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What Will You Learn in a Doctor of Pharmacy Program?

A pharmacist reaches for medication on a high shelf.

The Doctor of Pharmacy, or PharmD, is a more versatile degree than most people realize. PharmDs often work in community drug stores and hospitals, but doctorate-level school of pharmacy programs  also prepare pharmacists to work in various roles and fields. Research laboratories, veterinary practices, government agencies, pharmaceutical companies, and universities employ practicing pharmacists in clinical and non-clinical roles.

Doctors of Pharmacy can work in so many settings because PharmD degree programs teach students to do much more than dispense medications. PharmD candidates gain the knowledge, skills, and tools to treat patients and improve healthcare outcomes in many different ways. For example, the online Doctor of Pharmacy program administered by Butler University's College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences teaches advanced pharmaceutical science through coursework, simulations, and immersive clinical rotations. It also provides insight into the regulatory, legal, business, and social justice concerns that govern pharmacy practice.  

What Exactly Will You Learn in a PharmD Program?

Accredited Doctor of Pharmacy degree programs must meet the curriculum standards set by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE). These standards ensure that students from all PharmD programs graduate with the skills needed to pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) and work competently as pharmacists. While the ACPE standards apply equally to on-campus and online programs, pharmacy schools implement the curriculum requirements differently. 

Butler's PharmD online pathway students learn foundational and advanced pharmacy skills over 139 credit hours of synchronous and asynchronous coursework and 12 unique clinical rotations. Just like students in traditional full-time pharmacy programs, learners spend four years in class and rotations studying concepts related to:

Medical Science

Pharmacists must understand the foundations of medical science: how the human body works, how it can be affected by disease, and how treatments address these disease states. PharmD programs teach foundational medical science as it relates to pharmaceutical practice. 

Students in Butler's PharmD online pathway learn many of these concepts in their first year in the program. They take courses such as Clinical Biochemistry, Pathophysiology, and Immunology to understand essential medical science and prepare for more advanced courses later in the program.

Pharmaceutical Practice

Therapeutics and Case Studies, Basic Pharmaceutics and Pharmaceutical Calculations, and Principles of Drug Action teach aspiring pharmacists how to apply and administer drug therapies to specific patient cases. Pharmacist Assessment and Immunization teaches students to read and interpret patient medical histories, including diagnostic tests and screenings related to drug therapies. In Introduction to Dosage Forms and Advanced Dosage Forms, students learn how to make dosing decisions.

Industry Functions

Doctor of Pharmacy programs prepare students for careers in different functional areas of the healthcare system. Butler PharmD students learn about the roles pharmacists fill in these areas in the first three years of the program. They take courses such as Approval to Administration: How Drugs Get to Patients and Interprofessional Education and Professional Development to learn about pharmacy as an industry. 

In the fourth year of the Doctor of Pharmacy program, students participate in several clinical rotations where they get hands-on experience in various areas of pharmaceutical work. The third-year course, Introduction to Experiential Rotation, prepares students for their clinical rotations by acquainting them with new technologies in the discipline, pharmaceutical ethics, and malpractice insurance.

Pharmacy Law

Some pharmacists do work focused on regulatory affairs, public policy, or law, but pharmacists in clinical roles must also understand the rules that govern pharmacy practice. Every accredited Doctor of Pharmacy program teaches pharmacy law in the curriculum. Butler PharmD students take Pharmacy, Policy, and the Law, a course covering the laws that affect pharmaceutical work, such as controlled substance laws. It also exposes students to policy analysis for pharmacy law and the foundations of regulatory compliance.

Healthcare Analytics

Today's healthcare professionals have access to more patient data than ever before. Data-literate pharmacists can evaluate electronic health records (EHRs) or operational data to streamline their work and deliver better care, making data analytics a critical competency area for pharmacy graduates.

Butler Doctor of Pharmacy students take several courses covering healthcare analytics. In Introduction to Healthcare Analytics, they learn about the R programming language and spreadsheets, tools frequently used in data analysis; patient data curation and analysis; the analytics skills necessary to draw insights from healthcare data; and how to navigate the complex ethical issues surrounding sensitive patient information. In Health Outcomes and Pharmacoeconomics, they use their data skills to analyze the impact of different drugs on U.S. and global healthcare systems, preparing them for non-traditional pharmaceutical careers.

Leadership

In many healthcare settings, pharmacists are leading voices on pharmaceutical issues, and pharmacists across industries need leadership skills to deploy their expertise effectively. In clinical settings and community pharmacies, pharmacists may lead teams of healthcare professionals to deliver multimodal patient care. In non-traditional pharmacy careers in business and government, PharmDs may lead teams of non-healthcare professionals to develop products or regulations. 

The Entrepreneurship, Leadership, and Management course in Butler's PharmD program teaches students core business administration concepts related to operations, financial management, and marketing in pharmaceutical settings. It also teaches leadership fundamentals that graduates can deploy in any industry.

Research Design

Some pharmacy career paths pair pharmaceutical expertise with laboratory research. Research pharmacists investigate new therapeutics and their potential to treat various ailments. They design rigorous research studies, carry them out in controlled environments, and analyze the results. Research pharmacists must understand how to collect data and deliver reliable study results. Pharmacists in non-research careers should also understand the essentials of pharmaceutical research to evaluate new research.

The course Pharmacy Applications of Biostatistics and Research Design walks Butler PharmD students through the research process and teaches them how to apply new research in pharmaceutical practice. Students learn relevant data storage and statistical analysis techniques, preparing them for research careers and building upon the healthcare analytics skills they learn in the program.

Career Development

Pharmacists enjoy a high degree of career flexibility. After graduation, it's up to individual practitioners to develop their careers according to their aptitudes and interests. PharmD graduates must have an understanding of the pharmaceutical careers open to them and how to navigate different career trajectories.

Butler PharmD students take four Interprofessional Education and Professional Development courses over their first three years. These courses prepare students for experiential rotations in different pharmacy focus areas. Students explore the relationship between socioeconomic and cultural diversity and health outcomes, common medications, and essential competencies in healthcare systems.

Patient Assessment Skills

Pharmacists in clinical and community pharmacies assess patients. They may advise on the use of non-prescription medications, evaluating patients' conditions before making recommendations, or dispense general health and wellness advice.

Butler PharmD students take Self-Care & Health Promotion courses in their first and second years. These courses prepare them to evaluate patients for common diseases or complaints and communicate relevant pharmaceutical information so that patients can safely treat simple medical issues at home.

Soft Skills

Like many other professionals, pharmacists benefit tremendously from soft skills. The best pharmacists have excellent technical knowledge paired with leadership, communication, collaboration, and team building skills.

Butler PharmD students take Diversity and Inclusivity in Healthcare, where they explore power dynamics in healthcare and the interaction of healthcare issues with culture, race, ethnicity, and gender. This training prepares them for challenges they'll face in the program's clinical rotations and to practice pharmacy more thoughtfully and equitably in real-life healthcare settings.

What Should You Know Before You Start a PharmD Program?

A bachelor's degree is sufficient to qualify for most programs. Some universities offer pre-pharmacy bachelor's degree pathways, but you don't need to study pharmacy in your undergraduate years to qualify for enrollment in a Doctor of Pharmacy program. Specific prerequisites vary from school to school, but most programs simply require that PharmD applicants have enough foundational scientific and mathematical knowledge to be eligible for admission. 

An undergraduate degree in biology or health sciences is an excellent starting point for a pharmacy career. However, students without this background can still thrive in Doctor of Pharmacy programs as long as they meet prerequisite coursework requirements. The Doctor of Pharmacy online pathway at Butler University asks that applicants take and pass undergraduate chemistry, organic chemistry, calculus, biology, and human anatomy courses before applying.

Should You Pursue an Online Doctor of Pharmacy Degree?

The best online PharmD programs pair an engaging distance education with hands-on training. The PharmD online pathway at Butler University leverages live class sessions featuring debates, presentations, and breakout group discussions to deliver an education on par with comparable on-campus programs. Small class sizes support collaboration and allow students to build relationships with the school's industry-revered faculty. Graduates are more than prepared to pass the NAPLEX exam required for pharmacy licensure and to excel in clinical and non-clinical pharmacy careers. In 2021, Butler PharmD graduates had a 97 percent first-time pass rate on the NAPLEX, compared to the national average of 84 percent.

What you learn in a Doctor of Pharmacy program won't change based on format. Because the ACPE sets curriculum standards for all accredited PharmD programs, pharmacy students receive the same comprehensive education in online Doctor of Pharmacy programs as they would in on-campus programs. You'll learn the foundations of pharmaceutical care and practice the skills you'll use to do meaningful work every day, whether you decide to pursue a clinical career, go into research, or work in policy roles to enhance the healthcare sector.

Contact an Enrollment Advisor today to learn more about how Butler University trains the pharmacists of tomorrow