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Degree Overview: Associate of Arts (A.A.) Degrees in Pharmaceutical Sciences

Majors Overview June 14, 2014

Those with an interest in an associate’s degree program in the pharmaceutical sciences should know that there are two different types of programs also offered to help meet career goals. This article expands on these degree programs that help students meet the requirements for Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D) programs or pharmacy technician positions.

Associate of Arts (A.A.) Degree Programs in Pharmacy Technician

Students enrolled in pharmacy technician associate degree programs are trained in billing insurance companies, maintaining patient records, and dispensing medications under a pharmacist’s supervision. Students will also become an expert at measuring dosages and educating clients according to prescriptions.

Admission criteria in these two-year degree programs typically include a GED certificate or high school diploma.


Apart from focusing on the fundamentals of pharmacology, coursework in these associate degree programs includes classes on pharmacy operations and business basics. Coursework commonly includes topic areas such as the following:

•Pharmacy administration
•Pharmacology mathematics
•Anatomy and physiology
•Medical terminology
•Medical laws

Career Choices

Graduates of a pharmacy technician associate degree program can seek entry-level jobs at pharmacy call centers, specialty pharmacies, retail pharmacies, and hospitals. They may choose from various job titles:

•Pharmacy records manager
•Pharmacy technician
•Pharmacy billing specialist

Certification and Continuing Education Choices

Most states require pharmacy technicians to register with the state board of pharmacy before allowing them to practice their profession (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)). In some states, these professionals need to earn certification as offered by the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) and other professional organizations.

Criteria for certification by the PTCB require applicants to hold a GED certificate or high school diploma in addition to passing a written exam. Continuing education will enable credential holders to renew certification every two years. Such continued education would comprise courses that cover subject areas such as medication distribution, biology, inventory control systems, and pharmacy law.

Associate of Arts (A.A.) Degree Programs in Pre-Pharmacy

Those interested in eventually pursuing a Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D) degree would benefit by first earning a pre-pharmacy associate degree. Admission criteria in these programs require students to complete courses relating to physics, trigonometry, and carbon compounds. Students are also required to study organic and chemical reactions by spending a lot of time in laboratories.

Admission criteria in the majority of pre-pharmacy associate degree programs require applicants to hold a GED certificate or high school diploma.


Coursework in pre-pharmacy associate degree programs stresses subjects such as science and math and not business subject areas related to pharmacy operations. The courses covered may include the following:

•General chemistry
•Organic chemistry

Job and Wage Outlook

Those who complete pre-pharmacy associate degree programs and satisfy licensing and continuing education norms can seek entry-level work as pharmacists. A job growth of 17% has been predicted for pharmacists during the period from 2008 to 2018 (BLS). The optimistic projection is owed to expectations that there will be a reliance on pharmacists by patients that seek knowledge about drug interactions; consequently, doctors’ offices, nursing homes, and hospitals are expected to hire more of these professionals.

In May 2012, pharmacists took home an average annual wage of $116,670 (BLS). The highest wages to these professionals were paid by industries such as mental health, substance abuse, and residential mental retardation facilities, which paid $122,380 on average. Those employed in physicians’ offices earned an average annual salary of $114,100, while pharmacists hired by ambulatory health care services took home $112,300 on average.

Licensing and Continuing Education Choices

A four-year Pharm.D degree is usually needed for associate degree graduates aspiring to become pharmacists. However, some pharmacy schools expect prospective students to hold a bachelor’s degree, while others don’t insist on anything beyond a two-year pre-pharmacy program.

Those that graduate from Pharm. D. programs are required to obtain licensure in keeping with individual state requirements. Passage of the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) is usually needed in order to accomplish this (BLS).

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