5 Reasons Pre-Med Students Might Change to Pre-Pharmacy


Many pharmacy students started off as pre-meds, here are 5 reasons they may have switched.

I presented for the pharmacy profession at the Central Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (CAAHP), a regional meeting in Des Moines, Iowa in April. The CAAHP is a regional part of the larger National Association of Advisors for the Health Professions (NAAHP) group. As I explained why someone might become a pharmacist, I remembered other health careers also need some discovery.

1. Media influence

With doctors and nurses as the primary health professions in television and movies, it’s not surprising that a student might first become a pre-med then move toward a different allied health profession. At the CAAHP meeting, I presented with a cohort of 3 other presenters. We provided information on our 4 health careers: pharmacy, physician assistant, physical therapy, and doctors of osteopathic medicine (DOs). While DOs are physicians, they have a different focus. We provided information of our 4 health careers to groups of about 30 or 40 health professions advisors in panel sessions. In my group, I had:

Joel Rand, MPAS, PA-C, the Chair, Program Director, and Assistant Professor at Des Moines University’s Master of Science in Physician Assistant studies. From him, I learned that many students choose to become a physician assistant because it is inherently a collaborative profession tied to a doctor. While doctors undergo extensive post-graduate training to enter specialties, a PA readily moves from 1 specialty to another after graduation.

Traci Bush, D.P.T., OTR/L, DHS, the Chair, Program Director and Associate Professor at Des Moines University’s Doctor of Physical Therapy program. From her, I learned how flexible the physical therapy profession is as well. A practitioner can move from working with pediatrics to geriatrics rather easily or open their own practice.

Stephanie Wurth, the Director of Application Services, Recruitment, and Student Affairs at the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine (AACOM). She gave a vivid recounting of a person who had sinus issues. She told the story of a DO adjusting the neck to remove a blockage then working the facial muscles to improve the sinus draining, a much more whole body approach to medical care. She outlined the differences between the MD and DO schools and their focus.

2. Parents or family

Just as students might enter pre-med because they see doctors and nurses on television, so too might parents push students toward the 2 more familiar careers. However, students often discover many health careers stem from the same “pre-med” science classes. To explain this, I wrote a short eBook to help students and parents understand other directions students can go. I focused on the community college student only because I teach at one. However, the explanations generalize to 4-year programs as well. The eBook begins in English and has a full Spanish translation. As my father, a Peruvian immigrant and I looked at professional schools, I found we have strong language preferences. We both speak English and Spanish, but I prefer English and he, Spanish.

Accompanying audiobooks in English and Spanish will come out in the next few weeks.

These next 3 reasons pre-meds go to other professions speak more to the PA, DPT, and Pharm.D programs.

3. Years in college

While the D.O. medical student has the same 8 years as the MD student, the physician assistant, physical therapy, and pharmacy routes all include at least a year less. With all 3, graduates can enter a good-paying job after graduation without the 3- to 7-year medical residency commitment. With college costs rising, the money one spends on getting to the finish line matters.

4. Predictable schedule

While some physicians have stable schedules, the “9 to 5,” often the electronic health record (EHR) pushes workdays into work nights. In contrast, PA, DPT and PharmD professionals enjoy more forgiving schedules. While some work evenings, weekends, and other non-standard hours, most of these careers find more family time. A recent YouTube video by Kevin Yee “Why I went to Pharmacy School Over Medical School,” presents one student's experience speaking to a surgeon. In that conversation, they found the punishing 24/7 on-call availability wasn’t something he wanted.

5. Discovery through a pharmacy technician position

In that same YouTube video, anther pharmacy student talks about the behind-the-scenes nature of pharmacy. With the liability of many medications and diversion fear, it’s tough for pre-health students to shadow a pharmacist for a few hours. Some laws may restrict non-pharmacy personnel as well.

To give students who can’t visit a pharmacy an idea of how I entered the profession, I created an audiobook called The Last Admissions Hurdle: Confidently Walking Out of the Interview for Pre-Nursing, Pre-Pharmacy, and Pre-Med students that helps them succeed in an interview no matter what profession they decide on. In talking about interview success, I give a detailed outline of my road from pre-med to pre-pharmacy to then pharmacy school. In the free 5-minute audible sample, I provide a solution to the top interview hurdle you can listen to here.


It’s not ideal that students discover pharmacy after they start pre-med or pre-nursing. But, by recognizing other professions with similar challenges, we can partner with them. I present yearly to hundreds of high school pre-health students in central Iowa. I find the best way to show them how pharmacy might fit into their lives is to ask about the professions they already know and add the new to the known.

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