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International Students, Start Your Pharmacy Career at KU

University of Kansas
majors
career planning
By Matt Killorin
Last updated on March 19, 2021

Learn more about the pharmacy studies program at the University of Kansas.

University of Kansas

Three international students in the KU pharmacy program wearing PPE stand side by side in a lab

Professional pharmacists are experts at understanding illnesses and prescribing the right medication to help patients heal. If you are an international student considering a pre-pharmacy program in the United States, the University of Kansas School of Pharmacy is ranked in the top 25 pharmacy programs in the country, with many advantages students cannot find at other universities. Read on to learn more about KU’s pre-pharmacy program and pharmacy studies in the United States.

Why Pharmacy at KU?

Pharmacy students at the University of Kansas graduate with a sought-after degree from one of the best schools in the country. The KU School of Pharmacy is ranked seventh in National Institutes of Health funding for pharmacy schools and has been in the top 10 for more than 20 years. As one of the top research universities in the country, KU is a popular destination for top-notch pharmacy academics, many of whom teach the pre-pharm classes. 

“KU ranks in the top for research funding and many of our instructors are the researchers in those well-funded areas,” said Chris Claussen, recruitment coordinator and pre-pharmacy academic advisor at the University of Kansas. “We attract really good talent because of the funding and since those researchers are also teaching classes, we feel really strongly about the caliber of our instructors. They’re not just basic scientists in pharmacy, they’re scientists at a top-10-in-the-country institution.”

In addition to research funding and great instructors, KU offers some of the best experiential opportunities available to pharmacy students. Students administer thousands of free flu shots to the community during cold and flu season each year at the university’s annual Operation Immunization event. Students who choose to continue into the PharmD program also enjoy exclusive access to fieldwork programs at hospitals and medical centers throughout the state of Kansas. 

“A quarter of pharmacy school is spent in clinical rotations; they’re built into the program,” said Claussen, who noted this is the case at almost all programs in the US. “We have a three-person team that coordinates our experiential education program, and, as the only pharmacy school in the state of Kansas, we’re in an enviable position where we don’t compete with a lot of other institutions for clinical practice sites. As a result, we have about twice the capacity for clinical rotations than our student body size requires.”

To maintain these numbers, its excellent teacher-to-student ratios, and small classes, the University of Kansas program is exclusive — they only accept 130 students to the Lawrence campus PharmD program with each incoming class.

Which Skills and Strengths Do Pre-Pharmacy Students Need?

Some pre-pharmacy students become researchers, testing new medications that save lives. Other pre-pharmacy students become entrepreneurs, running retail pharmacies that serve a community. Some pharmacists do both, and more. 

“One of our associate deans used to joke that there are various career pathways for pharmacy students, but none of them are a life sentence,” said Claussen. “If someone wants to work in one band of practice for a while, they can, and then they can work in a different band of practice later. We have instructors who are practitioners now; in addition to teaching, they’re also working in clinical settings and pharmacies.”

Many pharmacists build excellent interpersonal communication skills when working directly with patients, while others focus on the profession’s scientific side and work with small teams in the laboratory. There are many options available for pre-pharmacy students that draw on a wide variety of interests and abilities. 

“Our students typically have a knack for the sciences. So chemistry and biology are typically the two biggest science interests among our prospective students,” said Claussen. “They may have an interest in research as it relates to health care, as well. I think a lot of them have that intrinsic interest in helping others and individually building relationships with patients.”

According to Claussen, communication skills — both written and spoken — are essential and often overlooked skill sets to have if you want to study pharmacy. Doctoral candidates may be able to navigate the lectures and labs without a solid understanding of, for instance, written English. However, communication skills are critical during clinical rotations and other experiential learning exercises and requirements. 

At the University of Kansas and many other universities, pharmacy school is an immersive experience. That means much of your education is conducted through experiential methods, or learning by doing. Higher-level pharmacy students often work as clerks or interns at medical centers or hospitals as a prerequisite to graduation. According to Claussen, this appeals to students who like to dive in and “get their hands dirty.” 

Find out more about experiential learning >>

What Does the Pre-Pharmacy Class Schedule Look Like at KU?

Pre-pharmacy is a two-year program that students must complete to move on to a PharmD or graduate-level pharmacy program in the United States educational system. Some undergraduates at KU know they want to pursue a PharmD degree before they graduate, and are able to complete the pre-pharmacy requisite during their junior and senior year. 

“This is the laser-focused approach where they do pre-pharmacy in four semesters, or two years, and then start pharmacy school,” said Claussen. “It’s called a ‘2+4’ timeline — the PharmD program itself is four years and pre-pharmacy can be completed within two years or four semesters. About a third of our students do that.” 

Many other students complete a related undergraduate degree — in biology or chemistry, for example — while studying pre-pharmacy. For these students, about one-third of those enrolled in the program, the PharmD program is on a more traditional post-baccalaureate graduate school timeline than the ‘2+4’ timeline. A few KU PharmD students have completed a graduate-level degree in another discipline before entering pharmacy school at KU. 

“There’s a handful of people in the program with master’s degrees in chemistry, for example, or maybe they’ve done some graduate-level research in biology,” said Claussen. “There’s even one PhD biochemist in the PharmD program right now, which I think is kind of cool.”

Undergraduate students on a pre-pharmacy track start with two-plus years of pre-pharmacy classes and then move into the four-year PharmD program (i.e., the ‘2+4’ concept). 

“First, there are a mix of general education requirements and pre-pharmacy science courses,” said Claussen. “In the pre-pharmacy phase of study, there are four semesters of chemistry, four semesters of biology, three math classes, and the general education classes that are required on a pre-pharmacy basis — in all, there are 18 designated pre-pharmacy courses.”

Here’s a sample pre-pharmacy class schedule at the University of Kansas:

First year, first semester: 18 credit hours

  • Principles of Molecular & Cellular Biology

  • General Chemistry I

  • English Composition I

  • Calculus I

  • General education (KU core course): humanities

First year, second semester: 18 credit hours

  • Human Anatomy

  • General Chemistry II

  • English Composition II

  • Statistics

  • College Physics I

 Second year, first semester: 16 credit hours

  • Microbiology Lecture

  • Microbiology Laboratory

  • Organic Chemistry I

  • Organic Chemistry I Laboratory

  • Speaker-Audience Communication

  • General education (KU core course): social sciences

Second year, second semester: 16 credit hours

  • Mammalian Physiology

  • Mammalian Physiology Laboratory

  • Organic Chemistry II

  • Organic Chemistry II Laboratory

  • General education (KU core course): diversity in the US

  • General education (KU core course): global perspective

The KU PharmD program is, at heart, a dual-degree program. After the first two years of the four-year PharmD curriculum, the student is eligible for a Bachelor of Science in Pharmaceutical Studies (BSPS) degree. The combination of pre-pharmacy studies and the first two years of PharmD study constitute the BSPS degree. The third and fourth years of the four-year curriculum lead to the PharmD degree.

The dual-degree nature of the KU PharmD program represents a good value. “Six years of study thus include both the bachelor’s degree in pharmaceutical studies and the PharmD, so it’s a very economical and direct path to an advanced degree that includes a bachelor’s degree, as opposed to requiring a bachelor’s degree ahead of time,” said Claussen.  

While the KU PharmD degree leads to careers in patient care, the KU School of Pharmacy also offers a range of pharmacy research-oriented alternative degree options. For those who prefer research, there are master’s degree and PhD options in the pharmacy research departments of medicinal chemistry, pharmaceutical chemistry, pharmacology and toxicology, and neuroscience. Each of these programs would require prior completion of a related bachelor’s degree and offer an alternative pharmacy pathway, in research rather than patient care.

What Academic Options Do Students Have After They Complete the Pre-Pharmacy Curriculum?

The PharmD program is another four years of schooling after the pre-pharmacy program is completed. Some students decide that track is not right for them, while others find their passion in research or other areas that may not require a doctoral degree. At the University of Kansas, there are five related graduate programs hosted by the School of Pharmacy, which include: 

  1. Medicinal Chemistry

  2. Pharmacology & Toxicology

  3. Pharmaceutical Chemistry

  4. Pharmacy Practice

  5. Neurosciences

The PharmD program student body is divided almost equally between those who studied pre-pharmacy at KU and those who studied pre-pharmacy at other institutions across the globe. For students interested in obtaining their doctorate at a prestigious university with world-renowned instructors, starting pre-pharmacy at KU provides unmatched access to professors, staff members, and advisors. 

“For the student who comes to KU to study pre-pharmacy, there’s the advantage of getting to know the local turf that much sooner … for when they cross over to pharmacy school from a pre-pharmacy status,” said Claussen. “That said, I tell people that we’re probably the most transfer-friendly unit at KU because half of our students did their earlier studies elsewhere before they arrived as a transfer student for pharmacy school.”

What Career Options Do I Have as a Pharmacy Student at KU?

Pharmacists conduct field and academic research, but they also work in hospitals, clinics, and community and national-chain health care centers and drug stores. While many pharmacy students settle into rewarding careers at retail pharmacies, helping their community through medication prescription, there are many other options available for those who have obtained a PharmD degree. 

“There’s what we typically refer to as community practice, but I always explain that that means a thousand different things to a thousand different people,” said Claussen. “If it’s a unique, independent pharmacy, then that pharmacist is also an entrepreneur and interested in leading a team.”

At the University of Kansas, many students pursue community pharmacy practice, but there is also a large contingent that works in an institutional capacity at hospitals, clinics, and even in ambulatory care — which is a pharmacist position that is similar to a family doctor or primary care physician (PCP), developing relationships with patients and delivering care and medication as needed. 

“Ambulatory care [or outpatient medical treatment] has really been on an explosive growth trend lately. Advanced practice — the sort found in an institutional setting — is also growing in popularity,” said Claussen. “Close to 40% of our graduates are headed in that direction, recently.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 55% of PharmD graduates work in pharmacies, drug stores, and other retail settings. Approximately 26% work in hospitals, and the rest work in diverse industrial, retail, health care, and scientific roles. The median pharmacist salary is $128,000 in the United States. 

Here is a list of pharmacy career options available to graduates:

  • Ambulatory care pharmacist 

  • Cardiology pharmacists

  • Community pharmacists

  • Hospital pharmacists

  • Nuclear pharmacists (pharmacists who prepare and prescribe radioactive materials to promote health)

  • Industry pharmacists

  • Veterinary pharmacists 

For more information on these potential career outcomes for pharmacy majors and many others, Claussen recommends checking out the website pharmacyforme.org’s career options page.

Next Steps for Aspiring Pharmacists

KU’s highly ranked program is an excellent option for undergraduate students considering a pharmacist career. Not only does KU offer a great educational experience, but it also sets students up at a better employment rate than the national average. According to Claussen, 75-85% of KU PharmD graduates secure highly competitive residency opportunities — that’s around 20% higher than the national average. 

Students who are interested in the pharmacy program at the University of Kansas should begin their application process through Shorelight or the KU Academic Accelerator Program (KUAAP). When the time is right, you can use the Pharmacy College Application Service (PharmCAS) centralized application when applying to the pharmacy program, making the application process much easier. In addition, KU no longer requires the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT) exam, which means one fewer test to take. 

For international students considering pharmacy studies, you should first reach out to your Shorelight advisor or to the KUAAP team to learn more about KU. Claussen then recommends reaching out to his team in the school of pharmacy for more information. 

“It’s really a two-part application. I mentioned PharmCAS being the application service we use, but we also require [an] institutional application,” said Claussen. “For international students, we always encourage them to apply even sooner than the domestic student, just to allow more time for the international admission process.”

As a pharmacist, you will help people live happier, healthier, and even longer lives. It is a versatile career that can serve you well, whether you stay in the US after graduation or venture out across the world. 

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