Becoming a Pharmacist

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Early Preparation

For many years, Jaclynn Davis Wallette, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, served as coordinator of the Native Americans in Pharmacy Program (NAPP) at North Dakota State University (NDSU). She feels that high school sophomores and juniors who want to become pharmacists should be sure to take courses in chemistry, biology, and other sciences. They should also take courses in higher-level math, including calculus. "Reading and writing skills are also necessary." she says. "I recommend that students do some volunteer work in a pharmacy setting, but new regulations are making that more difficult than in the past.”

In college, some pharmacy applicants major in chemistry. However, pharmacy students come from a variety of educational backgrounds. The specific undergraduate classes required for admission into a pharmacy program vary widely from one school to school, so check the requirements of the schools that you are considering. See the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy website. In particular look at the Student Center.

Doctor of Pharmacy Degree - PharmD

The PharmD degree has replaced the bachelor of pharmacy degree. Earning a PharmD requires at least 6 years of study after high school.

Pharmacists who earn a PharmD typically have at least two years of specific pre-professional, undergraduate coursework followed by four academic years (or three calendar years) of professional study. Some schools accept students directly from high school for both the pre-professional and professional components of the program. Other schools accept students after they complete their college course prerequisites. A bachelor's degree is not required for applying to most pharmacy schools.

Post-Professional Graduate Study

After graduating from pharmacy school, an increasing number of pharmacists are participating in residency programs. Residency programs are offered in hospitals, community pharmacies and some specialized facilities, such as the Indian Health Service. The residency programs can be in general pharmacy practice, clinical pharmacy practice or other areas, depending on the pharmacist’s career goals. Most often, pharmacists need to complete a residency program if they want to work in a hospital pharmacy or serve as a faculty member in a pharmacy school.

Pharmacists can also earn a Master of Science (MS) or doctor of philosophy (PhD) degree in one of the pharmaceutical sciences described above. To qualify for entry into these programs, applicants need a degree at least at the bachelor’s level. The degree doesn’t need to be in pharmacy. The research degrees (MS, PhD) don’t qualify students to be licensed pharmacy practitioners.

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Parts of this article were originally published in the Autumn 2004 issue of Winds of Change. (The cover artist is Clarrisa Hudson, Tlingit.)