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Is being a pharmacist worth it financially?

Pharmacy is a well-respected profession that requires extensive education and training. Pharmacists play a vital role in healthcare by dispensing medications, providing patient care, and educating the public on proper medication use. However, the costs of pharmacy school and licensing have left many wondering if the financial investment is worth the payoff. This article examines the key financial considerations of being a pharmacist to help readers decide if it’s a worthwhile career path financially.

How much does it cost to become a pharmacist?

The first financial consideration is the cost of education and training. To become a licensed pharmacist, the following education is required:

  • Bachelor’s degree – Most students complete at least 2 years of undergraduate pre-pharmacy coursework before applying to a Pharm.D. program. This averages around $40,000-$60,000 for a public in-state school.
  • Pharm.D. degree – A Doctor of Pharmacy takes 4 years to complete at an accredited pharmacy school. Tuition alone costs between $30,000-$50,000 per year for a public in-state school and over $75,000 for out-of-state or private schools. With books, fees, and living expenses, Pharm.D. education can total over $200,000.
  • Licensure – All states require pharmacists to be licensed, involving passing 2 exams and paying fees. The exams cost $475-$1000 total, while licensing fees range from $100-$500 depending on the state.

In total, the cost to become a licensed pharmacist ranges from around $150,000 on the low end to over $250,000 on the high end. This investment of both time and money is substantial compared to many other careers.

How much do pharmacists earn?

Although the upfront costs are high, pharmacists also earn relatively high salaries which helps repay the investment over time. Some key stats on pharmacist pay include:

  • The average annual wage for pharmacists is around $126,000 per year or $60 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • The top 10% of earners make over $160,000 annually.
  • Most pharmacists make between $90,000-$140,000 depending on experience and location.
  • Higher pay is often found in retail rather than hospital settings.

In addition to competitive base pay, pharmacists often qualify for bonuses and profit sharing, bringing total compensation even higher. More opportunities also tend to open up for leadership roles, independent ownership, or clinical services which boost income as you advance in your career.

How long does it take to pay off pharmacy school debt?

With high earnings potential but also high upfront education costs, an important consideration is the timeline for paying off student loans. Some key factors include:

  • The starting average student debt for pharmacy school graduates is around $170,000.
  • Standard 10-year student loan repayment plans range from around $1700-$2500 per month.
  • On a starting pharmacist salary of $100,000, it would take approximately 10-15 years to fully repay the debt through consistent payments.
  • Loan forgiveness programs for public service or income-driven repayment plans can reduce repayment timelines.
  • Paying off debt faster is possible with disciplined budgeting, higher salaries, bonuses, loan refinancing, or other strategies.

Even on an above-average pharmacist income, loan repayment still requires diligence and dedication for many years post-graduation. Having a plan in place is key to paying off the debt while still meeting other financial goals.

How do pharmacist salaries compare to cost of living?

While the raw earnings numbers look attractive for pharmacy careers, cost of living is also important for assessing real-world finances. Some key comparisons on costs:

  • The average pharmacist salary is about 2-3x higher than the national median personal income.
  • Pharmacists earn similar wages to physicians in primary care, dentists, engineers, and lawyers.
  • Housing costs can vary substantially depending on location. The median home price is $270,000 in the U.S., requiring an annual income of around $67,000 to qualify for a mortgage based on typical lending standards.
  • Overall cost of living tends to be higher in major metro areas with the highest pharmacist salaries like New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Houston.
  • Areas with the lowest cost of living tend to correspond with lower pharmacy pay, although pay-to-cost ratios can still be favorable.

In many areas, a pharmacist salary can support a solid middle-class lifestyle, including home ownership. Having a higher income does also come with higher taxes. Overall, pharmacy incomes tend to track with cost of living fairly closely.

How can pharmacists boost their income potential?

While the average pharmacist earnings are quite strong, there are also opportunities to increase pay through strategy and career planning. Some options include:

  • Pursuing promotions into pharmacy management or leadership roles.
  • Obtaining certifications in specialty areas like nutrition, oncology, or diabetes care.
  • Gaining expertise in high-paying practice settings like compounding pharmacy.
  • Relocating to regions with higher pharmacy salaries.
  • Negotiating sign-on bonuses, raises, performance incentives, and other perks.
  • Picking up overtime hours.
  • Starting a side hustle like medical writing or consulting.
  • Opening your own independent or specialty pharmacy after gaining experience.

The most profitable pharmacist careers combine skill-building, business acumen, and calculated career moves over many years. However, the profession offers strong six-figure potential for those willing to work for it.

What are the future prospects for pharmacist salaries?

When assessing the long-term career and financial outlook, expected growth for pharmacist salaries is also helpful context. Some projections include:

  • The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts pharmacist employment will grow 2% from 2020 to 2030, slower than the average for all occupations. However, over 10,000 openings per year are still expected from retiring pharmacists.
  • While pharmacy schools and graduates have increased in recent decades, the supply and demand balance is projected to remain fairly stable going forward.
  • Increased use of pharmacy technicians and automation technology could exert downward pressure on pharmacist salaries at some employers.
  • Demand for pharmacists in hospitals, clinics, and specialty medication areas may see stronger growth than retail drugstores.
  • New services like vaccine administration, health counseling, and prescription delivery may bolster pharmacist job prospects and pay to some degree.

Overall, while pharmacy is unlikely to see dramatic salary spikes, consistently strong demand, job security, and incomes are expected for the foreseeable future.


The bottom line is that being a pharmacist requires major upfront investment and can take over a decade to fully repay educational debt. However, pharmacists also earn well above average incomes over their careers and the profession offers long-term stability. Individual motivations and career preferences play a big role. For those willing to take on the education requirements, pharmacy offers solid financial benefits for most who enter the field, especially if they strategically work to boost their earnings over time. It ultimately comes down to each person’s career priorities and tolerance for the initial years of loan repayment after graduation.