What Is a PharmD Degree? Your Guide

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A PharmD, or Doctor of Pharmacy, is a key qualification to become a licensed pharmacist in the United States. Learn more about what earning this degree entails.

[Featured image] A PharmD student stands in a lab wearing a black headscarf, white lab coat, and blue medical gloves.

If your career goal is to become a pharmacist in the United States, you'll have to earn a Doctor of Pharmacy degree, often abbreviated as PharmD. This professional degree qualifies you to sit for the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX). Passing this test can lead to a career as a retail pharmacist, informatics pharmacist, or drug safety specialist. 

Doctor of Pharmacy degree: The basics

A PharmD degree is a professional graduate-level degree designed for people who want a pharmacist career. In many ways, this degree is like the Doctor of Medicine (MD) and Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) degrees. You may start by earning a bachelor's degree in a related field and then enroll in a PharmD program to demonstrate your interest in the field and your plans to embark on a journey toward a pharmacy career.

PharmD program length and options

Between the coursework, internship, and residency, you can expect to spend about six years earning a pharmacy degree. A pharmacy degree program typically takes four years to finish, and the residency may be one or two years. You may be able to participate in an accelerated program that shaves off about a year of the total time. 

PharmD cost

You can expect an average tuition for the entire program of $14,800 to $82,000 at a public school. A private school can cost between  $74,800 and $160,000 [1].The price you’ll pay for tuition depends on several factors, like where you attend and how long it takes to complete the requirements. You may qualify for scholarships or tuition reimbursement opportunities through your employer to help cover some or all of the cost of your education.

How to earn a PharmD

To earn a Doctor of Pharmacy, you must earn a bachelor's degree, get accepted into an accredited pharmacy school, and complete the required coursework. You may notice some variations in school requirements, but these basic steps should be similar wherever you apply: 

1. Complete undergraduate requirements.

Before attending a pharmacy school, you need a bachelor's degree. You may major in any subject as an undergraduate, but many pharmacy schools have prerequisite courses you need to take before you can be admitted into the program. The coursework you complete for a science major may include some of the prerequisite courses required by the school. 

Another option is to major in pre-pharmacy studies to prepare for the coursework you'll encounter in a PharmD program. Additional requirements at the undergraduate level include a minimum GPA in your undergraduate coursework, an intern pharmacist license, and a criminal background check.

2. Pass the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT).

The Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) is an entrance exam used by some pharmacy schools to evaluate applicants. While some schools still expect you to take and pass the exam, you can find others that waive this requirement. The test measures your knowledge of biological and chemical processes, critical reading, quantitative reasoning, and writing [2].

3. Submit your pharmacy school application.

Many pharmacy schools accept online applications through the school's website or the Pharmacy College Application Service (PharmCAS). PharmCAS lets you apply to more than one pharmacy school at a time. Note that this service is available for first-year pharmacy students. If you're transferring to a different school, you likely need to complete the application directly with the school you want to attend.

When choosing schools, look for one that has received accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE). You also may find it helpful to review all the admission requirements, as you may need to pay an application fee, submit letters of recommendation, and more when you submit your application. 

4. Complete PharmD coursework.

Getting accepted to pharmacy school is just the beginning. You also have to complete the required coursework for the degree. Some of the courses you can expect to take include the following:

  • Becoming a Pharmacist

  • Integrated Biochemical Sciences

  • Pharmacy and Population Health

  • Principles of Medicinal Chemistry and Pharmacology

  • Principles of Patient-centered Care

  • Principles of Pharmacy Law & Ethics

5. Gain experience in a pharmacy setting.

Some schools expect applicants to have more than a general understanding of a pharmacist's work. Before you enroll, you may need to spend some time shadowing a practicing pharmacist or completing an externship program. Alternatively, you may volunteer in a health care setting or work in a pharmacy as a pharmacy technician. Your school may also expect pharmacy students to complete an internship, which may be paid.

Required licenses to be a pharmacist

The requirements for licensure to be a pharmacist varies from state to state. Each state sets its own licensing requirements, which typically include a degree from an accredited school, a minimum number of internship hours, and a passing score on an exam. Check with the state where you plan to work to determine which test to take, which may include one of the following:

  • North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX)

  •  Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE)

  • Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Examination Committee (FPGEC)

PharmD job opportunities and career outlook

Pharmacists work in various environments, including hospitals, pharmacies, drug stores, and food and beverage stores. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 42 percent of pharmacists work at pharmacies or drug stores, and 27 percent work at hospitals [3]. Overall, the BLS expects the number of pharmacy jobs to decline, but pharmacies still need pharmacists to replace those who change jobs or choose to retire.

Job titles for PharmD graduates 

Earning a PharmD degree prepares you for a career as a pharmacist. As such, many of the job titles you'll find include the term. The list below shows some of the different roles you may be able to pursue: 

  • Pharmacist: As a pharmacist, your responsibilities include filling prescriptions, maintaining inventory, and updating patient records.

  • Director of Pharmacy: As the Director of Pharmacy, you’ll oversee all aspects of the pharmacy and work to continually improve its operation and safety.

  • Clinical pharmacist: A clinical pharmacist works closely with physicians and other health care staff to evaluate patient medications and dispense them appropriately.

  • Pharmacist in charge: A pharmacist in charge is a supervisory role that requires supervising pharmacy staff, ensuring compliance, working with insurance companies, and filling prescriptions.

  • Nuclear pharmacist: As a nuclear pharmacist, you’ll work with drugs that have radioactive properties. You’ll prepare and dispense the medications and ensure they are correctly and safely prepared for transport to their destination.

Next steps

Explore whether a career in pharmacy might be a good fit for you by taking a like Chemicals and Health from Johns Hopkins University or Understanding Patient Perspectives on Medications from the University of Copenhagen. Once you sign up for a free account on Coursera, you can explore more than 5,000 courses - many of which are free to audit.

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Article sources

1. Vocational Training.HQ “ How Much Does Pharmacy School Cost?,   https://www.vocationaltraininghq.com/cost/pharmacy-school/.“ Accessed July 28, 2022.

2. Pearson. “PCAT Test Blueprint and Sample Items, https://www.pearsonassessments.com/content/dam/school/global/clinical/us/assets/pcat/pcat-test-blueprint-and-sample-items.pdf.” Accessed July 28, 2022.

3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Pharmacists, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacists.htm.” Accessed July 28, 2022.

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