Differences Between Nurse And Pharmacist (Nursing vs Pharmacy)

Are you confused between nursing and pharmacy?

Although both career fields, nurse and pharmacist are into healthcare, still there are so many differences in both of them. A nurse and a pharmacist both have different duties, responsibilities, educational qualifications, skills, salary, and experiences.

Now, whether you should be a nurse or a pharmacist is mainly based on your interest and career objective. On one side, pharmacists specialize in drug knowledge, on the other hand, nurses administer drugs.

Pharmacists have excellent knowledge of drugs, how they interact, how they act in the body, etc. Nurses are into drug administration and direct care of patients. They monitor patient vital signs, monitor drug administration rate, and adverse effects. Hence, we can say that both have different duties and responsibilities.

Before we get into differences between pharmacists and nurses, first understand the differences between nursing school and pharmacy school:

Nursing School VS Pharmacy School

As we have seen, the duties, responsibilities, skills, salary, etc. of pharmacists and nurses are different. Hence, the educational requirements for both the career fields are also different.

In terms of education, the time and money you are required to spend on completing your pharmacy education are quite high as compared to time and money you are required to spend on completing your nursing education.

The time it will take to complete your nursing education will also be based on the kind of nurse you want to be. For example, you can become a Nurse Practitioner (NP), or you can become a Registered Nurse (RN). NP and RN both have different salary structure and education requirements.

Nursing School

The nursing school educational requirements will be based on whether you want to become a registered nurse (RN) or a nurse practitioner (NP). Talking about RN, the requirements mostly include formal education through the diploma program, associate’s program, or bachelor’s degree program. This will prepare candidates to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLE-RN).

You can also be a Nurse Practitioner (NP). The process for becoming an NP is quite long as compared to RN. To become an NP, first, you need to be RN. The salary of nurse practitioners is higher as compared to registered nurses. Here is the process for how to become an NP:

  • First of all, you need to obtain a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree. The bachelor’s program will take around four years to complete, and it will include elective, general education, and nursing courses.
  • The second step in the process is getting the license as a registered nurse. As we have said, the applicant needs to be RN first, before becoming NP.
  • Now, you need to gain specialisations as a registered nurse. You can specialise in areas like mental health, paediatrics, gerontology, neonatal, emergency, and family care.
  • The next step in the process is getting admission to an accredited master of science in nursing (MSN) or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program.
  • After getting the admission, you need to complete the program and earn an MSN or DNP degree.
  • Now, you need to obtain certification from a speciality nursing board. The certification should include your specialization as an NP. The specialization could be specialization in emergency care, mental health, paediatrics, or gerontology. And, the certification may come from ANCC, AANPCB, AACN, PNCB, AANP, and NCC.
  • Now, you can obtain licensure for nurse practitioner (NP).

Pharmacy School

To become a licensed pharmacist, you need to fulfill all the educational and testing requirements. Here is the process to become a pharmacist:

  • First, you need to choose your degree path. Many pharmacy schools offer dual degree programs. It means you can complete any bachelor’s degree alongside your Doctor of Pharmacy program. The Doctor of Pharmacy program requires a minimum of two years of undergraduate study and four academic years of professional pharmacy study.
  • The Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) will be the requirement for getting admission into pharmacy school. This is the requirement for almost all pharmacy schools. PCAT is the multiple-choice questions exam, which covers topics like biological processes, critical reading, and quantitative reasoning.
  • After taking PCAT and choosing your pharmacy degree path, now you need to complete your education. The Doctor of Pharmacy will include these subjects: Biochemistry, Pharmacology, Healthcare management, Pharmacological measurements, Chemotherapy, Biostatistics, and Pathology.
  • Once you complete your pharmacy education, now you need to take licensure exams. You can’t be a registered pharmacist without passing licensure exams. You need to take the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) and either the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE) or a jurisprudence exam specific to your state.
  • After finishing your education and exams, now you need to apply for the license. Once you apply for the license and receive it, you will become a registered pharmacist.

These are the steps involved in becoming a licensed pharmacist. The cost and time involved in becoming a pharmacist are higher as compared to nursing.

Nurse Practitioner (NP) vs Pharmacist

If we compare all three, Registered Nurse (RN), Nurse Practitioner (NP), and Pharmacist in terms of salary, registered nurses get the lowest salary among the three, and pharmacist get the highest salary among these three. This can be a bit different depending on region and specialty of course.

The authority and responsibilities of the NP are quite higher than the RN. To become NP, you first need to be an RN. With higher experience and knowledge, NPs can prescribe medications to patients, while RNs can’t.

Pharmacists and Nurse Practitioners (NP) both are in the related field; however, both of them have different educational requirements, salary structure, experiences, skills, and knowledge.

To become an NP, you need to gain specialization as a registered nurse and must complete the MSN (Master of Science in Nursing) or DNP (Doctor of Nursing Practice) program. And, to become a pharmacist, you need to take the PCAT exam, choose your program degree, get admission to PharmD school and complete it. Then, you need to take licensure exams, and finally, then you need to apply for the license. Having specialization and participation in co-curricular activities can give a boost to your career.

The median salary of Registered Nurses (RN) is $70,000 annually, the median salary of Nurse Practitioners (NP) is $103,880 annually, and the median salary of Pharmacists is $128,090 annually.

This information was pulled from Payscale and is of course a national average. This varies quite a bit as I have seen in the two states I have lived in.

Nursing VS Pharmacy (Real Nurse & Pharmacist Opinions)

We have gone out and gathered information from past or current nursing students, pharmacy students, pharmacists and nurses to get their opinions on differences so you don’t have to take our word for it. We curated this information from several different forums and websites.

The only changes that have been made to these answers are to grammar and spelling.

Real Nursing/Pharmacist Feedback

1. Colleen “Pharmacist of 30 years: Recommends Nursing” – I have been a pharmacist in Canada for almost thirty years now. The profession is changing rapidly. In my opinion there is increasing involvement and pressure on the way we do our job (and try to help patients) by government and other third party payers… and this is not a good thing. If I had to do it again (and if I were less squeamish about bodily fluids) I would recommend nursing. There are less and less jobs for pharmacists, and the job market for nursing is always good. There are also so many diverse settings a nursing degree can be put to use in, and if you are not a fan of the bodily fluids as I am, you can move into administrative positions after a few years. With a little additional study, you can specialize into areas you are particularly interested in, or even earn Nurse Practioner designation, which here anyway means that you can work in a clinic and diagnose and prescribe as a doctor can. If I had a college-aged child who was contemplating a career in Pharmacy however, I can promise you that I would heartily discourage them.

2. Michelle “Nursing is better” – I wanted to be a pharmacist from the time I was 16. Life led me down a different path and now I’m a nurse!. Do I wish I was a pharmacist? Sometimes. I love nursing more than I ever thought I would. I get to help people at their most vulnerable time. As a pharmacist, I wouldn’t be able to help in that way. I think that nursing has many more opportunities such as different fields of nursing that you can try such as labor and delivery, OR, ER, inpatient nursing, outpatient nursing etc. As a pharmacist I think there are a few different opportunities, but retail pharmacy is the most common role a pharmacist ends up in, in my experience. There is hospital pharmacy, nuclear pharmacy, retail pharmacy, and compounding pharmacy, just off the top of my head that I can remember. If you are unhappy in one department of nursing you can move to another field and learn new skills in that department. In my opinion, nursing is better for the opportunities, pharmacy is better for the money that you will make.

3. Joan “Nursing all the way” – There are pluses and minuses to both professions. If your goal is to help people, there is a far greater need for nurses. This nursing shortage not only helps people in need, it also helps drive up their salaries. If I had to choose, I would be a nurse. Although pharmacists can make more money, with the state of healthcare and the big chain pharmacies, the market simply doesn’t support sustained high salaries for pharmacists in most markets. In the end, a nurse has got to enjoy being with and helping people directly. Pharmacists interact as needed but frontline staff handle most face-to-face interactions. Your personality should be seriously taken into account as yet another factor. Best of luck in making this decision.

4. Eric “Shadow both before decision” (Clinical Pharmacist) – It depends on what is important to you and your academic achievement. Financially, pharmacists generally earn more than nurses. Both involve shift work and covering weekends and evenings (hospital pharmacists more so than community pharmacists). Both may involve longer than eight hour shifts. Both also involve differing levels of autonomy.

I would suggest arranging to “shadow” a pharmacist and a nurse, each in a situation that you would consider a desirable job for your lifetime prior to deciding. See which one appeals to you the most and which one you think would yield a high level of job satisfaction for you. Making you advocation your vocation is an excellent life decision and will result in the best quality of life.

5. Cindy “Neither better just different” (RN for 40 years) – Neither one is “better.” They’re just different. It depends where your interests lie. Nursing provides more diverse career opportunities, but pays less than a career in pharmacy.

Pharmacists are specialists whereas nurses are generalists who need to study and know drugs, but also administer them. Nurses have a broader scope of responsibility in terms of patient care.

Nurses can specialize in many different areas and take many different career paths. I think pharmacists have fewer career options in terms of where they work and their roles. Options include retail, acute care, academia, and research.

6. Dana “Both are good degrees for specialization” (Pharmacist) – You are not asking which is a better job, but which is a better degree. A pharmacist gets a doctorate degree as the entry level degree. Nurses have a variety of options. You can get an AA degree and become an LPN. You can get a bachelors degree and become an RN. You can get a masters degree and go on to be a nurse practitioner and treat patients. I’m a pharmacist, so I have my doctorate but went on to get a masters in medical informatics and work as a database engineer for a pharmacy software company. Both degrees are good backgrounds for launching into a specialty career.

7. Saad “Pharmacy is better in my opinion” – pharmacy and nursing? your question should be which thing i can do more passionately they are different professions becuause they are different. think carefully what will give you more peace of mind. both are meant for the sake of humanity but i am doing pharmacy by my own choice because a nurse is stuck in hospital or teacher field while a pharmacist got a more ample opportunity. it is the first time i am answering so i think you are from India…

if you go abroad you will find out how good and reputed profession is pharmacy. in India also you got a opportunity of becoming a retail pharmacist, wholesale pharmacist, drug inspector,lecturer,industry, research field ample opportunity.

Final Thoughts

Whether you should become a nurse or a pharmacist is solely based on your interests and career objective. To help you choose the right career field between these two, here we have discussed various aspects of pharmacy and nursing.

They are completely different careers that will take you down very different paths. As of this writing nurses are definitely in higher demand than pharmacists so that could be additional incentive to choose to be a nurse. That is not saying that the Pharmacist profession is dying out it has just slowed down from the never ending surge it used to be.


Danielle Winner

Hello my name is Danielle Winner. Welcome to my site on Pharmacy School and tips and tricks to hopefully help you get in. It's not easy but hopefully you can learn to not make mistakes that students (myself included) make. Good luck on your journey. I graduated from Albany School of Pharmacy in May 2010 and have had a few different jobs across the east coast of the U.S.

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