October 26, 2022

Pharmacists do extremely gratifying, well-paying work. Retail pharmacists work with patients in their communities and see the direct impact they have on people’s health. Pharmacists in hospitals are important members of interdisciplinary care teams. Pharmaceutical researchers help develop cutting-edge medical treatments. And pharmacists in many other clinical and non-clinical pharmacy career pathways leverage their expertise to optimize  patient care, enhance public health, and improve healthcare. 

To do all that and more takes intensive study, hands-on training, and validation of expertise. Aspiring pharmacists must first earn a Doctor of Pharmacy degree (PharmD) from an accredited college of pharmacy and then pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) to practice legally. PharmD programs such as the online Doctor of Pharmacy program at Butler University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences typically last four years and require students to make a substantial financial investment in their education.  

It’s only natural for aspiring pharmacists to wonder if pursuing this degree is worth it. For some, the profound positive impact of pharmacy work more than justifies the investment required to become a pharmacist. Others want to be sure they will recoup the cost of the degree and consider the question by assessing return on investment, or ROI. The most straightforward way to calculate the ROI of the PharmD degree involves weighing the cost of becoming a pharmacist against what one gains by joining the profession, but there are several factors to consider.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median wage for pharmacists is about $128,000 annually, but pharmacist salaries vary by subfield, location, and other factors affecting pay, such as work experience. 

Most pharmacists work in drug stores and retail pharmacy settings. These community pharmacists earn about $119,000 annually. Meanwhile, clinical pharmacists working in hospitals and other patient care settings earn about $133,000 annually. Pharmacists employed by outpatient care centers and pharmacists who work in research and development are some of the highest earners in the field. 

The top-paying state across work environments is California, where most pharmacists earn about $146,000 annually. However, pharmacists in states or cities where the cost of living is lower can still expect to earn between $95,000 and $100,000.


PharmD tuition varies considerably from institution to institution, according to American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy data. In the 2022–2023 academic year, tuition for the Doctor of Pharmacy online pathway at Butler University is $46,100 for the program’s first three years. Tuition in the fourth and final year, when students participate in rotational practice experiences in several clinical environments, is $49,900. 

Students also pay fees and for course material. At Butler, non-tuition expenses include a $175 tech fee per semester and between $1,065 and $2,695 per in-person immersion session. In immersions, students hone important hands-on skills that cannot be practiced or assessed in an online learning environment. These immersions also expand students’ networks, help them develop soft skills, and contribute to professional growth through simulations based on challenges that practicing pharmacists face.

The sticker price of a Doctor of Pharmacy isn’t necessarily how much a student will pay. Internal and external scholarships can reduce the cost of a PharmD considerably. New PharmD candidates at Butler are eligible for annual $9,000 scholarships for their first two years in the program. Pharmacy students are also encouraged to apply for outside scholarships to fund their education.


Opportunity costs refer to what someone forfeits by choosing one path over another. Opportunity costs associated with higher education include the income students lose while enrolled in full-time academic programs or lifetime earning potential forfeited by choosing to specialize in a lower-paying discipline over a higher-paying one. The opportunity costs associated with PharmD programs are minimal because the ROI of this degree is substantial. While students take time out of the workforce to earn a Doctor of Pharmacy, their future earnings will likely outpace alternative income for other possible career paths, given that most pharmacists earn far more than the national mean wage.


People often calculate ROI as a dollar amount–net gain divided by cost of investment–but when it comes to the ROI of a particular career path or degree program, non-financial factors also come into play. There are benefits beyond salary that can make a career worth pursuing. Doctor of Pharmacy degrees and ensuing careers in pharmacy offer many non-financial returns prospective PharmD students should consider.

Pharmacists do meaningful work and like other healthcare workers, directly impact their patients’ lives. Clinical pharmacy, in particular, is a field in which practitioners see the impact of their work every day. That’s more important than many people realize. Research shows that nine out of 10 workers would take a pay cut to do more meaningful work, making pharmacists fortunate to earn excellent pay while also helping people.

Career versatility is another factor. A PharmD degree qualifies the holder for many career paths under the pharmacy umbrella. Although most pharmacists work in retail pharmacies, PharmD graduates also work in hospitals, nursing homes, public health agencies, and in schools of pharmacy as faculty members. Pharmacists can also leverage the fact that their skills are needed everywhere to work almost anywhere. 

There are also pharmaceutical career paths that place PharmD graduates on the leading edge of innovation and technology. Informatics pharmacists use data science to pioneer new practices in pharmaceutical treatment. Pharmaceutical scientists and research pharmacists help develop new drugs and therapeutics.


The Doctor of Pharmacy has one of the highest ROIs of any graduate degree program. Researchers writing for the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education looked at the break-even point in the income of practicing pharmacists compared to professionals who entered the workforce with only high school diplomas or bachelor’s degrees. They found that over the first 10 years of their careers, pharmacists could accumulate between $700,000 and $1,000,000 in net earnings, depending on the cost of their degree and the career path they followed. Researchers also found that pharmacists on any career track surpassed their peers with only high school diplomas or bachelor’s degrees in net cumulative earnings as early as age 33.

PharmD graduates from Butler University are especially well-positioned to earn a high ROI on their degrees. Butler’s PharmD curriculum is comprehensive and prepares students to provide pharmaceutical leadership in their communities and in the health professions. Small classes with live discussions, presentations, and breakout sessions teach technical competencies while reinforcing soft skills such as collaboration, which pharmacists use in many professional settings.

The Doctor of Pharmacy online pathway offers flexibility but includes an experiential education component that corresponds to real need in the pharmaceutical industry. Students complete three years of synchronous and asynchronous coursework with world-renowned faculty who are researchers and active practitioners. The didactic portion of the program includes three in-person immersion sessions, where students gain hands-on experience. Students complete 10 clinical rotations in the fourth year pharmacy residency in different specialties.

The journey aspiring pharmacists take is time-intensive, rigorous, and in the end, worth it. Careers in pharmacy are some of the most rewarding in healthcare, both financially and personally. Pharmacists enjoy stability and career mobility while enhancing clinical care for their patients and healthcare as an industry. More importantly, pharmacists are vital members of the care teams that help people get well and stay well across their lifespan. Financial ROI is important, but it’s not everything. On-campus and online Doctor of Pharmacy programs such as Butler University’s develop high-earning pharmacists–and community leaders dedicated to serving society and improving patient outcomes. 

To learn more about how Butler’s PharmD online pathway prepares aspiring pharmacists for career success, contact an Enrollment Advisor.