Imagine an advanced degree that takes several years to finish but doesn't require a completed bachelor's degree first. It's an unusual academic arrangement, but that's the structure of a Doctor of Pharmacy program. Because pharmacy involves medical, legal and social issues, it's a long, highly controlled educational process.
Before applying for a Pharm.D. program, you must have at least two years of undergraduate work. You can do this in a pre-pharmacy program, although some applicants do obtain bachelor's degrees. Prerequisite courses include general and organic chemistry, anatomy and physiology, microbiology, calculus and statistics. Doctor of Pharmacy programs establish a required minimum grade point average for applicants, and some schools mandate at least a "C" or "B" average for the science courses.
The length of time needed to complete a Pharm.D. program varies slightly among institutions. While many programs are spread across four academic years with summer breaks, some accelerated programs run continuously for three calendar years. Pharm.D. programs are considered "professional" studies because they prepare students for specialized employment, focusing on the specific skills required. Consequently, the curriculum is quite rigid with little room for electives.
Pharm.D. classes are designed to prepare students to work as pharmacists who not only dispense medicine safely but also encourage public health. Pharmaceutical chemistry covers the chemicals that pharmacists work with, including how to prepare and store medicines properly. Students study natural drugs that are plant- or animal-based. Pharmacology classes focus on how the human body responds to medication. Because pharmacists often work in commercial settings, the curriculum includes business management and pharmacy structure. In addition, a clinical component allows students to work in real settings with real patients.
Before being employed as a pharmacist, graduates must obtain a license from the state where they will work. In addition to submitting an application, the prospective pharmacist must take two exams. One covers state laws involving pharmaceuticals, and the other assesses skills and knowledge needed for the profession. After earning their Pharm.D. degree, some graduates opt for further study in residency programs, because hospital, clinical and research facilities often require this background. A few grads continue on to doctoral programs to obtain a Ph.D.
Living in upstate New York, Susan Sherwood is a researcher who has been writing within educational settings for more than 10 years. She has co-authored papers for Horizons Research, Inc. and the Capital Region Science Education Partnership. Sherwood has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction from the University at Albany.