What is a non-traditional doctor of pharmacy program and should I pursue one? This article written by an experienced pharmacist preceptor discusses the topic here.
Authored By: Alex Ebied, PharmD, BCCCP
[Last updated 5 May 2019]
Starting with the graduating class of 2006 all students completing pharmacy school obtain a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D) degree. Prior to this time a bachelors of science in pharmacy (B.S. Pharm.) was the primary degree graduates pursued and the Pharm.D. was available but not required. With the introduction of the Pharm.D. requirement and over time as new information emerged about teaching future pharmacists, curricula have been updated and patient care courses have evolved to reflect best practices at the leading edge of medicine. In addition, information technology is now utilized to connect teachers and learners in ways previously not possible.
For pharmacists who completed a B.S. Pharm. degree prior to the Pharm.D. requirement, their colleagues entering the pharmacy profession in the last 13 years have had the advantage of a more robust educational experience. Certainly a lot can be said for the experience that a B.S. Pharm. graduate is likely to obtain between graduation and today, but are there options for such people if they too wish to be a Pharm.D. pharmacist? The answer is yes and they are called non-traditional Pharm.D. programs.
What is a non-traditional PharmD program?
Pharmacists who previously earned a B.S. Pharm. can choose to pursue a PharmD degree. Pharmacy schools have developed programs to assist practitioners in acquiring these skills. Because these programs are offered to practitioner students outside of traditional pharmacy education mechanisms, they are called non-traditional educational programs.
For over 25 years the non-traditional doctor of pharmacy program has been an optional pathway for working pharmacists to obtain a Pharm.D. degree. Non-traditional Pharm.D. programs were developed and designed to be student-focused and student-friendly by being flexible and accessible.
Educational offerings of a non-traditional Pharm.D. program are similar to those offered to full-time student pharmacists. They are rigorous, educationally sound, based on achieving predefined practice competencies, and associated with assessments of learning. Generally, these programs provide education through distance learning techniques, such as recorded lectures and online interactive sessions.
The structure of the non-traditional Pharm.D. programs had to be different than that of its campus-based first-professional degree program counterpart. The stimulus for developing and delivering off-campus Pharm.D. degree programs was two-fold :
- To help BS-level practicing pharmacists position themselves to be competitive within a changing pharmacy job market and expanding scope of practice, and
- To elevate professional competency and the overall quality of pharmacy practice
Why should I consider a non-traditional Pharm.D. Program?
While opportunities for pharmacists are growing in the healthcare arena, those who lack a doctorate of pharmacy degree could find barriers in the workplace. Advancement opportunities may be declined in favor of a Pharm.D. degree rather than experience. Many pharmacy leadership positions now require applicants to have the Pharm.D. degree, rather than B.S. Pharm. or an equivalent, and it is now the only track offered for new graduates who enter the field.
At the same time, the number of pharmacy schools that offer a non-traditional option for pharmacists already practicing in the field is on the decline . For example, the University of Florida (UF) recently made the decision to discontinue their non-traditional Pharm.D. option.
What are typical educational requirements to expect from a non-traditional Pharm.D. Program?
The current available non-traditional Pharm.D. programs are listed here, provided by the American Association of College of Pharmacy .
Courses offered in the didactic portion of the program are new techniques and knowledge that will augment student’s previous schooling. The didactic portion of the program can be online and can typically be completed at a student’s own pace. For the program at UF, each semester also included about 20 hours of online lectures that students watch on their own. This program organized online content by body system. Depending on the pharmacy school program, attendance at remote locations may be required at specific intervals for assignments and exams. Completion of the program takes an average of about three years.
What is academic and experiential performance like for non-traditional Pharm.D. Programs?
Breslow performed a retrospective analysis between off-campus non-traditional Pharm.D. students versus on-campus traditional Pharm.D. students . Raw course scores and course grades were measured to evaluate academic performance in required or elective courses. Overall, the differences in academic performance between the study groups were not significant. For courses or years in which a significant difference was noted, the difference usually reflected a more positive performance by the off-campus Pharm.D. students. The results provide some level of confidence that pharmacy students in off-campus distance-learning programs perform at least as well as campus-based students enrolled in courses with the same delivery method, comparable course material, and the same outcome measures (course scores and grades).
During rotational experiences students are evaluated on their ability to develop patient-centered care plans, participate in an interprofessional team, and expand their practice. The non-traditional clerkship experience at UF for example consisted of three rotations during the program. During the first year, students would be located in an ambulatory care setting where they learn to manage chronic disease states. During the second and third years, the students would be located in an acute care inpatient setting where they participate in medical rounds. These experiences allow the students to be accountable to their assigned patients, further their understanding of the healthcare system, interact with healthcare providers, and experience varying levels of transitions in care. During this time students perform prospective chart review, identify interventions, present their patients, monitor for drug therapy response, perform medication reconciliations, and answer drug information questions.
How much do non-traditional Pharm.D. programs cost?
Each institution has various curricular and educational costs. In addition to tuition, students should be mindful of non-tuition expenses (e.g., housing, books). The table below summaries tuition only costs with each non-traditional PharmD program. Several of the programs describe some non-tuition expenses on their websites, to which links are provided here..
Non-traditional Pharm.D. Tuition*
|University of Colorado||
|Massachusetts College of Pharmacy||
*Costs are not presented in the same way across all schools. See website link for full details.
My best advice for someone considering a non-traditional Pharm.D. program is to be proactive and advance your education if an opportunity exists. While doing so have conversations with pharmacists who have graduated from one of these programs if you can. Ask them things like…
- Did their education and experience impart a positive impact on them?
- Was this education beneficial to their career?
- Would they do the program again if they were given a chance to go back and make the decision again?
- Would they do anything differently before, during, or after the program?
- How did you decide which program was right for you?
I have had the pleasure of serving as a preceptor for over 100 non-traditional PharmD students on rotation who practice all over the United States and Canada. One thing remains clear. Each student entered the program to advance their education in order to improve patient care in their respected work environments. Their compassion for patient care illuminates a life-long career dedicated to service. Each one of my students has made a lasting impact on me and my goal is to pay that forward. My motivation for writing this article is from witnessing my students progress as clinicians through application of pharmacy education and their eager anticipation of bringing this newfound practice home with them.
Reflecting on the Oath of a Pharmacist, “I will apply my knowledge, experience, and skills to the best of my ability to assure optimal drug therapy outcomes for the patients I serve. I will keep abreast of developments and maintain professional competency in my profession of pharmacy.”
Recommended Readings, References & Resources
Here are some suggested readings and references for learning more about non-traditional Pharm.D. programs…
1. Breslow RM. A Comparison of Academic Performance of Off-Campus Nontraditional PharmD Students With Campus-Based PharmD Students. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 2005: Volume 69, Issue 1, Article 8.
4. American Association of College of Pharmacy. Post-B.S. Programs [Internet]. (Arlington; Available at: https://www.aacp.org/sites/default/files/2018-12/psar-19-20-table-2.pdf. Data accessed April 3, 2019.
6. Prabhu S, et al. Process and Performance Outcomes of a Nontraditional Postbaccalaureate PharmD Program Geared Toward Internationally Trained Pharmacists. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. 2015. Article 13.
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