Pharmaceutical sciences have always played a tremendous role in people’s lives, and now, when all of humanity is experiencing a global challenge for health, its importance has increased more than ever. For those who consider studying this science in the United States, it is important to understand that the path to that profession is quite long and has many features and pitfalls, but it is a rewarding one. Today, I want to give you a short overview of the main pathway to getting an education in pharmacy, talk about its main degrees, admission requirements, and the different programs type.
What are pharmaceutical sciences?
When we talk about pharmaceutical science, we imagine a scientist in a medical coat, sitting somewhere in a laboratory and mixing powders under a microscope. The creation of drugs is an integral part of pharmaceuticals, but not the only purpose. Pharmaceutical Science is an interdisciplinary area of study. It is based on such disciplines as chemistry, biology, engineering, mathematics, anatomy, and others. It is a research and practice-oriented area that includes drug discovery, design, delivery, action, analysis, clinical sciences, pharmacoeconomics, etc. The unusual variety of different fields involved gives a variety of career opportunities. Look at the University of California, Irvine, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill to get an idea about some categories of pharmaceutical sciences as well as some career options available in the field.
What degrees are offered in Pharmaceutical Sciences?
Different ways are leading to professions in a pharmacy-related sphere. The choice of paths, as well as desired degrees, depends upon many factors including the intended profession, financial situation, ultimate goals, etc. One may start the educational journey by entering two-year programs at a community college to get an Associate Degree in Pharmacy (ADP) while another person could apply directly to a four-year program at a college or university to get a Bachelor of Science in Pharmaceutical Sciences (BSPS). These two undergraduate pharmacy degrees open options to occupy different positions as well as pursue a variety of careers within the areas of drug development and discovery and prepare for graduate study in that field. If a student’s choice is to become a licensed pharmacist to practice in the USA, one needs to get a professional degree called PharmD (Doctor of Pharmacy, or Pharmacy Doctorate). There are also some master’s degrees (i.e. Master of Science (MS) in Pharmaceutical Sciences (PSC), Master of Product Development (MPD), and others) that prepare students for research that will lead to the creation of products in the pharmaceutical, chemical, food and other areas.
How to prepare for professions in pharmaceutical sciences while in high school?
Pharmacy is a very competitive and very hard career that requires a potential candidate to possess certain characteristics (i.e. good memory, attention to details, interest in continuous learning, etc.) as well as the ability to develop certain skills (i.e. teamwork, leadership, etc.) to succeed in the profession. It is advisable to start preparing for entering pharmacy programs while in high school. One may take life science, math, language, and literature courses and work on developing strong communication and analytical skills. It is important to demonstrate the best academic performance, take part in extracurricular activities, and get involved with volunteer work. Programs are looking for well-rounded, active, mature candidates able to cope with intensive programs and participate in a rigorous academic curriculum.
What is the length of study and the main routes to becoming a pharmacist in the United States?
The length of study leading to the Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.), can take between 6–8 years after completion of high school. There are several types of programs a student may choose to reach the goal. Depending upon the length and structure there are “0-6/7”, “2-3”, “4”, Early Assurance, and accelerated programs to name some of them. Read more about different types of pharmacy programs at the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP). The whole process of turning a student into a pharmacist can take even more time as in addition to obtaining PharmD, it also requires obtaining a residency position in the U.S.
The application process for pharmacy schools is highly competitive. All prospective PharmD students need to take prerequisite courses, irrespective of the program’s type and length. The prerequisite undergraduate courses for entering PhamD vary from school to school. The common ones usually include intro biology, chemistry, calculus, economics, physics, anatomy, and physiology. Students may major in one of those disciplines or choose any nonscience one (i.e. communication, business, languages, etc.) to apply to PharmD programs if they meet all other schools’ requirements. Be although aware that a certain number of Pharm.D. programs do not accept non-US citizens or non-permanent residents giving a preference to the applicants living in the states where schools are located. Private institutions are more loyal in accepting international students in comparison with public ones. When applying to pharmacy programs international students must meet requirements set for all students: the U.S. and non-US applicants. Read this section devoted to international students and graduates at AACP.
What are Early Assurance Programs?
The third option includes entering Early Assurance programs that allow students to complete all pre-pharm prerequisite coursework in two years (community colleges) or four-year institutions and guaranteed admission to PharmD programs in case they meet and maintain established criteria (courses, GPA, etc.) These programs lead students to pharmacist careers through offering early process and providing them with training and opportunities related to pharmacy. Admission to the Early Assurance Pharmacy Program is highly selective with a very structured and rigorous curriculum. In addition to completing certain prerequisites in certain subjects or lab sciences within the two years, students may also be required to gain certain hours of community service and volunteer work, shadowing interning, and/or employment in a pharmacy setting. Students should review the schools’ websites for specifics and additional information.
What are the main admission requirements for pharmacy schools?
Admission requirements vary from school to school but a typical checklist to pharmacy program may include:
- Completed online application form (2/3 of schools participate in the Pharmacy College Application Service (PharmCAS).
- College transcripts (with an indication of minimum GPA); submit a course-by-course translation of transcripts evaluated and certified by one of the certification agencies like WES, ECE, etc.
- PCAT – Pharmacy College Admissions Test.
- Letter(s) of evaluation.
- Activities (leadership, volunteer, work, etc.). Pharmacy experience is not a requirement for admission, but it is strongly recommended).
American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) offers information on pharmacy schools list and specific schools’ requirements.
What are the main steps in applying to residency programs in the U.S.?
Some foreign-trained pharmacists are interested in getting residency positions at U.S. hospitals, pharmacy schools, and other organizations aiming to develop their knowledge in that sphere to grow professionally and ultimately get permission to practice pharmacy in the U.S. Obtaining a residency position in the U.S. is a competitive and long process that may take years of hard work researching, preparing documents, corresponding with related organizations, and testing. Main steps towards the goal including but not limited to the following:
- Identifying your goals and getting acquainted with the process at the website of National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).
- Applying for the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Committee Certification (FPGEC) Program and obtain it.
- Preparing and passing Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination (FPGEE) which is a one-day exam offered twice a year and administered at Pearson VUE test sites and taking TOEFL iBT through ETS.
- Locating residency programs at ASHP Resident Matching Program and applying to them using the Pharmacy Online Residency Centralized Application Service (PhORCAS).
- Locating and applying for internship positions in the U.S. required for pharmacists to complete (average 1500 internship hours) before taking the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination.
- Taking North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX).
- Taking an additional test set by the state you are going to practice and get a license.
What are other options for pharmacy students?
Interested students can think of another pharmacy related professions like pharmacology, pharmacy administration, pharmacy practitioner, toxicology, etc. For those who majored in hard science and are fond of doing research, applying to a Ph.D. program in biology, chemistry, physics and/or another field of study might be a better option.
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- How to become a pharmacist
- AACP – American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy
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