Erik Hefti, PharmD, MS, PhD
Erik Hefti, PharmD, MS, PhD
Erik Hefti holds a PharmD as well as a Master's and PhD degrees in pharmaceutical science from the University at Buffalo. His research focus is pediatric pharmacogenomic factors impacting cardiovascular toxicity following cancer chemotherapy and genetic testing utilization to optimize healthcare outcomes. He is currently practicing as a clinical pharmacist at Sisters of Charity Hospital, St. Joseph Campus in Buffalo, NY.

PharmD, MS Dual-Degree Programs: A Graduate's Perspective

JULY 11, 2016
Dual-degree programs allow pharmacy students to diversify their training and pursue certain career paths more easily than they would with a PharmD alone.
Obtaining a PharmD and Master’s degree in a hard science like pharmaceutics, pharmacology, or medicinal chemistry can make starting a career in the pharmaceutical industry smoother or be the first step toward transitioning to a PhD program. Ultimately, dual-degree programs give candidates more options and broader skillsets to set themselves apart from their colleagues.
Having completed a PharmD/MS program, I want to offer my perspectives on the challenges associated with obtaining a MS degree in pharmaceutical science concurrently with a PharmD. The length, expectations, and admissions requirements for PharmD/MS programs vary by institution, but I’ll provide a general overview based on my experience.
PharmD/MS programs generally require an additional year on top of the PharmD track (5 years is typical). The additional year is usually comprised of graduate coursework, seminars, and research. Many institutions require 30 credit hours of coursework.
A research project is generally required for the MS component; however, some institutions may allow candidates to take a comprehensive exam in its place. The research project can impact when the MS degree is awarded, though candidates are often awarded both degrees together at the end of the program.

It’s obvious that any dual degree requires an investment of time and money. Although the additional year is shorter than it is for a PharmD/PhD or PharmD/JD program, it’s not generally possible to practice as a pharmacist during it. That additional year of not earning a pharmacist or scientist’s salary, combined with potentially accumulating more student debt, makes the dual degree very expensive.
Admission requirements for dual-degree programs may include taking the GRE or having a minimal professional GPA in the PharmD program. Before applying to any dual-degree program, make sure to discuss admissions requirements with a program coordinator.

Once accepted into a PharmD/MS program, time is critical because you’ll be aiming to complete a degree that generally takes about 2 years in a single year. Graduate coursework and research will consume most of that additional year.
Graduate coursework is generally much different than PharmD coursework, often requiring more abstract problem-solving and writing, rather than memorization. Graduate classes are generally smaller and allow for more class participation and discussion on relevant topics. The small classes make comprehensive examinations more practical and often rigorous. I recommend coordinating with senior graduate students prior to entering the program to get their perspectives and strategies to make the transition smoother.

Research requirements depend on the program and mentor that you choose. Regardless, it can impact degree conferral because there’s no set completion time.
Master’s research typically involves performing a comprehensive experiment, properly documenting it, and submitting a formal write-up of your work. A presentation of the completed work is also generally required, but there’s usually no requirement to publish Master’s research, although it’s obviously in the best interest of the candidate and mentor to do so.
My recommendation is to start shadowing in laboratories and identifying a mentor early on. Getting a research project off the ground can be difficult, so starting early will afford the candidate extra time to deal with unforeseen complications that may arise.
It’s also important to pick a research project related to your desired career path, if possible. I wouldn’t recommend completing the MS component by examination, if the research option is available. More research experience and the ability to convey scientific material coherently are what set PharmD/MS graduates apart. The ability to pass a test is generally less sought after by potential employers. The possibility of publishing results is also a strong reason for choosing research over an exam.

PharmD/MS graduates possess both clinical and research-focused scientific knowledge. This qualifies graduates for various careers in the pharmaceutical industry, regulatory agencies, and clinical practice. Obtaining both degrees is a large investment, but the additional tools provided by combined professional and graduate study can pay off in the form of career flexibility and advancement. I recommend student pharmacists to consider the potential benefits a PharmD/MS degree can offer, as the need for dynamic clinical scientists will likely grow with time. 

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