In order to become a pharmacist, one must complete a pre-pharmacy course of study, obtain a PharmD degree, and apply for licensure. A license is required to work as a pharmacist in the United States. One cannot apply for a license unless one has graduated from an accredited pharmacy school program. Accreditation also has additional benefits in that students at an accredited school are eligible for government financial aid. Schools that are not accredited cannot receive federal funding. Accreditation of schools ensures that students are taught similar material in a standardized manner and that individuals with a PharmD degree have similar educational backgrounds, regardless of which school they attended.
Accreditation signals that the pharmacy program was evaluated and met the standards established by the pharmacy profession. The United States Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Association recognize the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE) as the leading authority for pharmacy program accreditation. The ACPE establishes standards and guidelines for pharmacy programs and helps to develop and improve curriculum.
There are also six regional bodies that accredit pharmacy schools:
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
- Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges
- Middle State Association of Colleges and Schools
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
Schools may be awarded two types of accreditation status: full accreditation and pre-accreditation. For a school to be fully accredited, the ACPE must deem that the program conforms to the standards and guidelines set out by the ACPE, including appropriateness of program mission, the capability to meet its mission, evidence that educational outcomes are being met, and the good-faith guarantee that the program will continue to uphold those standards. Programs that are awarded pre-accreditation status are typically recently started professional programs that have no students enrolled but that do have a dean (pre-candidate), or new programs that have students enrolled but that have not yet had a graduating class (candidate).
The ACPE lists the standards by which pharmacy schools are evaluated. These are:
- Standards for Mission, Planning, and Assessment
- Standards for Organization and Administration
- Standards for Curriculum
- Standards for Students
- Standards for Faculty
- Standards for Library and Educational Resources
- Standards for Physical and Practice Facilities
- Standards for Financial Resources
Accreditation assures that the student receives the education and experience necessary to apply for licensure. While individual states have different licensing requirements, it is presumed that someone graduating from an accredited university has, at least, met the educational requirements for licensure.
In order to qualify for government student loans, a student must be attending an accredited university. While there are other grants, scholarships, and loans that may be available to those attending a non-accredited university, the greatest resource, government loans, will be unavailable. Likewise, schools wanting funding for education will be denied government funding if they are not accredited.
Perhaps the most important benefit to attending an accredited school is that the accreditation speaks to the quality of the education. These schools have met the standards dictated by the ACPE and have the resources to continue to meet those standards.
When pursuing a PharmD degree, it is important that one consider whether one’s school is accredited. The accreditation speaks to the quality of the education, the availability of student loans, and the availability of federal funding for the pharmacy school program.