The entry qualification to become a pharmacist in the United States is currently the doctor of pharmacy degree. An individual seeking to qualify as a pharmacist by getting this degree has several different routes to choose from. These routes all typically take six to eight years of study, with joint degrees and research doctorates taking longer.

Doctoral Degree in Pharmacy

Historically, pharmacists in the United States earned a five-year bachelor of science in pharmacy. This was changed by the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy in 1990 and by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education in 1997. By 2005, the last classes for the undergraduate pharmacy degree graduated and the transition to the new model of a graduate-level professional degree, the doctor of pharmacy, was finalized. Licensure as a registered pharmacist now requires this degree, which also qualifies the holder for teaching and research. Those with the former bachelors degree can earn the doctorate in two years through a non-traditional program like the one at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

Minimum Time Frame

The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy reports that those accepted directly from high school for pre-pharmacy and pharmacy programs will initially complete two years of specified pre-professional coursework at the undergraduate level. If a student is only accepted into a program after completing undergraduate prerequisites in college, then undergraduate studies usually take three years. Following these undergraduate years, the pharmacy student will complete four years of pharmacy-specific coursework, including clinical training that comprises about one year of the coursework. These four years of coursework may be completed in three calendar years at some schools if summers are included. Thus, the quickest route to obtain the doctorate of pharmacy would take six years of coursework completed in five calendar years.

Time Frame With An Undergraduate Degree

The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy describes a common, alternate study sequence. In this sequence, the student completes a full college program of four years of study and then completes the full four academic years of the pharmacy program. If a student's baccalaureate degree is in a related health career or science field, there is the possibility of some acceleration in the pharmacy program. The association also reports that most pharmacy students do have at least three years of college experience before they enter pharmacy school, making this route generally no more than one year longer than what most students take. Without any reductions in time for taking summer classes, this route to earning a doctor of pharmacy degree generally takes eight years of study.

Joint or Dual Degrees With The Professional Doctorate

The pharmacy student may concurrently study for another degree. The other degree may be professional, advanced or research-based. According to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy, typical professional degrees earned concurrently with a doctor of pharmacy degree are physician assistant or law degrees. Sample advanced degrees are master of business administration, master of public health or master of public administration. Research-based degrees are typically a master of science or doctor of philosophy degree, either in pharmacy or in related disciplines. These joint degrees can be completed at the same time, often saving some of the time it would take to complete them one after another. The exact amount of time to complete a joint degree program depends on the joint degree program as well as the other degree being pursued.

Post-Professional Graduate Study

The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy also reports on elective post-professional graduate study. The basic form is residency training through one of 400 alternative programs targeting general pharmacy practice, clinical pharmacy practice or other specialty areas. Increasingly, these residencies are being required for employment as well as appointment to pharmacy school's clinical faculties. Holders of the doctor of pharmacy and others who only have an undergraduate degree in other fields may also pursue graduate study toward a master of science or doctor of philosophy. These are research based, similar to other graduate programs, and do not qualify a graduate to be a pharmacist on their own without the doctor of pharmacy degree. Residencies usually last one or two years, and other graduate study programs often last one to four or more years.