Continuing Your Formal Education After Your Pharmacy Degree
As pharmacists, we must continue to polish our skills and further our education to meet the shifting demands of a fast-changing pharmacy landscape.
When I first graduated from pharmacy school with my BSPharm, I believed that I was done with formal education. Reality turned out differently, however, as I later returned to business school, pharmacy school (again), and law school. Throughout these experiences, I have grown confident that, as pharmacists, we must continue to polish our skills and further our education to meet the shifting demands of a fast-changing pharmacy landscape.
One way that pharmacists can do so is to return to school and earn another graduate degree. There are 91 schools of pharmacy that offer a joint degree program in addition to a standalone PharmD program, according to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP).1 Of these 91 schools:
- 68 offer a PharmD/MBA program
- 35 offer a PharmD/PhD program
- 35 offer a PharmD/MPH program
- 23 offer a PharmD/MS program
- 5 offer a PharmD/JD program
Other dual degree programs offered by schools in the United States include PharmD/MD, PharmD/PA, and PharmD/MHA programs.1
“It is increasingly important to offer [dual degrees] as well as accessible post-graduate degrees, to help pharmacists advance a unique knowledge and skill development process beyond the amazing therapeutic expertise of the contemporary PharmD graduate,” according to AACP Executive Vice President and CEO Lucinda Maine, PhD, RPh. “I still believe in a strong generalist pharmacist, especially for the care of complex patients with chronic diseases. Yet when you think about mental health, precision medicine/pharmacogenomics, and cancer — just to name three areas that our Argus Commission examined this year – clearly first degree depth of coverage needs fortification.”2
Fall is the perfect time to consider continuing one’s formal education through graduate school, as the new academic cycle typically begins in Autumn. Below are the most popular options to tack on to that doctor of pharmacy degree, should you choose to return to school for more formal education.
The Master of Business Administration (MBA) is the most popular and available dual degree for pharmacists in schools of pharmacy. A recent Salary.com survey estimates that 13% of the pharmacists who responded to their survey also earned a MBA, and the combination demonstrated a slight increase in salary over a pharmacy degree alone.3
An interesting option for those considering an MBA programs is to focus on an area of business such as marketing, finance or accounting. One interesting MBA program at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia is the Pharmaceutical & Healthcare Marketing MBA for Executives, a 24-month program that attracts both pharmaceutical industry professionals and practicing health care professionals. According to program director Terese Waldron, the two largest benefits of this particular MBA program for students are “industry focus and flexibility.”4
Another option for pharmacists with a passion for public health would be going back to earn their Master’s in Public Health (MPH). Those in and around public health can find niches in epidemiology, biostatistics, health economics and outcomes research, healthcare administration, environmental science, and health and safety. The most popular areas in which pharmacists with MPHs work are health plans, pharmaceutical industry roles, institutional or hospital systems, state public health departments, academia, and consulting.
There are both online and offline MPH programs; although some are accelerated programs that take just over a year to complete, most students take an average of 2 years to earn the degree.5 Pharmacists with a passion for preventative medicine may also want to consider this degree option as an add-on for their careers.
MS or PhD in Informatics
Informatics is a growing area for pharmacists considering a second degree. There is a wide range of longitudinal coursework in informatics for pharmacists, including a certificate in biohealth informatics, master’s programs, and 4-year PhD programs. Much like other degree programs previously mentioned, there are options to complete programs and coursework online or offline.
As the pharmacy profession rapidly changes with technological advances, future-focused pharmacists interested in health care IT, biohealth informatics, big data, and pharmacogenomics research may want to consider informatics as a career avenue to better understand how data can solve problems in health care.
JD or Law Degree
It is generally rare for pharmacists to enter law school at the same time as pharmacy school, as demonstrated by the fact that there are only 5 schools with a joint PharmD/JD program in the United States. However, many pharmacists discover later in their careers they want to study law, as pharmacy is one of the most highly regulated industries in the US.
Pharmacist attorneys play a wide variety of roles, working in areas such as a traditional law firm, patent law, policy development, think tanks, and consultation. Many also take on academic and leadership roles in traditional pharmacy settings.
Law school generally takes 3 years to complete for students attending full time or 4 years for part-time students. Pharmacy law students must also pass the bar examination in many jurisdictions.
MS or PhD in Pharmacology
An add on degree in pharmacology or toxicology can signify that a pharmacist is interested in working in drug development or a laboratory setting. Most schools of pharmacy have a pharmaceutical sciences department, and many professors in pharmaceutical sciences have MS or PhD degrees in pharmacology, toxicology, or medicinal chemistry, but pharmacists with dual pharmaceutical science degrees can also work in industry, laboratories, or toxicology companies, as well as in the federal government and the DEA.
Due to the laboratory and research components of pharmacology and toxicology, many programs have some component of on-campus research time during study. If you want to be part of drug development, consider this avenue for an enhancement to your pharmacy degree.
MS or PhD in Social Administrative Sciences
There are several MS and PhD programs in the social and administrative sciences of pharmacy, including in health policy, health economics and health outcomes research; health outcomes research is increasingly important to payers as well.
While there are some MS degree options available online under the umbrella of social and administrative, most if not all PhD programs require some type of residency on campus.
Some combinations are nearly one of a kind, including forensic science, management, and organizational leadership. Other combinations may be yet to come; personally, I’d love to see a master of the arts in design in combination with a pharmacy program, because we need to re-think and re-design health care, and we need pharmacists who understand both clinical practice and good design. Pharmacist writers could also pursue a MFA or master of fine arts.
Pharmacists and pharmacy students have more options than ever to advance their education. Beyond time and money, of course, your imagination is the only other limit to moving forward with your career expertise!
Erin Albert, MBA, PharmD, JD, PAHM, is a health outcomes pharmacist, Pharmacy Podcast Network co-host, writer, entrepreneur, attorney, preceptor, career coach, STEM advocate. She has written several books on careers in pharmacy, including The Life Science Lawyer and The New Pharmacist: 46 Doses of Advice. More on Dr. Albert can be found on her website, www.erinalbert.com.
- Conversation via email with Dr. Lucinda Maine and Dr. Erin Albert, May 22, 2017. Document available online of pharmacy schools at: http://www.aacp.org/resources/student/pharmacyforyou/admissions/admissionrequirements/Documents/PSAR%2017-18%20Table%204.pdf. Last accessed 6/2/17.
- “Aligning the AACP Strategic Engagement Agenda with Key Federal Priorities in Health: Report of the 2016-17 Argus Commission,” AACP. www.aacp.org.
- Salary.com, “Pharmacist salaries,” available at: http://www1.salary.com/Salaries-for-Pharmacist-with-a-Masters-Degree-or-MBA. Last accessed 6/2/17.