The 2020 Guide to Online Doctor of Pharmacy Programs

Pharmacy is a valued profession — one that has been around since nearly 2100 B.C.E. While the field has clearly evolved since ancient Greek and Roman pharmacists created herbal remedies, pharmacy has remained an essential role for the health and well-being of the general public. If you’re interested in helping patients feel better, understand the medications they’re on, and obtain their physician-prescribed treatment, pharmacy may be for you.

The medical field is governed by rules and regulations, and becoming a practicing pharmacist requires hours of schooling, training, and passing licensure exams. No matter where you plan to practice in the U.S., you’ll need to take the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) and Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination (MPJE).

Today, entering the field of pharmacy is more accessible than ever with digital Doctor of Pharmacy programs that enable you to earn a Pharm. D. degree entirely online. Several distance-learning programs hold Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) accreditation, meaning they offer the quality of education needed to provide appropriate care.

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What is a Doctor of Pharmacy?

A Doctor of Pharmacy may work with physicians to order and distribute prescription medications. Though they are not caregivers, pharmacists are well-versed in general health topics and medicine. In fact, pharmacists are required to spend nearly six to eight years in school (including three to four in undergrad and four in a professional program) to develop the proper expertise.

This profession also offers a chance to work directly with patients, playing a crucial role in treatment education and answering any questions people may have about dosage, side effects, and effectiveness. If you are interested in entering the field, it’s necessary to obtain a professional doctorate in pharmacy to provide high-quality patient care. Ultimately, this may be a highly rewarding career for someone who is passionate about positively impacting lives.

Pharm.D. vs Ph.D. in Pharmacy

It may take some time to understand the differences between the various types of degrees offered in pharmacy. You might come across both the Pharm.D. degree and the Ph.D. in pharmacy, which are both doctorate programs, each with subtle differences that may open doors to different career paths. What sets these two pharmacy programs apart?

Pharm. D.:

  • The Pharm.D. is considered a professional doctorate program as it prepares you for a career in pharmacy.
  • Pharm.D. admissions typically require 60-90 credits in a science or health sciences discipline, meaning some students can enter a master’s program with an associate degree.
  • In addition to a relatively strong academic track record, Pharm.D. programs require Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) results — a rigorous four-hour exam that assesses readiness on both a knowledge and comprehension level.
  • A majority of Pharm.D. programs are four years with a one-year residency requirement at a clinical or commercial pharmacy.

Ph.D in Pharmacy:

  • The Ph.D. in Pharmacy is considered a research doctorate program because caters to a career in research or academics.
  • Many Ph.D. programs, including Pharmacy, may require a master’s degree among other admission requirements.
  • A Ph.D. program requires you to conduct and publish research, which can take a few years — meaning many of these programs can take five years to complete.

The program that’s right for you depends on your career objectives. Earning a Pharm.D. degree may enable you to work in a variety of patient care settings and enjoy a dynamic work environment.

Is an Online Doctor of Pharmacy Right For You?

An online Pharm.D. degree program may work well for you if you need the rigor of a high-quality, ACPE-accredited program, combined with the freedom and flexibility of an online learning program. Learn more about how this type of program might benefit you below.

Benefits of Obtaining a Doctorate in Pharmacy Online

There are many advantages to earning your degree through an online, hybrid program. An online program may demand greater time management; but on the flip side, there’s typically greater flexibility. Students get to experience live online classes and an adaptable course schedule (such as night courses for those working during the day). Traditional pharmacy school can also mean a large financial investment, depending on the program; an online degree could potentially save you money.

With rigor that matches a traditional classroom setting and access to placement in top residency programs, online Pharm.D. students have a multitude of resources available to help them succeed.

Online Pharmacy Schools with ACPE Accreditation

Not all Pharm.D. programs are the same. The Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) is the governing body for pharmacy education. This organization has been around since 1932, and ensures the quality of educational curriculums. Programs are evaluated on how well they help students reach end goals and achieve successful career outcomes. The accreditation recognizes diversity in curriculum and teaching styles and encourages programs to offer their own unique strengths.

The ACPE is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE), so this accreditation bears a lot of significance. Any program that is not accredited has not been evaluated for (or has not passed) a certain threshold of excellence established by the organization.

Some states, like New York, allow graduates of non-ACPE accredited programs to become licensed pharmacists, but may require additional exams or internship experiences.

Pharm.D. Online Degree Curriculum

You now know that starting a pharmacy career may take upwards of six to eight years of school, including about four earning your professional doctorate. So, what can you expect to learn in an online Pharm.D. program?

Pharmacy is a multifaceted profession. Many roles blend administrative work, clinical work, and pharmacology (the field of drugs and medication). Because of this, many professional degree programs help students build foundational knowledge and then progress into applying their learnings to patient care, before finishing with clinical rotations at different care settings.

While no two institutions offer exactly the same program, many programs follow a similar structure of progressing from science-based knowledge to application. A four-year professional doctorate of pharmacy may look like the following:

  • Year 1: Upon entering the program, you will already have a foundation in life sciences, chemistry, or another discipline that includes many of the prerequisite courses needed for admission. The first year of a Pharm.D. program builds on this foundation by adding more specialized information on pharmacology, pharmaceutics (medicinal chemistry), and biology. Courses will likely focus on medicines, medical reactions, interactions with the body, calculating dosages, and more.
  • Year 2: After the first year, learning may become more specialized to help you understand your role in the complex health system. Classes in patient care, hospitals and health systems, pharmacy law, and more may be introduced to give students a macroscopic view of their future profession.
  • Year 3: Classroom learning continues into the third year, often including laboratory courses. Many programs also begin introducing rotations that give students face-to-face patient experience. These experiences help students round out additional skills prior to beginning advanced rotations.
  • Year 4: In the final year of a Pharm.D. program, students complete advanced rotations in a variety of high- and low-acuity settings, focusing on internal medicine, ambulatory care, community practice, and hospital practice. Students can not only demonstrate their mastery of the material, skills, and patient practices they’ve learned, but also learn what type of clinical setting they may want to pursue in their post-grad career.

Typical Online Pharm.D. Program Admission Requirements

One of the most important things to keep in mind is that not all Pharm.D. programs require a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science, according to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy’s listing of 2019-2020 pharmacy school admissions requirements [PDF, 98KB]. That doesn’t mean there aren’t necessary prerequisites — but if you don’t possess a four-year undergraduate degree, you may still qualify for admission to a selective professional program.

You’ll want to study up on Pharm.D. admission requirements before you plan to apply to ensure you meet the necessary prerequisites and have gathered the proper materials. The volume of courses (or credit hours) required may vary by institution, but there is often overlap in which disciplines of study are required. Colleges require prior academic transcripts signifying the appropriate credits and courses for admission.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), prerequisite courses for Pharm. D. programs [PDF, 606KB] may include any of the following:

  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Biology/Biological Sciences
  • Microbiology
  • Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Physics
  • Math
  • Statistics
  • Economics
  • Computer Science
  • English Composition
  • Writing Communication/Speech
  • Social/Behavioral Science
  • Psychology
  • Humanities
  • Foreign Language
  • Ethics

Today, many institutions emphasize such a breadth of pre-professional courses in humanities as well as science since pharmacy can be a very hands-on profession. These disciplines are thought to aid the development of soft skills such as communication and empathy.

Unlike other graduate programs, pharmacy programs do not typically accept the GRE, GMAT, MCAT, or other graduate school assessments for admission. Instead, they use the pharmacy-equivalent test, the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT). This rigorous exam tests your scientific and clinical knowledge as well as writing skills to determine readiness for a Pharm.D. program.

Additional requirements might include an admissions interview, a personal statement, or academic letters of recommendation. Some programs require you to be a practicing, licensed pharmacist for admission (though this is rare).

Online Pharm.D. Degree FAQ

An online Pharm.D. program can well equip you to become a pharmacist. This is a degree that requires a level of patience and a significant amount of work, but with the proper background and licensure, you’ll be ready to begin your career in pharmacy.

Can You Become a Licensed Pharmacist With a Pharm. D. Degree Online?

Becoming a licensed pharmacist starts with learning about medications, the human body, patient care — and how they all interact. Hybrid course models have made it possible to earn a Pharm.D. through an online degree program. This degree can prepare you with the knowledge needed to pass the NAPLEX, MPJE, and any state-specific licensure exams.

Are All Pharmacists Doctors?

Pharmacists are required to earn a doctorate — so technically, they are considered doctors in the educational regard. However, this is different than being a licensed physician who is able to directly administer healthcare and comprehensive treatment plans to a range of patients. Historically, pharmacists have not been able to prescribe medications independently of a physician. Today, pharmacists are becoming increasingly independent thanks to changes in regulations. In select states across the U.S., pharmacists now have the ability to prescribe hormonal birth control and naxolone, a drug that reverses the effects of opioid use.

How Long is a Doctor of Pharmacy?

Earning a Doctor of Pharmacy requires four academic years of study, or three full calendar years. The amount of coursework included in the program is designed to give a comprehensive understanding of pharmaceutical practices and prepare you to provide patient care.

What is the Typical Doctor of Pharmacy Salary?

According to a 2018 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report, the median salary for a pharmacist is $126,120 per year. This figure may vary by state, your level of experience, and the type of setting you work in.

Will the Field of Pharmacy Grow?

The BLS projects little to no growth in pharmacy through 2028 — but the healthcare industry’s needs may shift. Currently, there are an increasing number of elderly patients requiring new prescription medications and frequent refills. Based on this trend, the demand for pharmacists in hospitals and clinics could increase. Employment in commercial settings like drug store pharmacies is expected to slow because of the advent of digital pharmacies.