How Long Is Pharmacy School?

It depends! Learn about the three main routes to a PharmD, the pros and cons of each, and what to expect in terms of prerequisites and coursework.

If you’re looking into pharmacy school, first, congratulations! I’m so excited that you are preparing to join the profession I care so deeply about. I truly hope that you will be welcomed, supported, and rewarded by those around you and the work you are able to do. But what will the path into the profession look like? There are three main routes you can take to attain your PharmD: a four-year graduate program, a six-year program, or a six-year direct-entry program.


Four-Year Program

A four-year graduate program, sometimes referred to as a 4+4, is the option that takes the longest to complete but certainly has its place in the market. This type of degree is best suited for those who come to pharmacy in their later years of an undergraduate program or even years after graduating college. The four-year graduate program holds the expectation that the student already has a bachelor’s degree and has completed the general education and foundational sciences to continue into pharmacy. For example, if someone received a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and decided after graduating that they wanted to become a pharmacist, they could then attend a four-year graduate program to complete their PharmD. This is where the first half of the 4+4 comes from.


Six-Year Program

The next path is a six-year program, sometimes called a 2+4. Unlike the four-year graduate program, a student in a 2+4 would enter the program with no previous college experience, often directly after high school. The first two years of the program are spent in a pre-pharmacy undergraduate curriculum. This is where you cover all of the foundational sciences and whatever other general education requirements your institution expects. Towards the end of these two years, most institutions then require students to apply to the university again, this time as a pharmacy graduate student. Upon being accepted, the student begins their journey into the four years of graduate school, just the same as the students in the 4+4 program. A 2+4 is a good option for students who are sure or mostly sure they want to go into pharmacy as soon as they exit high school. This process is only three-quarters the time of the 4+4 and will likely be cheaper.


Six-Year Direct-Entry Program

The last curriculum style for pharmacy school is the direct-entry six-year program, also called a 0+6. While this method takes the same amount of time as the 2+4 curriculum, it has a vastly different set-up. The 0 in the 0+6 is the defining difference. A direct-entry program has zero years in pre-pharmacy. You read that correctly! You enter a graduate program from the day you step into the curriculum, which, for many students, is directly after high school. And being part of this graduate program means you will be entering into pharmacy-based classes. This does mean that the standard curriculum has to be slightly altered to accommodate this. You may have noticed the common thread in the first two programs: foundational sciences need to be taken care of before real pharmacy work can begin. I counter with, “Well, sort of.” It would be nearly impossible to fully grasp drug decomposition and receptor binding affinities without general and organic chemistry skills. And you certainly wouldn’t make it through a cardiovascular therapeutics module without an anatomy and physiology backbone. They’re called foundational sciences for a reason, right? But there’s a lot more to pharmacy than math and science.

So you’re a freshman walking into your first semester of a 0+6 direct-entry program. What can you expect? You will start right away on your foundational sciences, which takes approximately two years. Alongside these courses, you will also take what might be called “pharmacy practice” courses. These courses contain a lot of information designed to immerse you into the profession of pharmacy. While you don’t have the skills to begin dosing and adjusting therapies yet, you can still think like a pharmacist, and that’s exactly what these courses are designed to teach you. Topics covered in these courses can span the gamut from interpersonal skills, to understanding the US healthcare system, drug-development processes, foundational pharmaceutical calculation skills, how to communicate with doctors, how to navigate electronic medical records, and even the history of the profession. You also learn specific skills and principles required by accrediting bodies, such as interprofessional education and the patient care process.

The benefit of a 0+6 program structure is you can begin being involved in your future profession from a younger age, and it is likely cheaper than a 4+4. If you know you want to go into pharmacy from high school, this is a great option because you can dive right in. This same feature can also come as a downside though. If you pursue this route without being 100% sure, you can always change majors later, but you probably wasted some time in classes that won’t be applicable to your new major. This program style also comes with a bit of added pressure, because faculty do not hesitate to remind you from day one that you are in a doctorate program, and they expect you to live up to that both in class and out. A 2+4 program may ease the pressure a bit for those first two pre-professional years.


In Conclusion

No matter which curriculum track you decide on, each has its positives and its downsides. If you are considering pharmacy school, look into the options available to you, and understand what those numbers mean when you see them. Good luck — it goes fast!

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