Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Economic Analysis of Earning a PhD Degree after Completion of a PharmD Degree

Academic journal article American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education

Economic Analysis of Earning a PhD Degree after Completion of a PharmD Degree

Article excerpt


Pharmacy school graduates are presented with many career and postgraduate educational options once the doctor of pharmacy (PharmD) degree is earned. Attending graduate school to obtain a degree in a pharmacy-related area is an option chosen by few pharmacy school graduates. Only 9.8% of graduate students enrolled in pharmacy PhD programs have earned a United States (US) pharmacy degree. (1) This percentage has steadily decreased over the last 4 decades. (2-4) There also has been a downward trend in enrollment of foreign students holding pharmacy degrees into US graduate school programs in pharmacy. Pharmacy educators have hypothesized that financial incentives in practice, the transition to a more clinical focus in pharmacy curricula, and implementation of the 6-year PharmD as the entry-level pharmacy degree have led to the downward trend in graduate school enrollment by US pharmacy graduates. (5-7) Concern has been raised regarding the lack of faculty in US colleges and schools of pharmacy who have earned US pharmacy degrees and pursued graduate education. (5,8-13)

To encourage pharmacy graduates to entergraduate school, researchers have suggested colleges and schools use such interventions as stressing scientific inquiry, utilizing marketing models, mentoring students, promoting flexibility within pharmacy curricula, and providing competitive stipends to graduate students. (8,14-22)

Completion of graduate education constitutes an investment. The pharmacy school graduate who chooses to invest in graduate education must forego considerable financial incentives associated with entering pharmacy practice directly. The pharmacy profession is one in which new college graduates can earn an average starting salary in excess of $100,000. This salary presents significant opportunity cost to the student interested in graduate study. Moreover, completion of a PhD in a pharmacy-related area and employment in academia or industry are often associated with starting salaries $20,000 less than those of newly licensed community pharmacists. (23) Regarding graduate education, the question becomes, "Is the investment worth it?"

Considering the relatively lower starting salaries, continued increase in number of colleges and schools of pharmacy, and demand for pharmacists in practice settings, the US shortage of 425 faculty members is not surprising. (24) Pharmacy graduates with residency and/or fellowship training have filled positions in academic settings as the profession has developed an increasingly clinical orientation. Thus, the need for PhD graduates who are pharmacists can be questioned. A comparison of residencies, fellowships, and graduate programs, however, reveals distinct objectives for each of the post-PharmD educational options. In the last 30 years, pharmacy educators have stressed the need for faculty members with PhD training and the skills learned therein to advance the profession. (10,15,25)

Given the financial opportunity cost and time associated with pursuing a graduate degree, why then would anyone with a US pharmacy degree consider pursuing graduate school? There are 2 hypotheses that justify pursuing graduate school: (1) there are long-term financial incentives associated with obtaining a PhD and/or (2) pharmacy school graduates are motivated to pursue the PhD degree by nonfinancial motivational beliefs. Research regarding the long-term financial outlook of careers commonly pursued by PhD graduates is lacking. Financial data collected by the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) and the American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists (AAPS) indicate that the mean starting salary for PhD-trained pharmacy faculty members is indeed less than the mean starting salary for practicing community pharmacists. (26,27) The comparison of faculty and community practitioner salaries is confounded by many pharmacy faculty members and graduate students enrolled in pharmacy graduate programs not having a US pharmacy degree. …

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