Double Degree Options for Pharmacy Students

As the roles of pharmacists expand, so do opportunities for nontraditional practice settings.

Standard definitions providing uniformity to the terms “dual,” “joint,” “combined,” and “collaborative” degrees don’t exist. Generally, however, institutions will distinguish between dual and joint degrees by the number of credits ultimately obtained.

  • In a joint-degree program, some course requirements overlap and count towards simultaneously or individually conferred degrees.
  • In a dual-degree program, each degree is conferred separately and coursework doesn’t overlap.

For the sake of consistency, I’ll use the umbrella term “double degree” to refer to all encompassed programs, but keep in mind that requirements are institution-specific and do vary.

Why Pursue a Double Degree?

When pharmacy residencies and fellowships seem scant, some students choose to earn an additional degree to differentiate themselves from other candidates. Others, like myself, had specific degrees in mind before they began pharmacy school. Some expand their business acumen to accompany an entrepreneurial future, while others enhance their research skills early on for a career in drug discovery.

Regardless of what ignited the desire for double degrees, students with them attain at least the following:

  • Competencies in a second discipline
  • Increased exposure to different aspects of pharmacy practice through the second chosen discipline
  • Strengthened skills related to both disciplines
  • Preparation for non-traditional roles

Although many advantages exist, here are a few things to consider before committing to another degree:

  • The extra time requirement: this can range from 1 (MBA, MPH) to 3 extra years (PhD).
  • The additional coursework: students may be required to take extra core classes or electives on top of a full pharmacy semester to fulfill the second degree’s requirements.
  • The financial factor: each extra semester means another bill. If both degrees are completed at the same institution, however, this is likely cheaper than completing the degrees separately.
  • The application process: most programs don’t guarantee preference to double degree students. They’re subject to the same application process as everyone else.

What Are Some Double Degree Options?

Although options aren’t scarce, available programs vary from university to university, and each combination has its own purpose.

For example, the University of Connecticut (UConn), offers 3 joint PharmD programs:

1. PharmD/MBA

This combination offers valuable insight and training to the ever-evolving world of health care, aiding advancement of pharmacy practice through leadership.

2. PharmD/MPH

Candidates become better equipped to address health policy, disparities, and research.

3. PharmD/PhD

Candidates receive training that helps them specialize their skills to academia and research needs.

Other universities offer PharmD/MS programs that typically span 5 years, which is attractive to those who desire the additional graduate research training but don’t want to commit to the minimum extra 2 years required for a PhD.

Since the PharmD + MBA/MPH/PhD route is commonly seen, here are lesser-known add-on degrees:

  • MS in Healthcare Informatics (University of Illinois at Chicago)
  • MS in Clinical and Translational Science (University of Illinois at Chicago)
  • MS in Physician Assistant Studies (University of Kentucky)
  • MS in Regulatory Science (University of Southern California)
  • MS in Gerontology (University of Southern California)
  • MS in Global Medicine (University of Southern California)
  • MS in Healthcare Decision Analysis (University of Southern California)
  • MPA
  • JD

Don’t allow this school-specific variation to limit you, though. With accurate and careful planning, you might even be able to arrange something between 2 separate institutions. In this situation, however, you may not have the advantage of double-dipping courses to fulfill credit requirements, and you’re also paying for an entirely separate program. Additionally, you risk over-exertion by dedicating yourself to 2 programs simultaneously.

Also, make sure to keep graduate certificate programs in mind. For example, UConn offers a Certificate in Foundations of Public Health comprising of 4 courses compatible with a pharmacy student’s schedule.

Conclusion

Don’t worry if a double degree hasn’t crossed your mind. If you eventually decide that additional advanced degrees are for you, getting some work experience beforehand will be beneficial, and your employer might even offer tuition reimbursement.

If the only thing holding you back from pursuing an additional degree is your fear of the time commitment, don’t let it hold you back any longer. Time will pass anyway, and I encourage you to spend it doing what you find meaningful.

Reference

Crismon ML, Albright FS, Canney DJ, et al. The Role of dual-degree programs in colleges and schools of pharmacy: the report of the 2008-09 Research and Graduate Affairs Committee. Am J Pharm Educ. 2009;73(Suppl):S6.