What is a PharmD?

Doctor of Pharmacy Degree Required for Pharmacist License in the US

Working on a prescription
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PharmD is an abbreviation for Doctor of Pharmacy degree. It is a doctorate level degree obtained in pharmacy school by prospective pharmacists, similar to an MD for a physician. The doctor of pharmacy degree is required in the United States to be eligible to take the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) and be registered and licensed as a pharmacist. Other countries vary in the requirements to be a registered pharmacist, including Canada where the required degree is a bachelor of pharmacy.

History of the PharmD Degree and Requirement

The doctor of pharmacy degree is relatively new and a relatively new requirement for pharmacists in the United States. Prior to 2006, pharmacists could be licensed after completing a five-year accredited bachelor's degree program in pharmacy, a B.S.Pharm. Once passing board exams and getting a license to practice pharmacy, the individual is a registered pharmacist or RPh.

The first school to offer the doctor of pharmacy degree was the University of Southern California in 1950. It was considered to be optional. But several other doctor of pharmacy programs were developed across the United States. They featured a clinical clerkship, which was seen to be of value. It is now called the Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience.

In 1992, the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) required that all of the pharmacy schools that they accreditated offer a doctor of pharmacy degree.

The bachelor of science in pharmacy degree was completely replaced by the doctor of pharmacy degree as of the graduating class of 2006.

Pharmacists who were licensed prior to 2006 without a doctor of pharmacy degree are not required to obtain the higher degree in order to practice. However, there are programs that allow them to obtain their doctor of pharmacy degree.

Whether employers will require the higher degree, as has happened with registered nurses, remains to be seen.

Pharmacy School

Pharmacy school is typically a four-year graduate program that students begin after two to four years of undergraduate education. However, there are a few accelerated and combined doctor of pharmacy programs.

Admission to pharmacy school is highly competitive. For example, Oregon State University has 600 to 800 applications for the doctor of pharmacy program each year, and only 90 places are available for each entering class. Almost all of those admitted had already earned a bachelor's degree before entering the doctor of pharmacy program. The students in the OSU program complete four academic years in the doctor of pharmacy program. To learn more, see the pharmacy school tips.

After completing the program, a pharmacist then takes two examinations. The North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) and the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination (MPJE), which tests knowledge of federal and state pharmacy laws. For licensure, a certain number of hours of internship/residency under a licensed pharmacist may be required by the state.

Some pharmacists also continue their education with a post-graduate residency or fellowship.

It should also be noted that a Ph.D. in Pharmacology is different from a doctor of pharmacy degree. 

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