A higher education in pharmacy offers graduates a doorway into a career that is challenging, rewarding, and in great demand. Pharmacy students may now approach courses online to achieve a certificate for an entry-level pharmacy job, or a full doctor of pharmacy degree (as of 1994 there is no longer a bachelor's degree in pharmacy).
Online pharmacy degrees have become practical only recently. They are under development at various institutions to curb the problem of manpower shortages in the pharmacy industry, and to provide non-traditional students with pathways into the field.
Pharmacy education focuses on patient counseling, monitoring, and evaluating plus documenting patients' treatment outcomes. Naturally, conveying this knowledge in an online format and building required skills in students is a challenge, and requires an innovative use of technology.
"We use a combination of audio streaming, video, CD-ROM, and Internet media," said Dr. Chris Bradberry, Dean of the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions at Creighton University. "The Web pathway students are focused, motivated, and know what they want."
Online pharmacy students should be self-motivated and technologically-savvy, but institutions typically have assistance in place should students have any difficulties.
"Previous experience and enthusiasm are very crucial, but we provide mentors to students for academic support. Technological skill is important, but we offer support through a large IT department focusing on Web support with a real-time help desk," said Bradberry.
Pharmacy students wanting to apply to several schools will find the PharmCAS application service beneficial.
"PharmCAS is a centralized application service allowing a student to use a single application to apply to multiple pharmacy programs. They'll only need one set of references and test scores, and the PharmCAS application is used by a majority of schools," said Libby Ross, Director of PharmCAS and Student Affairs at the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP).
Requirements for pharmacy program eligibility differ by institution, so students should investigate their choice program to make sure they're prepared.
"A PharmD (Doctor of Pharmacy) program is a four-year program with two years of pre-practice study," said Ross. "The majority of students have gone through three years of college before enrolling, and one-fourth have a bachelor's degree or higher."
The AACP website offers a list of prerequisites by institution.
For those students seeking an online Doctor of Pharmacy degree, Creighton's program is uniquely distinguished.
"Being the only entry-level online program that is fully-accredited by the Accreditation Council of Pharmacy Education (ACPE) sets us apart. The ACPE accredits entire programs, not pathways, so we have to prove equity in student performances. We worked for years to demonstrate equivalence in the pathways and earn that accreditation," said Bradberry.
For students who are not ready or sure about a PharmD program such as Creighton's, a pharmacy technician program may be a good option. Karl Friedman, Director of Curriculum for the Professional Career Development Institute (PCDI), said that there were many advantages to pharmacy tech study.
"It's a great way to start. There's so much to be said for learning how the profession operates before making a great educational commitment. Also, a pharmacy technician certificate gives graduates knowledge and skill for a great entry-level job."
Some options for online pharmacy study include:
Online education is typically more affordable than traditional programs, but some students may need loans to complete their education.
"Web students receive the same loan opportunities as campus students," said Bradberry. "Eighty percent or more have financial aid in one form or another."
Even if a program is ineligible for federal aid, there are still scholarships and private loans for students, and many institutions offer payment plans.
Graduates of an online program in pharmacy will have opportunity to work in retail pharmacies, local drug stores, grocery stores, and hospitals. Pharmacy workers will see an estimated 17.4 to 28.6% increase in demand between 2004 and 2014. Pharmacists earned an average median salary of $84,900 in 2004, and pharmacy technicians earned an average of $23,650.
Pharmacy graduates will benefit from important and beneficial positions with tremendous potential. Experts agree that is a continued shortage of pharmacists on the horizon, with a growing number of patients, making now the right time to pursue an online pharmacy degree.