On June 14, 1997, The Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education, the national agency for professional degree programs in pharmacy, adopted guidelines for the professional training of pharmacy leading to the doctor of pharmacy degree. In 2006, and then again in 2011, those guidelines were updated to provide a differentiation of programs for doctoral candidates who were on track to become pharmacists and those candidates who were interested in pursuing doctoral degrees in pharmaceutical research. Students pursue Ph.D. or Pharm.D. programs depending on their desired career path.

Ph.D. Degree in Pharmacy

In its 2011 definitive study of doctoral programs, the National Academy of Sciences clearly indicated that a Ph.D. is a degree of research; consequently, since 2011, the completion of a Ph.D. degree does not allow the doctor to qualify to take the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination which is needed to prepare and dispense medications. Ph.D. programs in pharmacy usually require a major research project and the defense of a written thesis about medications and their use.

The Pharm.D. Degree

Since 1997, the Doctor of Pharmacy degree is the sole professional degree currently accepted in the United States qualifying candidates to take the licensure exam for working pharmacists. This degree prepares an individual to become a pharmacist who, after taking both the national and an individual state exam, is licensed to dispense medications to patients. This degree is equivalent to a Doctor of Medicine degree.

Combined Programs

Some universities offer a dual doctoral program in pharmacy. Rutgers University, Ohio State University, Oregon State University, Purdue University and the University of California, San Francisco are just a few of the universities currently offering a dual program. Students are often required to apply to both programs individually and select a “path” preference for licensure completion. Depending on the school, the Pharm.D. is usually completed first and the degree is awarded separately. After final completion of the research project, and successful defense of the project with the written thesis, the Ph.D. degree is awarded.

Major Differences

The decision about which doctoral pharmacy program and which college or university to attend is very important. At some schools, the Pharm. D. program, which prepares students to take examinations for pharmacist certification, is considered a professional training program and not a graduate degree program. At such schools, the training for the doctoral degree can begin with pre-requisite classes but without a bachelor’s degree. However, the Ph.D. program is considered to be a graduate degree program and most schools require a bachelor’s degree for entry into the program. Others may require a master’s degree. Each university also has its own guidelines for curriculum, research and writing that can create more challenges when pursuing the Ph.D. For example, these challenges for Ph.D. students may include a requirement to attend more seminars, complete more laboratory rotations, take written and oral examinations prior to defense of the dissertation, and present their research findings at national research meetings.