries for professional pharmacists.

Conversely, high-population states like New York ($126,100) or California ($151,800) tend to pay their pharmacists better, but that's also likely due to the high costs of living in those states.

Then there's the geography issue. Far-away states like Alaska ($136,600) pay their pharmacists relatively higher salaries because so few professional pharmacists choose to ply their trade in Alaska, compared to states like New York, Florida or California.

Consequently, if you want to take your pharmacist credentials to a land filled with fresh air, scenic vistas, and hardy people, Alaska could be the state for you.

What Other Factors Impact a Pharmacists Salary?

There are other factors that come into play that can sway pharmacists salaries one way or the other.

Who's the Boss?

In what capacity a pharmacist works matters, too, in terms of salary. As noted above, working at a general merchandise store is one's best bet at topping out on a pharmacist's paycheck, while working at an actual pharmacy leads you down to the lower rungs of pharmacist pay.

The issue goes beyond general retailer versus small pharmacy, however.

U.S. government data shows that working for the public sector as a pharmacist, especially in the federal government or the military, will likely earn a pharmacist less money. Even so, the benefits earned by a government-based pharmacist professional are usually better than benefits earned in the private sector, so that narrows the gap financially.

What Does the Pharmacist Do?

In general, pharmacists fill prescriptions, consult with doctors' offices, advise health care consumers how best to take their medications, and even give flu shots.

But a pharmacist with more managerial responsibilities, like running a retailer's pharmacy operation, filling inventory orders, meeting with prescription drug representatives, and spending more time on the pharmacy's business operations, will earn more than someone who simply takes and fills prescriptions at a pharmacy.

What Kind of Pharmacist Are You?

Like flavors of Baskin Robbins Ice Cream, pharmacists come in different professional titles and categories, and that influences the size of their paychecks, too.

Consider these occupational titles:

Community Pharmacists

This class of pharmacists work in local retail outlets, like a CVS

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or a Walmart

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. They handle the bread-and-butter chores of pharmacy work, like filling prescriptions and handling consumer queries. These pharmacists are in demand, and depending on geographical locations, top out financially in pharmacist pay categories.

Clinical Pharmacists

This type of pharmacist doesn't meet with the public as much as a community pharmacist. Instead, they usually work at hospitals and medical clinics consulting with physicians or health care teams on preferable prescription drug options for patients.

Some also may consult directly with patients in a clinical environment, discussing and advising the best prescription items for particular diseases, like cancer or diabetes. They are paid well, but slightly less than community pharmacists.

Consultant Pharmacists

These pharmacists fall into the wholesale end of the prescription drug business, meeting with and advising health care centers and insurance companies on how consumers are responding to specific drugs and treatments.

They, too are paid handsomely, but aren't in demand as much as community pharmacists, and may earn less than pharmacists running CVS' or Walmart's pharmacy.

Time is a financial commodity, too, as it turns out. Pharmacists can put in longer hours, often working nights and weekend, and in the younger phase of their careers, they may work holidays, too.

That's why the "time factor" should considered in the pharmacy profession, as well.

Do Pharmacists Earn More Than Doctors?

In a word, "no."

In a 2017 analysis of major health care occupations by U.S. News & World Report, general physicians earned about $190,000 annually, compared to $120,000 for pharmacists.

In fact, pharmacists don't come close to the salary of professional dentists, either. According to U.S. News, dentists earn more than $160,000 annually - significantly more than pharmacists.

That said, there's a decent argument to be made that doctors and dentists face more business and bureaucratic presses than pharmacists, who don't have to deal with life and death situations on a regular basis.

Pharmacists also don't usually have to deal with as much paperwork as a doctor or dentist, especially those who run their own practices and clinics.

How to Become a Pharmacist

Becoming a pharmacist is serious work - you'll need to . . .

  • Be accredited as a Doctor of Pharmacy (which often is a post-graduate degree) from a college and medical school level pharmacy program, and you'll need to be licensed in any state you operate.
  • Pass state-specific license exams.
  • Take (and pass) post-graduate college courses like biology, chemistry and physics.
  • Complete undergraduate work with at least two years of study in the business and/or medical fields.
  • Complete post-graduate work in either a three or (more likely) four-year credentialed college pharmacy program, taking and passing core courses like medical ethics, pharmacology and chemistry.
  • Complete an internship at a business, medical school hospital or retail in your field of study.
  • Complete a one- or two-year residency at a clinical, internal medicine or research facility.

After all that work, you'll need to pass two important pharmaceutical industry exams - the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) and The Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE) - or similar state-approved pharmacist exam.

You'll likely earn a higher salary if you also complete a master's degree in business, which gives you stronger credibility as a pharmacist, especially in retail and hospital industry settings.

What's the Outlook for the Pharmacist Industry?

With the high demand for professional pharmacist in recent decades, the job market has become somewhat saturated, with some stores and hospitals curbing pharmacist owners below 40 hours a week in recent years.

Like any industry, though, the pharmacy sector runs in cycles, and it's highly likely that demand for pharmacists rises again, especially as the Baby Boomer generation edges more and more into retirement, and more and more into lines at stores, clinics and pharmacies to collect their prescription drugs.

If nothing else, that gives a pharmacist job a high degree of dependability going forward, and will likely add more dollars to the industry salary structure, with pharmacist salaries already growing by around 3% or 4% in the past few years.

That pace should pick up in the coming years with the U.S. government pegging pharmacist job growth rate of 6% through 2026.

Couple that with the burgeoning demand for prescription drugs across the world - the worldwide pharmaceuticals market was valued at $934.8 billion in 2017 and is expected to crest $1,170 billion in 2021, growing at a 5.8% clip; job prospects in the industry brighten even further.

Thus, if you can manage to survive six years of college training and the accompanying student-loan debt that brings to the table, and pass the necessary exams and get fully licensed, you too can enter the pharmacy sector in fine fashion earning six-figures after only a few years of labor.