With an ever increasing demand for health care, more and more students are considering a career as a pharmacist. Before you make that decision, you should become aware of the requirements and career opportunities available for pharmacists. As a pharmacy school student, I have not only experienced the application process but also researched many aspects of the pharmacy profession.
According to a May 2008 BLS report, there are 266,410 pharmacists in the United States who earn an average of $50.13/hour ($104,620 annually). Salaries vary based on geographical location, employer, and other factors. Many newly registered pharmacists report huge signing bonuses in more rural or in demand areas.
As time passes, pharmacists continue to be given more and more responsibilities within the health care system. Contrary to popular belief, a pharmacist’s job does not constitute counting pills from 9 to 5. Only 62% of pharmacists hold traditional community (retail) pharmacy positions (BLS). Other exciting pharmacy careers include positions in a clinical setting (administering drugs as a part of a medical team), a research lab, a government agency (e.g. poison control), a university, a corporation, a nuclear pharmacy (compounding and dispensing of radioactive materials for use in nuclear medicine procedures), and many others. Unlike other medical professional careers, pharmacy has a diverse range of careers available. In addition, most pharmacists do not need any residency experience for most careers (you will need 1-2 years of residency experience to become a clinical pharmacist).
The Increasing Demand for Pharmacists
Pharmacy careers expect a whopping 22% growth in jobs available from 2006 to 2016 (May 2008 report). With the population aging and filled prescriptions increasing, the demand for pharmacists is projected to grow in all pharmacy settings. Although job placement varies based on geographical location, pharmacists will have little trouble finding a job.
The Doctor of Pharmacy Degree (Pharm.D.) requires a minimum of 2 years of undergraduate coursework (most students receive a bachelor’s a degree prior to starting pharmacy school) followed by 3 to 4 years of Pharmacy school. Out of high school, students can apply for Pharmacy schools that have a joint undergraduate and Pharm.D. program which lasts from 5 to 7 years. These programs are also known as “0-6 programs” or “early assurance programs.” It is important to note that a Doctor of Pharmacy Degree is different than obtaining a Ph.D. or M.S. in Pharmacy. The Bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy has been phased out for the most part, although you may occasionally hear about a registered pharmacist (R.Ph.), who only received a B.S. in pharmacy before the implementation of the Pharm.D. as the norm for pharmacists. I don’t know much about online Pharm.D. program, but I am very skeptical about these programs as pharmacy school is very rigorous with many hands on labs, which would be impossible to do online. Pharmacists are technically doctors (Dr.), but many opt to just place the ‘Pharm.D.’ title after their names.
There is no requirement or restriction on undergraduate majors for pharmacy school. Many students choose to pursue Biological Sciences and Chemistry majors as many of the pharmacy prerequisites are requirements for those majors. Other students pursue a wide variety of majors (business, art, psychology, economics, engineering, etc.) before beginning their pharmacy careers. In the end, successful completion of prerequisites is what really matters; however, choosing a biology or chemistry (or similar major) may give you a stronger science background to prepare you for the material presented to you in pharmacy school.
PharmCAS (Pharmacy College Application Service) is the “centralized application service for applicants.” Although a majority of the pharmacy schools use this service, there are a few pharmacy schools that choose not to use PharmCAS. Students use PharmCAS to submit Letter of Recommendations (done either online or by paper), transcripts, a personal statement, and additional application information. This service is not free, and you will need to pay $140 for first pharmacy school and $40 for each pharmacy school after that. It is important to note that some pharmacy schools require you to send in some of the application material DIRECTLY to them in addition to sending it to PharmCAS.
Many schools also require a supplemental application and an additional fee in addition to the PharmCAS application. The supplemental application usually contains essays which gives a clearer picture of the candidate and his or her fit with a pharmacy school. PharmCAS has a pharmacy school information page, which lists all of the pharmacy schools and their specific application requirements.
Every pharmacy school requires the infamous interview process to judge your fit for their program. Although the weight placed on the interview varies from school to school, one’s performance at an interview is a significant factor to receive admission to pharmacy schools.
Prerequisites vary greatly from school to school. You can also find browse the school list supplied by PharmCAS to get more information on the perquisites. You may apply for pharmacy programs before completing all of your prerequisites, but you must complete them before matriculation. For exact course equivalencies (exact course numbers from your institution), check to see if the school you are applying for has a webpage that allows you to check to see the exact course numbers from different schools. I know that USC and UOP have this available for students. UCSF and UCSD has their course equivalencies listed on Assist.org.
Prerequisites can be taken at your primary institution or at a community college. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, it is more economical to attend a community college to knock out all your prerequisites. If you are currently enrolled as an undergraduate at a university, it is generally okay to take a few prerequisites at a junior college; however, you do not want to make it seem as if you are dodging all the difficult course requirements.
The PCAT is the “Pharmacy College Admissions Test.” Not all pharmacy schools require the PCAT (14 pharmacy schools that use PharmCAS do not require it, my other article lists these schools). The material covered on the PCAT as described from the AACP website: The PCAT is divided into separate sections, or subtests, each of which is timed separately. During the time allowed for each subtest, you will be permitted to work only on that section. You will not be allowed to go back to earlier subtests or on to later ones. As you work on each section, you may find it useful to first answer the questions that are easy for you, skipping over those questions to which you will need to return for further thought. There are six content areas measured by the PCAT in seven (7) separate subtests:
o The Verbal Ability section
o The Biology section
o The Reading Comprehension section
o The Quantitative Ability section
o The Chemistry section
o The written essays (2)
Your GPA (overall and science) is the most important aspect of your application profile. Each school has different standards when it comes to GPA, and by browsing the PharmCAS pharmacy schools page you can get an idea of what different pharmacy schools expect. Remember that an average GPA means that students with GPAs under and above that value are accepted. Schools may vary on how they consider scoring classes that you retake, so you should get in contact with pharmacy school admission offices to get more information.
Letter of Recommendations
One to four letters of recommendations are required in the application process for pharmacy schools. Schools differ on who they accept letters of recommendations from, so it is important to know what is acceptable by looking at the school profile pages on PharmCAS. Generally speaking, receiving letters of reference from pharmacists and science professors who know your ability and potential on a personal level will be the most beneficial.
Financing Pharmacy School
Like other professional degrees, financing your way to a Pharm.D. is significantly more costly than undergraduate programs. Government grants that you may have received for your undergraduate program are usually no longer available, so paying for your tuition will primarily depend on student loans. Make sure you apply for FAFSA before their deadline, so that you are considered for some of the government loans. It is also a good idea to apply for national, school, corporate, online, and local scholarships. Any money that you can get for free to pay down your tuition will mean less money you will be paying on interest for the life of the loan. Even a $1000 scholarship will decrease your loan amount by $1000 along with all the interest you would have paid during the life of the loan. I will provide a list of scholarships that are available in the near future.
Although pharmacy experience is not a requirement for admission into pharmacy school, working in a pharmacy is a great way to beef up your resume and also get a feel for what it is like working in a pharmacy. You may also consider obtaining your Pharmacy Technician license so that you may be given more responsibilities within the pharmacy. See if accepted students at different pharmacy schools have had pharmacy work experience or a pharmacy tech license by searching applicant profiles.
In addition to the Pharm.D., some students may pursue an additional degree (MBA, JD, PhD, MPH, etc.) in order to fill more specific niches in the pharmacy world. You can check which pharmacy schools offer dual degree programs on PharmApplicants.com (Useful Links -> Dual Degree Chart). If you are interested in any of these programs, you should definitely start by researching them on pharmacy school websites or contacting the office of admissions of pharmacy schools to get more information. Additional requirements (such as the GMAT and additional letters of reference) are expected for most of these programs. At some universities, these dual degree programs may eliminate your summer vacation or have you fall back a year from your pharmacy class as you complete your additional degree before going back to your pharmacy studies.