Pharmacy Studies Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

About this article
What will you learn in a pharmacy studies degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and PhD degree and potential careers.
View available schools

Pharmacy Studies: Degrees at a Glance

Pharmacy studies degree programs are typically limited to undergraduate students who want to become pharmacists and plan to earn a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree; however, there are many options for graduate study in pharmacy-related subjects. Most schools offer master's and doctoral degrees in medicinal chemistry, pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences.

Graduate degrees open the door to careers that involve researching, developing and evaluating medications. After completing a master's program, you may work as a pharmacy administrator - the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the number of jobs for administrators will increase 22% from 2010-2020. A PhD paves the way to an academic career, with growth projected to reach 17% during the same decade.

Master's PhD
Who Is This Degree For? Bachelor's-degree holders seeking to advance their pharmacy studies with a heavy emphasis on research and real world application Individuals interested in high-level scientific careers or academic professorships
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Pharmacy administrators ($96,000 - based on salary for medical and health services managers across all fields)*
- Materials scientist ($87,000)*
- Medical scientist ($88,000)*
- University professor ($74,000 - based on salaries for postsecondary teachers across all fields)*
Time to Completion 2 years or less of full-time study Varies for each student and course of study, but generally limited to 7-8 years
Common Graduation Requirements - Traditional coursework in subjects such as pharmaceutical science, chemistry and physiology
- Examinations
- Writing and defense of a thesis based on mentored research
- Coursework similar to master's programs
- Written and oral examinations
- Proposal, writing and defense of a research-based dissertation
Prerequisites - A bachelor's degree in a related subject is required for some programs; however, depending on the program, you may need to possess a PharmD A bachelor's degree or master's degree
Online Availability Online programs are extremely rare Not currently available

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's Degrees in Pharmacy-Related Fields

Master's programs in pharmacy-related fields, such as medicinal chemistry or pharmaceutical sciences, include both core and elective courses. Research is a major component of graduate study, and you often work on focused research under the mentorship of faculty members. Some schools offer the opportunity to pursue a PharmD and a master's degree concurrently, or to transition directly from a PharmD program into a master's program.

For students interested in a pharmacy administration track of study, be aware that many schools limit admission to licensed PharmD applicants. Depending on which path of study you choose to follow, schools may or may not require writing and defending a research-based thesis.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • For the student already holding a PharmD, a master's degree opens up a wide range of career options beyond dispensing medication as a pharmacist
  • With a variety of different study paths available, you can pursue research opportunities that appeal to your interests
  • Laboratory work allows you to collaborate with your peers and benefit from faculty mentorship

Cons

  • Further work in a PhD program may be required in order to hold an academic professorship
  • Certain master's degree programs are only available to students who have already completed a PharmD program
  • Online options are very limited at this time

Common Courses and Requirements

In a master's degree program, you begin with a foundation of core courses in drug design and development, human physiology or pharmacology, depending on your area of emphasis. You also have the opportunity to complete independent research, take written or oral examinations and write a thesis.

Some common courses include:

  • Biochemistry
  • Statistical methods
  • Pharmaceutical analysis
  • Pharmacokinetics

Online Course Options

Across most master's degree programs in this field, the central focus is research and lab work. For this reason, it's very unusual to find online programs, and those that are available will likely be in very limited specialties. Within an online program, you may still be required to attend on-campus sessions.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

Completing a master's degree program could lead to a career in the pharmaceutical field, whether it's in research, drug development or pharmacy administration. A good way to prepare for a leadership position is to earn a certificate concurrently with a master's degree. For example, a certificate program in regulatory and quality compliance would provide a unique advantage for the student interested in a pharmaceutical administration career.

You might also consider schools that offer combined master's degree and residency programs. These programs are about two years in length and require graduate coursework and guided research; they also provide a great deal of experience in the field. In some cases, you need a PharmD in order to qualify for admission.

PhD in Pharmacy-Related Fields

For many students interested in pharmacy studies, a PhD is a good fit after completing a PharmD or a bachelor's degree in chemistry or biology. In addition to lecture-based sessions, most programs allow you to focus on specialized research culminating in a dissertation. While research is the focus of most PhD programs, oral and written exams are a key component as well.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • PhD programs are tailored to a student's interests and allow a high degree of independence
  • Students with a PhD are often qualified for postsecondary teaching positions
  • Opens the door to high-level medical scientist careers, which are predicted to see faster-than-average growth (36% between 2010 and 2020)*

Cons

  • It can take up to eight years in some cases to complete this course of study - a long, intense process, even for the most motivated student
  • Working in a university can be stressful - new faculty members juggle teaching duties alongside research and publishing opportunities
  • The unpredictable nature of funding from the federal government keeps the hunt for research grants highly competitive

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

Required courses are similar to those you would take as a master's degree candidate. Coursework varies based on the specialty track chosen by the student; topics may include pharmaceutical science, statistics, neuroscience and grant writing, to name a few. Beyond required classes and examinations, you investigate your specific interests, such as pharmaceutical administration, medicinal chemistry or pharmaceutics. Based on those interests, you'll research and write a dissertation. In most cases, you need to defend your dissertation before a committee of faculty members.

Online Degree Options

Given the fact that much of the work for a PhD candidate is accomplished in a laboratory, it would be very unusual for you to find an online option. For students considering a PhD program, a traditional path of courses and research is the best option at this time. Mentorship from faculty and collaboration with other students is also an important part of preparing for your career.

Stand Out With This Degree

If your desired career path is in the academic world, gaining experience as an instructor can give you an edge on other candidates. Many universities consider teaching experience to be an essential qualification. Teaching as a graduate assistant is an ideal way to enrich your academic experience, as well as get ahead in your career. Keeping up with current research trends in the field can also help you stand out from the crowd.

Other Degrees to Consider

If you're interested in becoming a pharmacist, consider enrolling in a Doctor of Pharmacy program. Though a bachelor's degree isn't always an admissions requirement for PharmD programs, you usually need to complete about 2-3 years of prerequisite coursework. PharmD programs often require four years of study and prepare students for professional licensure.

Demand for pharmacists is expected to grow as new medications are developed and the number of older people who take one or more types of medication increases. The BLS predicts that job growth in this field will be faster than the average across all occupations, with a 25% increase in jobs from 2010-2020.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Regent University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
  • New Orleans, LA

    Xavier University of Louisiana

  • Wingate, NC

    Wingate University

  • Pomona, CA

    Western University of Health Sciences

  • Morgantown, WV

    West Virginia University

  • Toledo, OH

    University of Toledo

  • Philadelphia, PA

    University of the Sciences

Featured Schools

Grand Canyon University

  • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration

What is your highest level of education?

Regent University

  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership

What is your highest level of education completed?

Xavier University of Louisiana

Wingate University

Western University of Health Sciences

West Virginia University

University of Toledo

University of the Sciences