Is the 3-Year PharmD the Best Program for the Future?


Why did a top college of pharmacy switch to a 3-year program from a 4-year one?

The University of California-San Francisco next year is launching a new pharmacy curriculum that takes 1 year less to complete. (

UCSF is billing the new program as a “3-year, year-round program, allowing earlier entry into advanced training beyond the PharmD.”

Three-year PharmD programs represent a minority of pharmacy programs, but they are a large fraction of the newer colleges of pharmacy. What makes UCSF’s move such a stunning change is that the college is a public-research university, ranked number 3 in the US News and World Report list of pharmacy college rankings, and it previously worked under a 4-year model. If one of the best colleges of pharmacy in the country adopts this model, should other schools follow?

Let's look at the 2-year, 3-year, and 4-year PharmD and weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each.

2-year PharmD

If I had completed my pre-pharmacy requirements in 2 years in 1992, I would have entered the last class to graduate with the 5-year bachelor of science in pharmacy program offered at the University of Maryland College of Pharmacy. To earn a PharmD, I would have needed to be accepted into a 2-year post-graduate program that took about 20 clinically minded students. The difference was that students with a bachelor’s degree could earn pharmacist wages working weekends to pay their way through the PharmD, minimizing student loan debt.

3-year PharmD

On June 26, 2013, 2 1/2 hours east of Baltimore in Princess Anne, the doctor of pharmacy program of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore School of Pharmacy was awarded full accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education's board. The accelerated program allows students to graduate in 3 years. Dallas Tolbard, a guest on the Pharmacy Podcast, completed her degree in 3 years, earned a PGY-1 residency at a VA hospital, and now works at the top of her license. You can hear her interview at This seems to be the direction in which UCSF is going, considering the PharmD only a baseline for future practice and a residency or PhD work an expectation.

4-year PharmD

In a recent video (, I reviewed the advantages and disadvantages of a 3- versus 4-year pharmacy degree. The advantages of the 4-year degree included less stress, more time to complete externships and work, and time to establish one’s preferences for the future. Financially, students lose a year of work as a pharmacist rather than technician and may have an additional year’s worth of housing costs. Personally, I preferred having 3 years to spend with my classmates before going on to a year’s worth of rotations.

What colleges of pharmacy should think about if they make this shift en masse is the economic impact on the profession. The move to the all-PharmD led to an exponential increase in pharmacy salaries. Rapidly shifting a large number of schools to a 3-year program is good for schools individually, allowing them to gain a year’s worth of tuition a year earlier and 95 students get to enter the workforce a year earlier. But adding a large wave of pharmacists to a challenging job market could be catastrophic.

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