What is a Pharmacy Degree?

Before 2006, pharmacists could be licensed after completing a five-year bachelor’s degree program accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. They are now required to hold a Doctor of Pharmacy degree. Pharm.D. degree programs cover the scientific, technical, and patient-care aspects of the job. Coursework and hands-on clinical training include:

  • Pathophysiology – the disordered physiological process associated with disease or injury
  • Toxicology
  • Disease Treatments
  • Biopharmaceuticals
  • Pharmacy Ethics and Law
  • Drug Absorption Rates
  • Patient care
  • Medicinal Chemistry

Program Options

Pre-Pharmacy Undergraduate Studies - Two to Four Year Duration
Not all undergraduate schools offer a formal ‘pre-pharmacy’ program. For this reason, many students take prerequisite courses in anatomy, biology, microbiology, physiology, calculus, statistics, general chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics. While the majority of students that apply to a pharmacy program have completed three or more years of undergraduate education, the minimum requirement to apply is two years of pre-pharmacy or related studies.

Here are examples of courses covered in common undergrad associate degree and bachelor’s degree programs for students intending to apply to pharmacy school:

  • Pre-Pharmacy – biology, organic chemistry, anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pathophysiology, economics
  • Biology – molecular cells and genetic biology, organic chemistry, biochemistry
  • Chemistry – organic chemistry, bio-medicinal chemistry, toxicology, quantitative analysis

Master’s Degree in Pharmacy
A master’s degree is not required to enter a Doctor of Pharmacy Degree program. However, some students with the intention of running their own pharmacy may choose to earn a business related degree.

Doctor of Pharmacy Degree - Four Year Duration
In general, it takes four years to earn this degree.

Hybrid (Combined) Bachelor’s Degree and Doctor of Pharmacy Degree - Six to Eight Year Duration
In general, it takes between six to eight years to earn this degree. A minimum of two years of undergraduate studies in chemistry, biology, anatomy, physiology, advanced math, and English must be completed within the program.

In the U.S., the Doctor of Pharmacy courses in both the stand-alone doctorate program and the hybrid bachelor’s/doctorate program typically include:

  • Bio-organic Principles of Medicinal Chemistry – topics such as chemical interactions, inhibitors, DNA, and bio-activation
  • Biopharmaceutics – how drugs are distributed and metabolized in the body
  • Pharmacy Practice Skills – common drugs in the field; health promotion; disease prevention; how to compound medicines
  • The U.S. Healthcare System – introduction to pharmaceutical marketing and health economics
  • Pharmaceutical Calculations – types of math used in the profession; using measurements and scales to provide correct dosages

Degrees Similar to Pharmacy

Pharmacologists study how drugs and medicines work so they can be used in the right way. The work naturally involves an understanding of chemical and biological interactions.

The focus of biochemistry is the chemical reactions that happen within the body.

Molecular Biology
The field of molecular biology is concerned with genetics, with the structure and the relationships between four molecules in the body: proteins, fats, carbohydrates, nucleic acids.

Biomedical Engineering / Biotechnology
Students of biomedical engineering and biotechnology study engineering and the life sciences, with the goal of engineering new products, such as vaccines, medicines, food additives, and growth hormones for plants.

Toxicology is dedicated to investigating and monitoring how toxic materials and chemicals impact the environment and the health of both humans and animals.

Neuroscience is the study of the nervous system and the complex collection of interacting cells known as the brain. The pharmacy and neuroscience fields intersect in the field of chemistry.

Skills You’ll Learn

Graduates of pharmacy programs typically gain these transferrable skills through their course of study:

Accuracy / Attention to Detail
Students in pharmacy programs learn that for pharmacists, there is no room for error. An incorrect prescription can have dire consequences for a customer/patient. Properly measuring ingredients and entering correct information in computer systems is essential.

Science and Math Proficiency
These are core skills learned in a pharmacy program. They are applied to things like determining how many pills a patient needs and calculating variable dosages.

Analytical / Critical Thinking
While pharmacy students spend a lot of time learning about how drugs interact, they are also taught that they need to bring an analytical approach to their work and know when to consult the resources available to them.

The ability to clearly communicate information about dosages and side effects to patients is vital.

Self-confidence / Integrity
If pharmacists see something that doesn’t make sense – like a missed drug interaction, extreme prescription dosage or strength – they need to be comfortable and confident enough to ask questions.

Pharmacy students also learn that while working in the field they may have to deal with people trying to get a particular drug or restricted substance without a prescription. This takes discretion and diplomacy.

Pharmacies can be very busy places, with waiting customers and ringing phones. Pharmacy students learn that the work calls for multitasking while still maintaining complete accuracy.

Computer Literacy
The modern pharmacy is digital. Inventories and patient records are maintained in electronic databases. Therefore, pharmacists need to be comfortable using computers.

What Can You Do with a Pharmacy Degree?

Students who earn a pharmacy degree generally work directly in the pharmacy field. Some of the other employment options listed below may require education beyond a pharmacy degree.

Most pharmacy graduates work as ‘community’ pharmacists in large retail chains or independent pharmacies. Hospital pharmacists work closely with doctors and nurses to ensure that patients receive proper medications in the right dosages.


  • Medical Research – conducting experiments to develop new or improve existing drugs or treatments
  • Life Sciences Research – conducting experiments to broaden scientific understanding in general
  • Clinical Research – conducting clinical trials to test drugs for benefits and risks

Regulatory Affairs
Pharmacy graduates who work in this sector are involved in the licensing, marketing, and legal compliance of pharmaceutical and medical products.

Pharmacology is focused on the effects of drugs on the body. It is a research-based field aimed at improving existing medicines and discovering new and better medicines.

This field is concerned with the effect of toxic materials, chemicals, and potential new medicines on human and animal health and on the environment.

Working in pharmacy education, of course, is an option for pharmacists with significant experience in the field.

Science Writing
Science writers need to understand scientific information, research, and practices and they also have to be able to write clearly and concisely.

Pharmaceutical / Medical Sales
Pharmaceutical / medical sales reps sells their company’s products – medicines, prescription drugs, and medical equipment – to doctors, pharmacists, hospitals, and clinics.


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