Navigating Pharmacy Intern Requirements and Certifications

Discover the ins and outs of being a successful pharmacy intern as a pharmacy student shares essential certifications and requirements.

In all healthcare professions, students are required to have practice hours in real care settings. Pharmacy is no exception to that. Throughout your time in pharmacy school, you will do introductory and advanced pharmacy practice experiences, similar to clinical hours or an externship. You may also have a job in a community or hospital pharmacy. In all of these places, you are overseen by a pharmacist, but you are still responsible for decisions and actions that will have a direct impact on a patient. For this reason, you are required to register with your State Board of Pharmacy as a pharmacy intern.


Pharmacy Intern Requirements

Requirements for registering as a pharmacy intern will vary by state, and some institutions may have specific requirements about when they want you to apply for this license. In my state, the requirements to obtain a pharmacy license include passing a background check, being enrolled in an accredited pharmacy program, and having completed sixty credit hours. If you meet those three requirements, you and your school work together to send your information to the Board of Pharmacy, and your license is granted. For my school, we have to be licensed as a pharmacy intern before we can complete our first introductory pharmacy practice experience at the end of our P2 year, but we are allowed to apply earlier if we meet the requirements. A school close to mine prohibits students from applying for their intern license until their P3 year. Check with your school and your state to know when you can apply.

Interning as a pharmacy student is required by national curriculum standards but is also incredibly valuable to you as a student, as a professional, and as a human. In my two years as a pharmacy intern, I have been able to build connections with others in my profession and, more importantly, with patients. While I likely will not be around my current patients after I graduate, meeting my patients and hearing about their barriers to care and listening to what matters to them has shifted how I view my role in their care. Being a pharmacy intern will also give you time to become familiar with the issues and victories within pharmacy. By the time you graduate, you will have the needed perspective and fresh ideas to begin changing the way we do things. Because if you haven’t already been told, pharmacy is an ever-evolving profession and we control where it goes.


Pharmacy Intern vs Pharmacy Technician

Pharmacy interns have special privileges (varying by state) that typically provide slightly more responsibility than a registered or certified pharmacy technician and less responsibility than a licensed pharmacist. But don’t forget, all actions in a pharmacy must be supervised by a licensed pharmacist, even and especially as an intern.

The most important distinction with this license type is the ability to counsel patients. When talking to younger students, I always tell them that counseling a patient on their medication is an important skill to learn. But in the meantime, your patient will trust what you tell them, so you should only counsel if you are absolutely certain about the counseling points for that medication and that situation. It is always okay to formulate your counseling points in your head, then check with your pharmacist for confirmation before relaying the information to your patient. Your patient will appreciate your confidence to double-check much more than they will appreciate confidence over incorrect information.


Pharmacy School Training and Certifications

HIPAA Training

So what other special requirements do you need to obtain during pharmacy school? Well, the very first training that many places will ask you to complete is a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, also known as HIPAA, training. These are most often given in an online training and take approximately an hour and a half, though they get quicker as the material becomes more familiar. HIPAA training certificates are valid for one year from the date of completion and must be completed annually.


Biosafety Training

You will likely also be expected to complete biosafety training. This covers information over bloodborne pathogens, personal protective equipment, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements, and biological lab safety. These certificates are also valid for one year and completed annually. 


Basic and Advanced Life Support Training

Somewhere in your pharmacy curriculum, you will likely have to go through a Basic and Advanced Life Support (BLS, ALS) training. BLS training can typically be completed in one in-person session, while ALS training typically takes a few in-person sessions. BLS includes the basics, as the name implies, of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillator (AED) use. ALS goes a bit more in-depth, giving the provider the right to deliver medications, use needles to break the skin on a patient, and give basic cut or wound care. Both of these certifications are valid for two years.


Immunization Certification

Finally, you will be expected or required to obtain immunization certification. Pharmacists being able to deliver immunizations is a relatively new practice that has rapidly altered public health outreach in the United States. With the right to give immunizations, pharmacists are able to provide more holistic care to our patients who struggle to access in-office care. This training is done through the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) and consists of a self-study unit and an in-person class. The self-study unit is rated at 12 hours, with an additional 8-hour in-person instruction. The good news is this certificate does not expire as long as your license is in good standing with proper continuing education (CE).

This is a basic breakdown of the certificates that are available to you, and likely expected of you, as a pharmacy intern. Most pharmacy students will begin interning well before obtaining any of these certifications though. The timeline of obtaining these is dictated by your school curriculum, while when you can receive your intern’s license is determined by your state. While each step of this may feel like just another thing to pile onto an already overloaded curriculum, each one is a vital step in allowing us as individuals and as a profession to provide our patients with comprehensive, safe, and effective care.

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