Opinion: A Dual Degree Program May Be the Right Investment for a Pharmacy Career

PharmD/PhD dual degree programs are large investments of time and effort, and potential candidates need to make decisions that are right for them.

PharmD/PhD programs are grueling, time consuming, and can be expensive. Are they worth it?

There is not a simple, objective answer to that question. It really depends on what are a prospective candidate’s personal and professional goals.

The length of a PharmD/PhD program can range from 7 years to well over 9 years, depending on the PhD component. It took me 8 years of study post-bachelor’s degree to attain both degrees.

PharmD/PhD programs produce candidates that are highly qualified and competitive for jobs in industry (including roles such as senior scientist, medical affairs, and consulting positions), clinical practice, academia, and in regulatory agencies. Since completing a PharmD/PhD program, I have had success in an array of positions otherwise out of reach, due to specialization and experience requirements. I have been able to pivot from position to position when it best suited my goals and advance my career quickly following graduation. Having both a PharmD and a PhD has made me competitive for tenure-track or clinical academic positions and industry positions alike.

The bottom line is that PharmD/PhDs are generally qualified to do more than those with a PharmD or PhD alone. This can also give PharmD/PhDs additional career stability. With the rising numbers of pharmacists and PhDs in the workforce, as well as current and potential market disrupting forces, future job availability and security are a concern. In my opinion, the largest benefit of getting both degrees is the enhanced ability to pivot as the market dictates and as opportunities arise. I feel this degree combination lowers the risk of being rendered 'obsolete' by evolving technologies or oversaturation of a specific job market.

Having a PharmD and a PhD has some intangible benefits as well. Completing (arguably) some of the most advance training possible in pharmacy and related biomedical sciences confers enormous confidence when applying and interviewing for potential positions. A PharmD/PhD program also will often inherently result in a competitive CV, in many cases due to the presentation and publication requirements for a PhD. After completing a PharmD/PhD, it is easy to distinguish yourself from others early in your career when actual experience in a specific position may be low.

There are not many programs that offer this combination given the infrastructure needed to train and graduate both PharmDs and PhDs. Those with both degrees are indeed a rare breed.

However, there are other important considerations when considering enrolling in a PharmD/PhD program.

These are academically grueling programs that require an enormous amount of time to complete. The extra work it takes in obtaining a PhD has not been found to guarantee a higher paycheck when graduating. This was shown in a 2011 paper published in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, although it is important to note that the authors looked at adding a PhD after obtaining a PharmD rather than graduating from a dual degree program1. The authors also do not assume that the individual is practicing as a pharmacist while completing the PhD.

I disagree with the report’s conclusion that the PhD component is a ”poor return on investment," but another reality is that it is very possible to find positions in academia, industry, and in regulatory agencies with either a PharmD or PhD alone. Having both degrees may put you closer to the front of the hiring line, but relevant experience, a stellar reputation, and preexisting relationships with people in a specific field generally outweighs having 2 relevant terminal doctoral degrees.

I have been asked multiple times if I would do it again? I would say 'yes,' but I would have strongly considered enrolling in a program that waived the tuition for the PharmD component. I would not recommend pursuing a PharmD/PhD program in an institution that requires the candidate to pay for the entire PharmD portion.

If one looks at many analogous MD/PhD programs, tuition waivers or stipends are used to incentivize dedicated students to pursue these programs. There needs to be added incentive for top talent to complete these programs. Schools offering PharmD/PhD programs need to invest more in the students.

For those in a PharmD/PhD program, I would also strongly recommend becoming licensed as a pharmacist as soon as possible and practicing pharmacy in some capacity while completing the PhD component. While daunting at times, the benefits of building additional professional experience will pay dividends when entering the workforce. Candidates should not think that just because they have 2 doctorates that they will immediately get any job that has a PharmD or PhD requirement. Again, I have found that experience is often more important in most cases, as well as networking with influential individuals in the relevant field.

Overall, PharmD/PhD programs are critical for producing clinical scientists needed by various public and private sectors. Attaining the PharmD and PhD combination is difficult but also rewarding. It can lead to a fulfilling career with the right attitude and expectations.

Reference

1. Hagemeier NE, Murawski MM. Economic analysis of earning a PhD degree after completion of a PharmD degree. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education 2011; 75(1): 15.