Even as pharmacists are still divided on whether the profession should have moved to the Pharm.D. degree, there are some industry insiders who believe that an eight-year entry-level degree is in the offing. Fueling this belief is the fact that a majority of students today enter pharmacy schools with several years of undergraduate education and many expect that a prior B.S. (or B.A.) degree will be a requirement in another 10 years.
While the move from the B.S. to the Pharm.D. was pushed by industry leaders, the changing nature of entering students appears to be driven primarily by increased competition. Simply put, even as pharmacy schools expand in size and number, it is more difficult than ever to get into a pharmacy school. According to Lucinda Maine, executive VP of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), pharmacy schools receive seven applications for every opening.
In fact during the 2004-2005 school year, 70.2% of applications for pharmacy school came from students with at least three years of schoolwork and 46.2% held at least a baccalaureate degree. "The applicant pool has become so large that schools receive more applications from candidates with three or four years of undergraduate experience," explained Maine. "They are more competitive candidates."
The hope is to offer a more rounded pharmacy school curriculum as well. If entering students have already taken basic classes before coming to pharmacy school, proponents argue, schools will be able to better prepare students for the reality of pharmacy life. "Pharmacy schools want to give students a broad education, and they're doing a great job," explained Gene Memoli Jr., R.Ph., FASCP, VP of sales and marketing, Value Health Care, an advocate for requiring internships for pharmacy students. "Now they need to make sure students who want to practice in a community setting are prepared."
The percentage of students with three or more years of schooling varies widely. At the University of Minnesota, for example, 95% of students come in with at least three years of schooling and 70% already have a prior degree. While it has become extremely difficult to get into the school without a prior degree, Minnesota does not officially "prefer" students with a B.S. degree. In fact, according to Marilyn K. Speedie, Ph.D., dean, University of Minnesota College of Pharmacy and president of AACP, the school's faculty recently decided against formalizing the policy.
One of the primary arguments for accepting students with a degree is that they come to school more prepared for the academic rigors and with a greater level of maturity. Faculty members, noted Speedie, "see some richness that comes from the variety of experiences they bring."
"I find that students with a bachelor's degree are more mature," echoed Jack Rosenberg, Pharm.D., Ph.D., professor and director of the International Drug Information Center at Arnold & Marie Schwartz College of Pharmacy & Health Science, Long Island University. "The more college and training, the better prepared students are for being in our field."
Even schools that give preferences to their own pre-pharmacy students may be transitioning away from those policies. At the University of Connecticut, for example, all students accepted into the pre-pharmacy program who complete the required course work and maintain a grade point average of at least 3.0 are guaranteed a spot in the pharmacy school after two years. "We have some nontraditional students, and we think the mixture of the traditional and nontraditional is a very good thing," said dean and professor Robert McCarthy, Ph.D.
The guaranteed admission process also can limit the school—especially at a time when the school receives so many applications that it does not have room to accept them all. According to McCarthy, UConn's requirements will be tightened soon, and he predicted that guaranteed admissions will be scrapped within a decade.