There are primarily two associate's degree options in the pharmaceutical sciences field. The pharmacy technician associate's degree program, which focuses on pharmacy operations, prepares graduates to get entry-level jobs at a pharmacy. These programs are offered at community colleges, and they can also be done at least partially online.
The pre-pharmacy associate's degree program prepares graduates to transfer into 4-year programs in pharmacology and focuses heavily on math and science. These programs are available through 2 and 4-year colleges, but because of the hands-on nature of the coursework, these programs aren't offered online.
Prerequisites for both courses include a high school diploma or equivalent. Some schools may also require internships.
Pharmacy Technician Associate Degree
Pharmacy technician associate degree programs train students to bill insurance companies, maintain patient records and dispense medications under the supervision of a pharmacist. Students can also learn how to measure dosages and educate clients about their prescriptions.
In addition to covering the fundamentals of pharmacology, these associate degree programs include courses on business basics and pharmacy operations. Common course topics are listed below:
- Medical terminology
- Anatomy and physiology
- Pharmacy administration
- Medical laws
- Pharmacology mathematics
Pre-Pharmacy Associate Degree
Pre-pharmacy associate's degree programs are for students who would like to ultimately pursue a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.). To meet the admissions requirements for these graduate-level programs, students learn about trigonometry, carbon compounds and physics. They also spend significant time in laboratories studying chemical and organic reactions.
Pre-pharmacy associate's degree programs focus on math and science, rather than business topics concerning pharmacy operations. Coursework within these programs may include the following:
- Organic chemistry
- General chemistry
Popular Career Options
Students who graduate from pre-pharmacy programs tend to continue their education towards becoming pharmacists. Students who earn pharmacy technician associate's degrees can find employment at hospitals, retail pharmacies, specialty pharmacies and pharmacy call centers. Possible job titles include the following:
- Pharmacy technician
- Pharmacy billing specialist
- Pharmacy records manager
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
Graduates of pre-pharmacy associate's degree programs who eventually earn a Pharm.D. and meet licensing requirements can work as pharmacists. The BLS projected 3% growth in job opportunities for pharmacists from 2014-2024. As more patients rely on their pharmacists for information about drug interactions, the need for these professionals in hospitals, nursing homes and doctors' offices was expected to rise.
As of May 2015, pharmacists earned a median salary of $121,500, according to the BLS. Industries that reported paying pharmacists the highest average salaries included scientific research and development (mean wage of $137,140), offices of physicians ($132,870), and outpatient care centers ($126,980).
Continuing Education and Licensing Information
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), pharmacy technicians in most states will need to complete a registration process through their state board of pharmacy before obtaining work (www.bls.gov). In some states, this entails earning certification from a professional organization, such as the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB).
According to the BLS, pre-pharmacy associate degree program graduates who want to become pharmacists must earn a 4-year Pharm.D. While there are pharmacy schools that accept students who have completed the necessary prerequisite coursework through 2-year pre-pharmacy programs, other schools require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree.
After completing their Pharm. D. programs, pharmacists must be licensed in accordance with state mandates. This usually involves passing the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination, per the BLS.
For students seeking an associate's degree in the pharma sciences, two options are available. Pharmacy technician and pre-pharmacy associate's degrees may help students gain entry level career positions and entryway into further education, respectively.