How to Train to Be an Oncology Pharmacist

by Autumn St. John

Oncology pharmacists dispense medicines to cancer patients that provide patients with supportive care and a better quality of life. They also advise patients on how to take their medications safely. Training to be an oncology pharmacist takes a minimum of six years, starting from the time you begin college through pharmacy school.

Post-Secondary Education

You have to spend at least two years in an undergraduate degree program before you can enroll in a pharmacy program to earn the Doctor of Pharmacy degree, or Pharm.D. Some pharmacy programs require a bachelor's degree before enrollment. Pharm. D. programs require post-secondary courses in biology, chemistry and anatomy.

Doctor of Pharmacy

Although certain Pharm. D. programs provide students with a three-year option, most last four years before you can earn your pharmacy degree. In the program, you take courses such as pharmacology and medical ethics. You will also gain work experience under supervision in a variety of settings including retail pharmacies and hospitals. Although Pharm. D. programs don't focus specifically on oncology, your program may allow you to get a rotation in an oncology clinic.

Residency Program

Oncology pharmacists are clinical pharmacists, so you need to complete a residency program following pharmacy school. Oncology pharmacy residency programs typically last one year. Residency programs are offered in a variety of settings, including hospitals and cancer centers affiliated with universities. During the residency, you’ll learn how to treat cancer patients and conduct clinical research. You may also have the opportunity to teach at the residency university or hospital.

Pharmacist License

You must be licensed before you can start practicing as a pharmacist. All of the states require pharmacist licenses. Upon successfully completing your Pharm. D., you become eligible to sit for the two exams you must pass to get licensed. One exam is in pharmacy skills and knowledge while the other is on your state’s pharmacy laws.

Oncology Pharmacy Certification

To be eligible for oncology pharmacy certification from the Board of Pharmacy Specialties, you need practice experience in addition to your pharmacy degree and license. If the residency program is accredited by the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists or is considered for accreditation, you need to have completed one year of practice experience. At least 50 percent of that year must be dedicated to oncology pharmacy activities. If your residency program isn’t ASHP-accredited, you need four years of practice experience instead. The 50 percent rule still applies. You earn certification after passing the Oncology Pharmacy Specialty Certification Examination.

About the Author

Based in London, Autumn St. John has been writing career- and business-related articles since 2007. Her work has appeared in the "Guardian" and "Changing Careers" magazine. St. John holds a Master of Arts in Russian and East European literature and culture from University College London, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in modern history from the University of Oxford.

Photo Credits

  • Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images