PharmD or RPh: Does It Matter?


We should all focus on the pharmacist and not the degree.

In my career, I have experienced several temperature excursions when storing vaccines, primarily as a result of storage in consumer-model refrigerators.

As I discussed in a previous article,1 1 crucial step is to call the manufacturer and obtain any off-label stability data that they might have to validate the continued use of those vaccines.

The medical affairs departments of those manufacturers always gathers basic information on both me and the pharmacy as part of their write-ups of the case.

For some reason, they always seem to ask “PharmD or RPh?”

The first time I heard that question, I was confused as to why they were even asking it, and I said “both.”

The representative was then confused, and I let her check whatever box she wanted to, so that we could move on to the problem at hand.

Upon further reflection, I realized that it really highlights a systemic problem in the pharmacy world: Companies, without even understanding the background or meaning of those terms, treat pharmacists who have a bachelor’s degree and those who went to school to pursue a doctoral degree differently. Furthermore, they do not seem to understand that an RPh is earned by every pharmacist who is licensed, not just those with a bachelor’s degree.

Most of us have also seen job ads that require a PharmD, and I saw an older pharmacist get laid off when his position was changed to "director" from "manager," and the company had everyone in that position reapply for their jobs and then listed one of the job requirements as a PharmD. The company later realized that it had extremely qualified applicants applying with bachelor’s degrees, plus master’s degrees in pharmacy (for those who do not now, that was an older route of pursuing post-graduate training) with years of experience in his specialization. Because of that, the company later changed the job description to read "PharmD or master’s degree in pharmacy."

In reality, there is little difference in the number of years spent in school between the Bachelor of Science and the Doctor of Pharmacy degree. For example, at the University of North Carolina in 1979, the BSc pharmacy curriculum was changed to include 2 years of undergraduate work and 3 years of pharmacy school. During that time (and many years prior), there was a lot of debate about making a PharmD the entry-level degree, but oddly enough, many academics and even the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) resisted the idea, leaving it at a BSc degree. It was not until 1992 that the AACP officially decided to make the PharmD the entry-level degree, and that was not mandated until 2000.

A History of the UNC School of Pharmacy (Cocolas) has, at the very bottom of the document, a comparison of a BSc curriculum and a PharmD curriculum. The primary change in the last year was that the entire experiential portion of the education moved into the school.2,3 The didactic portion of the curriculum has also certainly evolved in that time period, but there have always been curriculum changes, and in fact the curriculum in pharmacy school is already very different than when I graduated in 2010. I hope it continues to evolve to suit the changing educational needs and roles of pharmacists.

Instead of focusing on the name of the degree, it would be much better to focus on experience and transferable skills, whether that is through a residency, which, as I said earlier, many “RPhs” have completed, through work experience or through some other type of post-graduate training (MBA or MPH, certificate programs, etc.). Making hiring decisions based on a person’s aptitude, emotional intelligence, and soft and transferable skills will lead to a much better team and ultimately better quality health care for patients.


  • Evans A. 6 best practices for refrigerated vaccine storage and handling. Pharmacy Times. June 28, 2016. Accessed August 25, 2018.
  • Council on Credentialing in Pharmacy. Credentialing in pharmacy. The Council on Credentialing in Pharmacy. Am J Health Syst Pharm. 2001;58(1):69- 76.
  • Cocolas GH. A history of the UNC School of Pharmacy. Accessed August 25, 2018.

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