Pharmacists are necessary for almost all facets of health care because they are responsible for dispersing medication and advising physicians, nurses, and other health professionals on treatment decisions. Along with these responsibilities, pharmacists also provide expertise about the composition of drugs, including their chemical, biological, and physical properties. They ensure that patients are prescribed the correct amount of medication and that the prescribed drugs do not interact in harmful ways. The main concern for pharmacists is their patients’ health and long-term wellness. This means using medication to achieve positive outcomes with minimum risk. Pharmacists practice in a variety of settings including community pharmacies, hospitals, long-term care facilities, and the pharmaceutical industry. As of June 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the average salary for a Pharmacist was $120,950. More information about the Pharmacy profession may be found at http://www.aacp.org/resources/student/Pages/default.aspx.
As summarized in Appendix A, pharmacists must complete a series of prerequisite courses to be considered for graduate programs. Students may choose any major, but science majors like chemistry or biology are suited to offer graduate program prerequisites better than others. Although there is a central core of required prerequisites, each pharmacy program has somewhat different requirements. Students interested in specific programs should check those universities’ websites to see their individual prerequisites. Generally 8 credits of general biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry are required. Along with these science courses, there is often a requirement for 4-8 hours of physics, 3-6 hours of human anatomy and physiology, and 3 hours of microbiology. In addition, a statistics and calculus course is commonly required. Most pharmacy graduate schools also require a number of non-science based courses in areas such as English composition, public speaking, and economics. Additional electives that may be required or recommended include cell biology, biochemistry, molecular biology, immunology, genetics, and a range of social and behavioral science courses. The minimum cumulative GPA for acceptance is 2.5, although the mean GPA of students who are accepted is much higher, averaging approximately between 3.3-3.5 overall. Generally, schools require a “C” or better in all prerequisite courses.
In addition to prerequisite course requirements, most graduate schools require that applicants have some volunteer or work experience under the supervision of a licensed pharmacist. Although there is no uniform requirement, it is highly recommended by almost all graduate schools that applicants have an understanding of what it is like to work as a healthcare professional. Applicants with more and varied hours of pharmacy experience will be more competitive than those who have less experience in obtaining admission to pharmacy school.
There are several steps involved in applying to pharmacy programs (refer to Appendix E for a suggested preparatory timeline). In order to apply to a pharmacy program, it is necessary to complete a common application through the Pharmacy College Application Service (PharmCAS; www.pharmcas.org). Applicants must also take the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) and submit the scores as a part of their application. Some schools also request a general application to their graduate program that is specific to their university, and some request the submission of a Technical Standards form. Any secondary applications should be sent back as soon as possible after they are received.
The PCAT is composed of five multiple-choice subtests, testing applicants’ abilities and knowledge in five content areas: Biology, Chemistry, Reading Comprehension, Quantitative Ability, and Verbal Ability. There is also a Writing subtest that involves an essay prompt. A typical test, involving introductory instructions and breaks, takes about four and a half hours to complete. There are a number of print and online guides available for preparing to take the PCAT. Additionally, there are in-person courses offered from time-to-time at area colleges/universities. More information about the PCAT may be found at www.pcatweb.info.
On the PharmCAS, you will be asked to write a personal essay explaining the reasons you are interested in becoming a Pharmacist. There is a 4500-character (not word) limit, so it is critical that you are able to succinctly and clearly describe your motivations. You should have one of your professors or pre-health advisors review your statement before you submit it because this is a very important component of your application. The statement should explain how the Doctor of Pharmacy degree relates to your immediate and long-term professional goals as well as how your personal, educational, and professional background will assist you in achieving these goals.
Most graduate schools require three recommendation forms to be electronically submitted through PharmCAS. In the recommendation section on the application, it is necessary to provide the email addresses of the three recommenders you have chosen so that they will receive an invitation to complete a recommendation. Often, graduate schools require that at least one recommendation be from a licensed Pharmacist who has supervised the applicant and can attest to his or her potential as a future healthcare professional. Other recommendations should come from professors who are familiar with the applicant’s academic work in prerequisite courses. It is a good idea to ask for these recommendations well in advance of the submission deadline.