How long does it take to become a pharmacist? Students considering a career in the pharmaceutical sciences must first complete an undergraduate education lasting 2 to 4 years. It typically takes 4 years to finish pharmacy school and earn the professional doctorate called the Pharm.D., or Doctor of Pharmacy.
It is possible to become a pharmacist in as few as 6 years with an associate’s degree, but the more common timeline is 8 years, including 4 years as a bachelor candidate and 4 years in professional pharmacy training. However, the longer the training is, the higher the average pharmacist salary will be (more about that).
At this time, a 4-year bachelor’s degree is not a standardized requirement for getting into pharmacy school, though it is now mandatory at many popular institutions. The length of the undergraduate period thus partly depends on which degree program one wishes to attend.
The specific undergraduate coursework requirements vary by school, but typically these comprise a broad-based science education. The chosen major is not as important as completing the core prerequisites.
Some of the most common pre-pharmacy credits include:
- General Chemistry
- Organic Chemistry
- Anatomy & Physiology
Before gaining admission to pharmacy school, many students will need to take the national Pharmacy College Admission Test, or PCAT, exam—though not all programs require these scores. Undergraduates should check with their desired schools’ coursework and testing criteria as early as possible to ensure future eligibility.
Different students will have different PCAT preparatory timelines; some students are ready in a matter of weeks; others need several months. Integrating long-term study into one’s undergraduate period will help shorten the amount of time it takes to become a pharmacist.
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A variety of schools offer bachelor, master, and Ph.D. tracks in the pharmaceutical sciences. These degrees are useful to prepare for or extend a pharmacy education, but students must attend a 4-year professional program leading to the Doctor of Pharmacy, or Pharm.D., to practice as entry-level pharmacists. Pharm.D. programs integrate a rigorous science education with several thousand hours of supervised clinical practice.
After graduating from pharmacy school, students then apply with their state’s Board of Pharmacy for authorization to take the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) and/or the Multi-State Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE). This process can take weeks or months, depending on the jurisdiction.
Most states require a minimum number of pharmaceutical practice hours before Pharm.D.s can receive a full license. School practicum hours may or may not contribute to additional experience requirements. While awaiting authorization to test, many students work as interns to fulfill their remaining state experience requirements.
A Pharm.D. graduate with sufficient clinical practice and state authorization can take the NAPLEX and/or the MPJE and thereby become licensed to practice as a registered pharmacist, usually within a few months of graduation.
Alternatively, some Pharm.D.s move on to residencies and fellowships or doctoral research programs to prepare for advanced pharmaceutical practice, which can mean another 2 to 3 years of clinical training.