Pre-med students seem to have all the answers, yet many struggle making the decision of pharmacy vs. medicine. This indecision, pharmd vs md, does not subside as students enter professional programs. I’ve encountered several first year pharmacy students who have decided to make the switch from pharmacy school to medical school.

Pharmacy vs. Medicine?: Your Guide To Answering The Daunting Question when leaving pre-med school.

It may sound counterintuitive that these bright-minded people are struggling with an innocuous decision. Yet, it happens more often than we students would like to admit. Full disclosure, there have been times where I question my own decision to enter a pharmacy program (don’t tell my dean!).

There is a prominent issue I see far too often in choosing pharmacy or medical school. Students aren’t doing adequate research on which path is best suited to match his or her ambitions. While it is merely one opinion, I will outline a handful to reasons of why to study pharmacy and not medicine.

Making The Commitment:

First, let’s examine the commitment aspect of pharmacy vs. medicine. It is important to understand that pharmacy or medical school requires immense commitment. Prospective students must consider the time, financial, and lifestyle commitments with each program.

Let’s begin with time commitments.

Like medical school, pharmacy school is a 4-year doctorate program. Some institutions, however, offer a 3-year accelerated pharmacy program. Either program will expose to students to high levels of stress and low amounts of sleep; it’s a great deal of work.

While there’s no way around the four years of school, there is a distinct difference in the time commitment after graduation. Pharmacy students have the opportunity to complete their internship while in pharmacy school. Furthermore, once you’ve earned those letters after your name and passed the board examines, you’re free to work and rake in the Benjamins! And, if after all that schooling, you’re still looking for more, there’s always residency!

Residency. No, not in-state or out-of-state:

Residency for pharmacy students is different from that of medical students. A pharmacy residency program is one year, or two years specialize.

In contrast, medical students must complete their internship after graduating. Medical students can also expect a residency of 4 to 7 years to specialize. While it may seem like a simple reallocation of time, this is far from the truth!

The unfortunate reality is that student debt isn’t going to leave its victims alone while they specialize. Furthermore, residents (pharmacy or medical) don’t make a great deal of money. According to, pharmacy residents earn an average or $44,510 per year and medical residents earn an average of $53,961 per year. These salaries will appear even smaller as an ugly monster lurks in the shadows. That monster is six-figure student loan debt; a beast so terrifying, even the Boogie Man runs to hide!

A longer residency equates to a longer time before the zeros make their way onto your paycheck. Likewise, a lengthy residency can delay plans of a family, world travel, and nights of adequate sleep. It is wise when making the decision of pharmacy vs. medicine, to examine both the time and financial commitments. Subsequently, weigh these against your goals for life after pharmacy or medical school.

Living The Good Life:

“Work/Life Balance” seems to be one of the hot topics surrounding any occupation these days. People do not wish to be “married to the job” and often opt for situations where work does not interfere with home life. There are several avenues to consider as it pertains to lifestyle when choosing pharmacy vs. medicine.

Many doctors lack the ability to power down their cell phones and completely unplug. Going home for the day doesn’t mean clocking out. Pharmacists, however, don’t often struggle with this issue. Not to provide the illusion that all pharmacists have the ability to work Monday-Friday 9-5 and call it a day. But, the hours for a pharmacist tend to be more favorable.

Pharmacists working in the retail setting can expect “irregularly, regular” hours. There will be nights and weekends where retail pharmacists have to work. These hours and schedules are generally set and don’t often change without notice.

Pharmacists working in the hospital setting can expect more traditional hours based on the needs and expectations of their employer. Either way, pharmacists have a better understanding of when they will be at work and often do not have to take work home. This allows pharmacists to better maintain a healthy work/life balance. And honestly, when was the last time anyone heard, “hold on, let me get in touch with the on-call pharmacist.”

Show Me The Money:

While it may sound shallow, let’s be honest for a moment. Many entering doctorate programs don’t do so to earn a pedestrian salary. Many may see the earning potential of a doctor (some salaries upwards of $500,000 per year) and think this is the better route.

First, consider this:

Graduates of pharmacy or medical school can expect to leave school with two things: the title “Dr.” and an average of $150,000-$160,000 in student loans. And, the worst part is the interest! Oh, another unfortunate happenstance is you have to pay it all back.

Pharmacists earn a great income! Hospital pharmacists average $108,000 per year and retail pharmacists average $119,000 per year. While it may seem a large discrepancy (pharmacy vs. medicine), take into account the shortened time in residency for a pharmacist. Shorter residency equals shorter time to big paycheck! Having the ability to pay off those students loans quicker evens out the wage gap; think of it as opportunity cost.

If the goal of pharmacy or medical school is to get out and start earning a wage, pharmacy school is the way to go!

To Infinity, And Beyond:

This is a great time to be in pharmacy! The field is expanding and changing at a rapid pace, in a very exciting way! New avenues of pharmacy are gaining traction daily. Medical teams are gathering a better understanding of the importance of good pharmacists (it’s about time!). Pharmacists can expect expanding roles as the push for provider status continues.

With provider status and increased technology in point-of-care testing, comes the ability for pharmacists to diagnose, prescribe, and bill for consultation services. With these advancements in medicine, there will be a need and great opportunity for pharmacists.

This is one of the key elements, personally, in my answer for “why study pharmacy and not medicine?” Pharmacy is medicine! Doctors are the practitioners who prescribe, but pharmacists are the experts in medicine. The future of pharmacy is bright for professionals entering the field of pharmacy!

This investigation of pharmacy vs. medicine is, in no way, a complete manuscript on making the decision, yet it serves as a template. When pondering pharmacy or medical school, genuinely take the time to think about everything it means to be a doctor or a pharmacist. Got it?

Great! Now, think a bit more and then make a decision that is best for YOU! After all, this will be how you spend the next 30-40 years. Break out the legal pad, score it down the middle, and make a pros and cons list that would put Ted Mosby to shame! Be honest, be thorough, and be confident in making the decision of pharmacy vs. medicine.