How to Get a Doctor of Pharmacy Degree in Illinois

Pharmacists will always be in demand in America, and the state of Illinois is no different. In this state alone, there are an estimated 12,000 working pharmacists who make an average annual wage of $125,640. 

Pharmacists work directly with doctors, physicians, nurses, and other medical staff to take on essential patient healthcare roles. Some of the many functions a pharmacist take on include measuring out and dispensing medications, health consultations with patients, checking for drug interactions, and administering vaccinations.

To get your PharmD degree in Illinois, you will have to complete a four-year program from an accredited school that offers a Doctor of Pharmacy degree. Accreditation comes from the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE). This organization grants public recognition to schools with Doctor of Pharmacy degrees that have met particular qualifications and educational standards. With this accreditation, students have peace of mind that they are receiving a professional education. 

Once a student has completed the Doctor of Pharmacy degree program, they will have to pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) and Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination (MPJE), which we will discuss in more detail later.  

Prerequisite Studies

Before you can enroll in any Doctor of Pharmacy degree, you will have to go through 2 to 4 years of undergraduate study. To prepare you for the pharmacist degree program, your undergraduate studies will need to focus on sciences and mathematics. Some courses you will need to pass will include Chemistry, Anatomy & Physiology, Biology, Calculus, Microbiology, Physics and Psychology, to name a few. Some colleges or universities have Pre-Pharmacy studies that have all the prerequisites grouped together for you. If you can find schools that have these Pre-Pharmacy studies, it can make the transition into the Doctor of Pharmacy program a little bit easier. 

Most colleges that offer the PharmD program require students to take the Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT) before applying. This is a computerized exam that will assess a student’s abilities in writing, chemistry, critical thinking, biology and quantitative reasoning. The test has 192 questions and a writing prompt. Students will have 3 hours and 40 minutes to complete it. This exam costs $210. The exam will be graded between a 200-600 range, and each college will assess the score and add it to other requirements to determine if a student is accepted into the program.

Highest Rated PharmD Colleges in Illinois

Illinois has several colleges that offer Doctor of Pharmacy degrees. Here we have listed the top-rated three in the state, plus an accredited, highly rated online school that can help you achieve your goal of becoming a pharmacist. 

These colleges are ranked by first-time NAPLEX pass rates from graduating students. Since prospective pharmacists cannot receive their license until they pass the NAPLEX, we consider pass rates a good marker for a quality school. Schools that consistently have high graduate pass rates indicate a successful program and great teaching capabilities. 

#1. Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

In 2020 at SIUE, of the 78 students who attempted the NAPLEX, 95% passed on their first attempt. This is the highest rate in the state, signifying SIUE as an exceptional school. Southern Illinois University offers a pre-pharmacy course that you can complete in two years and then go straight into the PharmD program which will be completed in four years. 

The first three years of study will focus on advanced courses in microbiology, organic chemistry, pharmacy lay, and pharmacotherapy. The final year of study is mainly practical experience. Here the student works in commercial and hospital pharmacies as they focus on general medicine, dispensing medications, ambulatory care and specialized practices. 

PharmD students can branch off into one of two specializations at SIUE. If a student would rather get into a teaching position, they can specialize in education. Those that prefer to work with children can specialize in pediatric pharmacy. 

#2. University of Illinois Chicago

With a NAPLEX pass rate in 2020 of 89.5%, the University of Illinois in Chicago is our second choice. UIC is the most prominent college in Chicago and has the largest pharmacy program in the nation. UIC is ranked the top college in Illinois and 7th in the country, according to US news. 

The UIC pharmacy program has been teaching students for 160 years. Along with seven pharmacies on the campus itself, UIC has over 900 sites for students to get practical, hands-on experience around Chicago, Rockford, and beyond.   They are one of the largest pharmacy programs in the nation. 

UIC offers program studies in Urban or Rural settings. The urban pharmacy program was established in 1978 to encourage diversity. They represent minority groups such as African Americans, Latino/Latina and American Indians. The main goal of this particular program is to attract and train a group of underrepresented minorities to become quality healthcare professionals in urban locations.  

The Rural Pharmacy Education (RPHARM) program works by preparing students for pharmacy services in rural communities. Students interested in the RPHARM program will work with professional individuals familiar with the challenges associated with rural communities. They will work with rural fire departments, rural EMT’s, nurse practitioners, and rural pharmacists. 

UIC also offers additional joint degree programs. These programs help students gain additional knowledge to pursue specific careers in pharmacy. There is a PharmD to PhD program for those who want to challenge themselves in clinical or research aspects. Alternatively, students can go on to obtain a Master of Business Administration in the PharmD program for students who are looking to get into the business side of healthcare. 

#3. Rosalind Franklin University

Rosalind Franklin University had a 2020 NAPLEX pass percentage of 88.9%, just 0.04% lower than UIC. This is probably due to the smaller class size in RFU. Only 70 students are enrolled in RFU per year so they can focus on providing career-focused patient care in an industry that is always fast-paced and continually changing. 

One thing that sets Rosalind Franklin University apart from other universities is that they offer interprofessional education. RFU enrolls 2000 students a year into 29 different healthcare-related programs, and they all intermingle during classes to help encourage appreciation and understanding of all the roles the healthcare team plays in patient care. 

#4. St. John Fisher College

The next school in the list is an online school through the Wegmans School of Pharmacy. St John Fisher College (SJFC) is a fully accredited program that will allow you to get your PharmD in four years. SJFC offers the flexibility of online courses for students that have a hard time getting to a physical campus. Another benefit to online learning is the small class size, which allows for more direct learning and concentrated tutelage from faculty. The PharmD program from SJFC also gives students plenty of hands-on learning experience because 30% of learning is from experiential training. 

In 2020, 87% of SJFC students passed the NAPLEX the first time they attempted the exam, and what’s better is that same graduating year, 100% of graduates found employment in their field of study.  

When it comes to internships, students don’t have to travel to New York, where SJFC is located, because they have partnered with local community pharmacists everywhere. Students can get all of their required clinical practice in their local area. 

Right now, St. John Fisher College is waiving the PCAT requirement. Students are not required to spend the extra money or time taking this test before they can be accepted into the Doctor of Pharmacy program. 

Pass the NAPLEX and MPJE

After successful graduation from an accredited PharmD program, a passing score on both the NAPLEX and MPJE is required to get your pharmacist license. 

The NAPLEX is an adaptive, computerized, multiple-choice exam that tests a student’s knowledge of pharmacy competency. The exam has 250 questions, and students will have about 6 hours to finish. As long as a student does well in the pharmacy program, studies and prepares for this long exam, they have a very high chance of success. If a student doesn’t pass the first time, they have four more chances to pass the NAPLEX. 

Another exam that is required to get your pharmacist license is the MPJE. This exam isn’t as extensive as the NAPLEX, but it is still 120 questions long. This test costs approximately $200. The MPJE exam will test you on your understanding and comprehension of the laws and regulations of the state you’re testing in. 

Once these two tests have been successfully passed, you will be a licensed pharmacist and you can start your lucrative career in the healthcare field.  

Pharmacist Salary and Employment Outlook in Illinois

For a pharmacist working in Illinois, the average annual salary is $147,012 as of 2022. Though where one is employed and years of experience play a role in the average, a fresh pharmacist with less than five years of experience can expect to make about $92,680 per year. 

The job market for pharmacists in Illinois is slightly above the national average as a projected 480 new pharmacist positions are opening per year until 2028. Retail pharmacies and hospitals have the most significant need for pharmacists. Though smaller outfits such as Outpatient Care Centers have fewer pharmacist positions, they pay better.  

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