5 Steps to Earn a Pharmacy Degree

Pharmacists play an important role in medicine. Their understanding and knowledge have contributed to enhancing the quality of life of people the world over. The market itself is huge and continues to grow, going above and beyond the so-called ‘Big Pharma’. The industry continues to develop and now includes distribution, dispensation, testing, research and development, and more. But how do you become a pharmacist?

STEP 1 – Complete One of Two Relevant Degree Pathways

You have two options available to you in terms of earning a pharmacy degree. The first is to complete a bachelor’s degree, followed by a graduate degree. The second is to enroll in a combined, accelerated degree program straight away.

At the undergraduate level, you will need to take some courses in:

• Biology
• Chemistry
• Toxicology

Regardless of the option you choose, you will need to finish courses at the graduate level in:

• Organic and general chemistry
• Human physiology and anatomy.
• Cellular and molecular biology
• Statistics
• Microbiology
• English
• Calculus

STEP 2 – Complete a Doctorate Degree

You can enroll in a doctorate degree in pharmacy after you have finished a graduate degree in a relevant field. In this degree, you will place a strong focus on research and development, while at the same time placing a stronger emphasis on the exact area of pharmacy you would like to become employed in.

If you are considering completing a pharmacy degree, you do have to make sure that you meet all the necessary admission requirements. The PharmD, as the degree is known, is highly competitive, and you must be prepared for this. Exact admission requirements will vary depending on the school you have chosen. However, most will want to see:

• The completion of pre-pharmacy doctoral education as described in step 1.
• A GPA of 3.0 minimum, and usually higher in biology and chemistry.
• The passing of the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT), required by 85% of all colleges as of 2016.
• Letters of recommendation
• An interview
• A biographical sketch

At the doctorate degree level for pharmacy, courses will usually include:

• Bioorganic principles of medicinal chemistry
• Biopharmaceutics
• Pharmacy practice skills
• The U.S. health care system
• Pharmaceutical calculations

STEP 3 – Pass the Licensure Examination

Each state mandates the exact requirements for pharmacy licensure. Check with your local board, therefore, about what you need to hold and present. However, generally speaking, the requirements are:

• That you have graduated from a program that has been accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE)
• That you complete each of the three parts of the examination, which are the written and practical exam, the multi-state pharmacy jurisprudence exam (MSPJE), and the North American pharmacist licensing exam (NAPLEX).

The NAPLEX is a 185 question examination that looks at your understanding of therapeutic outcomes in pharmacotherapy, distributing and preparing medication, and improving health outcomes. The NAPLEX is an adaptive examination, where the selection of questions is based on previous answers. If you fail, you can usually reapply, although each state has its own limits on how often you can retake the exam.

The MSPJE, meanwhile, looks at state and federal laws. This test is not a requirement in all states, as some have not signed up to this system. The goal is to make sure you understand the legalities of distributing and prescribing drugs.

The written and practical exam, meanwhile, varies from one state to the next, as it is created by the local state boards.

STEP 4 – Undergo Further Training

In many cases, people who have a pharmacy degree are interested in a specific field of pharmacology. This means that they also have to complete a residency, focusing on areas such as pharmacoepidemiology or psychopharmacology. If your aim is to become a researcher, then post-doctoral training is a requirement.

STEP 5 – Obtain Continuous Education Credits

In order for you to continue to hold a license in pharmacy, you must earn continuing education credits. Since 2016, all states have signed up to the agreement that, although the number of hours varies from 15 to 30 hours, the length of time between each renewal is usually two years. Do make sure that you check with your state board as to which courses are acceptable, as they may need to have received approval from the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy.

Degree Combinations

The confusing part about completing a pharmacy degree, which is the PharmD at doctoral level, is that you have a number of different routes to do that, with some combining steps 1 and 2 described above. Some of the available options through different universities across the country are:

1. The Doctor of Pharmacy, which is a four-year degree program, leading to a general pharmacist career. It requires some undergraduate coursework.
2. The Bachelor and Doctor of Pharmacy Hybrid degree, which takes between six and eight years to complete. After two years, students take the PCAT before they are allowed to continue. Graduates end with both a bachelor’s degree and a Ph.D.
3. The Doctor of Pharmacy Combined degrees, which take between six and eight years to complete. This is generally a combination of the Doctor of Pharmacy, as well as an additional specialization, combining it, for instance, with an MBA or Juris Doctor.

Career Concentrations with a Pharmacy Degree

If you are considering a pharmacy degree, or you have enrolled in one and are looking towards the future, it is important to understand that there are many different areas of concentration that you can choose from. The most popular concentrations, which will then require training (sometimes at post-doctoral level), include:

• Pharmacoepidemiology
• Pharmacoeconomics
• Gerontology
• Global medicine
• Health care decision analysis

Essential Skills

There are also a number of essential skills you have to possess, and you should measure your proficiency in these before you decide to enroll in a pharmacy degree. These skills include:

• Recollection
• Attention to detail
• Knowledge about drugs
• Ability to work with others
• Computer literacy
• Working with different tools and technologies
• A willingness to continue to learn

Pharmacy Organizations

Should you be interested in getting a pharmacy degree, but you are looking for further information about requirements, which career opportunities are available, or how to choose between the different degree options, there are a number of excellent organizations that are ready to help you. These include the:

• American Pharmacists Association
• American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET)
• American Society for Clinical Pharmacology and Therapeutics (ASCPT)
• Various local pharmacists’ associations, listed with the National Community of Pharmacists Associations (NCPA)

As you can see, there are a lot of things to be aware of when it comes to the pharmacy degree. One of the reasons for this is that it is a very specialized degree, with a narrow area of focus. Students are expected to know what they want to do at bachelor’s degree level, which can be quite difficult to do. It is also for this reason that various combined degrees have been made available, so that those who have completed an undergraduate degree in a scientific field, still have the opportunity to then move on to pharmacy.


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Written by Robert Sanchez
Robert Sanchez is HealthGrad.com's Chief Editorialist. Robert Sanchez has over 10 years experience in the Healthcare field and more recently has become an avid writer advising on career and job topics in this exciting field.

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