PharmD or BS degree?

It makes a big difference

Fundamental changes in the educational standards for entry-level pharmacists are at hand, and like the impact the evolution of the technician’s role is having on the industry, the classroom and the marketplace are setting the agenda for the next wave of pharmacists. Accreditation standards for pharmacy schools by the American Council on Pharmaceutical Education (ACPE) will discontinue the bachelor of science degree — and will recognize only the entry-level PharmD degree — beginning with enrollment in 2000. (Flexibility within the ACPE’s guidelines can extend the final class of BS degree graduation to 2004.)

Under the guidelines, pharmacy colleges can use the next three years to develop a degree transfer process, if necessary. The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy has signed on to the new standards. It reports that, to date, 57 of the nation’s 79 pharmacy schools have an entry-level PharmD program. Forty of those schools offer only a PharmD, while 17 offer both PharmD and BS degrees. The ACPE states that the new standards — pushed by the organization since 1989 — have not had an adverse effect on enrollment.

The new standards have been gaining support over the past several years from organizations such as the American Pharmaceutical Association, and the new direction in education already is being felt. "Over the last few years, hospitals have been demanding more academic qualifications for the pharmacy directors, be it PharmDs, a master’s in pharmacy administration, or some sort of further education. The day of the BS is disappearing toward becoming an administrator in a large hospital pharmacy. For the BS pharmacists, the majority are going into retail," says Peter Sullivan of Hickory, North Carolina-based Sullivan & Associates, a recruiting and placement firm in the industry. In New Orleans, recruiter Mary Pearson, for 18 years the head of Pearson & Associates, confirms that she also is seeing increased requirements for PharmDs.

"Certainly there is a greater need for PharmDs, and we’ve tried to enhance programs for RhP certification to differentiate them in the marketplace," agrees Gordon Vanscoy, PharmD, MBA, assistant dean of the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy. We’re also finding that salaries are greater for pharmacists with clinical experience and a business background. Those skills are a high commodity." He adds that the school is integrating managed care and alternative practices, as well. "I’m teaching that the industry’s future is in your knowledge base, not in what you do, and we’re no longer training students to be pharmacists in western Pennsylvania, but we’re training them to be pharmacists anywhere."

The National Association of Chain Drug Stores (NACDS) is squarely against the ACPE’s new accreditation standards. NACDS president Ronald Ziegler has made that opposition clear, while hinting that his association may resort to legal action to halt the change in accreditation standards. He argues that only individual colleges or state pharmacy boards hold the power or the right to make that decision, which he says will "subvert marketplace directions." "We believe it is anticompetitive for an accrediting body or any national organization to use their position to force or pressure schools to abandon a degree program that is producing graduates who meet the requirements of state boards of pharmacy," he says.

With some 80,000 RhPs working in chain or supermarket pharmacies, the eventual decrease in BS degree holders could dry up the employee pool the NACDS now enjoys, but as Ziegler himself notes, the marketplace will likely determine the course of events.

[For more information, contact Ronald Zeigler, President, National Association of Chain Drug Stories, 413 N. Lee St., Alexandria, VA 22313. Telephone: (703) 549-3001.]