Pharmacists are a crucial part of healthcare and the medical fields. They have the responsibility of carrying on a doctor’s work and ensuring that patients receive the proper medication and treatment they need. Becoming a licensed pharmacist in the United States is an extensive process, but it can lead to a fulfilling career that is both stable and well paid, with opportunities to work in a variety of locations.
There has been an increased need for licensed pharmacists in recent years, partially attributed to an aging population and an overall growth in the healthcare industry. Many pharmacists work in local pharmacies, but there is also a demand for licensed pharmacists in hospitals, care facilities, research, and directly in the pharmaceutical industry. The first step in gaining a license to practice pharmacy is to earn a doctor of pharmacy degree (Pharm.D.) from a program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. This will include four years of academic coursework and a minimum of 1,000 hours (depending on the program) of clinical experience. The next step is completing the required licensing exams, including the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX), the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE), and the Written and Practical Exam. The NAPLEX is designed to measure knowledge and competency in pharmacy practices, while the MPJE examines knowledge and understanding of pharmaceutical law. Content for the Written and Practical Exam will depend on the state in which you plan to be licensed as a pharmacist. In addition, some Pharm.D. students choose to do a residency to gain specialized knowledge or participate in research.
Advising and Preparation
Acceptance into a doctor of pharmacy (Pharm.D.) program does not always require a bachelor’s degree. However, it does require three to four years of prerequisite coursework, and most students do earn an undergraduate degree while completing these courses. Completing a bachelor’s degree is highly recommended, as prepharmacy students who do are often selected for Pharm.D. programs over applicants who do not. There is also no specific major needed to be a prepharmacy student, but the most common choices are biology and chemistry. Studying a subject that interests and excites you is also an important consideration, especially as an undergraduate student. Prepharmacy students, or any student considering a professional degree, should meet with their preprofessional advisor as early as possible in their academic career to discuss prepharmacy prerequisites, their undergraduate major, and an individualized academic plan. Once the prepharmacy student has finalized their major and academic plan with their program advisor and the preprofessional advisor, a discipline-specific faculty member can also be assigned as a prepharmacy mentor and guide.
Recommended and Required Coursework List
The following list includes some of the most common prerequisites for many of the Pharm.D. programs in the United States (since each program is unique, this is not a guaranteed or exhaustive list for all schools; check the specific requirements and prerequisites for any professional school you are considering):
- Biology with lab (at least two semesters)
- Chemistry with lab (at least two semesters)
- Organic chemistry with lab (at least two semesters)
- Molecular and cellular biology
- Anatomy and physiology (at least two semesters)
- English composition
The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy maintains a chart of Pharm.D. prerequisite courses by institutions and can be a good resource in a prepharmacy student’s academic planning.
Recommended Experience Outside the Classroom
A strong academic performance is crucial for a prepharmacy student, but it is also important to gain direct healthcare experiences through working or volunteering in a medical environment. Prepharmacy students are encouraged to begin by job-shadowing a pharmacist and to start looking for volunteer opportunities as early as their freshman year. In addition, Pharm.D. programs often look for applicants who have leadership experience, demonstrate interpersonal skills, and show a commitment to their communities. Getting involved in campus organizations or student government, with the intent of eventually taking a leadership role, is a good strategy for prepharmacy students. In addition, participating in research is also appropriate.
Applying to Graduate or Professional School
In addition to completing all prerequisites with a high GPA, applicants in many Pharm.D. programs are required to take the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT). This exam is designed to test the applicant’s knowledge of biology, chemistry, and mathematics, and to assess the applicant’s skills in writing and critical reading. A prepharmacy student should plan to take the PCAT no later than the September before the fall they hope to begin their Pharm.D. program. The Pharmacy College Application Service is a centralized application that is accepted by most pharmacy schools and allows applicants to apply to several Pharm.D. programs at once. The application cycle begins for a prepharmacy student the June before either their senior year or their last year of Pharm.D. prerequisite courses.
Here are some resources to aid in the process:
- American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy
- Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education
- Pharmacy College Admission Test
- Pharmacy College Application Service
Schedule an appointment to take the next steps toward a career in pharmacy:
Academic Advisor for Preprofessional Studies