Doctorate in pharmacy
A career in pharmacy can be rewarding even if you work outside the traditional drug store or hospital. Pharmacists routinely choose jobs in nursing homes, research and development, or education. Some serve prison populations, work as medical writers, work in law or forensics, or even specialize in nuclear pharmaceuticals. Naturally, there are many other careers you can consider as well, and you will learn more about those as you progress through your education.
The road to getting your doctorate equips you with a firm foundation beneficial to practice pharmaceutical science. Students learn about the basics of drug interactions, specific bodily systems, pharmaceuticals for different age groups, or for people with certain health conditions, and ethics. Students also need to fulfill clinical hours every year, totaling to the amount required by your state to get your license.
What do pharmacists do?
Pharmacists may have different responsibilities depending on their employment setting, but the following are among the most common:
Filling prescriptions and avoiding drug interactions
Providing education on prescription use and possible side effects
Maintaining records and writing reports
Networking with care teams
Overseeing trainees and technicians
What can you do with a doctorate in pharmacy?
A doctorate of pharmacy immediately entitles you to work as a pharmacist in a community pharmacy or drugstore, or at a hospital. These are the traditional roles most people think of when they envision pharmacists working behind a counter, filling prescriptions for clients.
Down the road, you can specialize in nutrition, oncology (cancer), pediatrics, veterinary science and more. Certification requires extra study and clinical time, but offers both increased job satisfaction and financial benefits.
Some pharmacists own the drugstores they work in. If you like the idea of becoming an entrepreneur as well as a medical practitioner, this provides the perfect opportunity.
» Read: Demand for language diversity in healthcare
Should you get a doctorate in pharmacy?
If you are considering a doctorate in pharmacy but are unsure whether pharmacy is for you, one option is to begin with a pre-med bachelor’s degree. If you choose the right majors, you can dip you toes in the pharmacy pool by working for a period as a pharmacy technician. This comes with the benefit of gaining experience while earning a decent salary, on average, $35,100 a year.
If pharmacy continues to interest you as a career, the next step would be to enroll in a PharmD program. The good news is that pharmacists make a great salary, on average $128,710 annually.
How to pick a PharmD program
Choosing a PharmD program is a complex process, requiring you to weigh your long-term goals with the programs available in your area – or outside your area, if you’re considering a move. Consider factors such as:
Is the program accredited?
This is critical to ensure you get a quality education that meets national academic standards, looks good on job applications, and ensures you know everything needed to make sound medical decisions for your patients. The main accrediting body is the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education, which sometimes works with the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists for joint accreditation.
What concentrations interest you?
Look for programs with concentrations that match your interests, such as infusion and compounding, managed care, pediatrics or geriatrics, public health and policy, as just a few examples.
What U.S. state do you want to work in?
Programs are developed according to the regulations of the state they are offered in. For this reason, it may be a waste of time to move out of state for your education if you plan to start your career in your home state. The opposite is also true.
» Read: Decision fatigue: how to manage during the admissions process
Financial aid and scholarships for PharmD students
Any financial aid search commonly begins with completing the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Be aware that grad school students are only eligible for direct unsubsidized and grad PLUS loans. Additionally, speak to your financial aid office and explore scholarship opportunities. Working in a community capacity may qualify you for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program.
» Read: Types of student loans
PharmD program basics
The specifics of each program vary by state, school, and specialization. However, most PharmD programs:
- comprise 4 years of academic coursework
- include clinical hours at public or private pharmacies or healthcare facilities.
- require completion of the the PCAT (Pharmacy College Admission Test) prior to entry
- do not require a master’s degree
What is a pharmacy intern?
A pharmacy intern is a pharmacist-in-training enrolled in a PharmD program and approaching graduation. The practical component of a degree in pharmacy is significant. Often in their final year of school, pharmacy interns complete extensive training in a clinical setting. Plan for your life to look more like a job than like being in school.
Board certification for specializations
As a pharmacist, certification isn’t mandatory. All the same, it is not uncommon for a licensed pharmacist to decide to become certified in a specific area a few years after launching their career. Below is a list of some of the certifications that are available to pharmacists.
- Critical care
- Ambulatory (outpatient) care
- Nuclear pharmacy
- Psychiatric care
Certification involves passing a board exam with the American College of Clinical Pharmacy. It can increase your salary potential and ability to specialize.
Pharmacy school curriculum
Most PharmD programs require core coursework in human physiology, immunity, pathology, metabolism, drug effects, and pharmaceutical interactions, as well as elective courses in relevant areas of study. Sample foundational courses, common to most programs (though sometimes under different names) include:
- Principles of clinical pharmacology: the basics of prescribing medication and working in a pharmacy
- Health information technology: checking records, recording patient information, and maintaining health management databases
- Human genetics: how our DNA plays into pharmaceutical use and reactions
- Immunity and immunopathology: diseases, how the body fights them, and immune system malfunctions
- Neurodegenerative diseases: pathologies of the brain and nerves
- Regulatory issues in drug research: rules and regulations that impact the pharmaceutical field
How to become a licensed pharmacist
Upon graduation, and before you become licensed, you must take and pass 2 exams:
- North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX), a test designed to evaluate whether you have mastered the skills needed to dispense medications in your state of practice.
- Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination (MPJE), geared toward the laws and regulations of pharmacology in your state.
It is important to note that both of these tests are state-specific. While some states offer reciprocity (you can use an exam in one state as proof of practice in another), many don’t.
What pharmacist careers can you pursue with a PharmD?
The stereotype of a pharmacist working at a neighborhood drugstore is the community pharmacist, but there are several other careers you can also consider, including community pharmacist, pharmacy director, and nuclear pharmacist.
Community pharmacistNet salary: 116K US$
Standard pharmacists dispense medications, keep records, work with doctors and nurses, give vaccinations and offer expertise. With a job growth rate of -2% between 2020 and 2030, plan to give this program your best efforts so that you are a strong candidate on the job market.
Pharmacy directorNet salary: 150K US$
A pharmacy director oversees a group of pharmacists at a clinic, hospital, research department or other location where multiple pharmacists practice. Directors must also ensure compliance and professional standards, hire and fire, manage schedules, and more.
Nuclear pharmacistNet salary: 120K US$
Nuclear pharmacists specialize in radioactive compounds used to help doctors locate specific systems and pathologies inside the body and diagnose and treat conditions. They typically work in research facilities.
What are the next educational steps after a PharmD?
Once you graduate and pass your boards, it’s time to apply for a license. Your program leaders can direct you to the appropriate resources for doing so. You do not need additional training to start work, though some PharmD graduates choose to enroll in an optional residency to continue learning before they begin practicing.
FAQs about PharmD degrees
Do pharmacists need a PhD?
No, pharmacists need a PharmD. This is a doctoral program but not a Doctor of Philosophy, which is what Ph.D. stands for.
Is a doctorate in pharmacy worth it?
If you like working with patients, using science and math in your daily life, and being around people all day, then yes. Plus, the amount of money you can make more than offsets the loans you can acquire in your program, so on a purely financial level, it is literally worth the degree.
Can you get an online PharmD?
It is possible to take some of the foundational coursework remotely. However, in-person work is integral to pharmacy training, with the final year almost entirely composed of clinical practice in community pharmacies or institutions.
American Pharmacists Association
Perhaps the premier professional organizations for pharmacists, this is an excellent resource for anyone in school or practicing professionally.
Covering publications, statistics, major news, standards of practice, continuing education and more, this resource puts out a print publication as well as maintaining a comprehensive web presence.
American College of Clinical Pharmacy
This list of professional organizations, collated by the American College of Clinical Pharmacy (an accrediting body) will help you find specific associations tailored to your interest area.