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New program allows ETSU pharmacy students to earn B.S. en route to Pharm.D.

Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy

JOHNSON CITY (Aug. 18, 2015) – Students in East Tennessee State University’s Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy will have the opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree while studying for the doctor of pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree starting this fall.

The Gatton College’s new bachelor of science degree in pharmacy studies – the first in the state of Tennessee – was approved this summer by the Tennessee Board of Regents.

Gatton is among the vast majority – 121 of 129 – of pharmacy schools in the country that do not require a bachelor’s degree for admission, according to data from the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy. 

Most pre-pharmacy coursework can usually be completed as part of the general education curriculum at a typical college, university or community college.  However, the remaining pre-pharmacy coursework fulfills specific science requirements as preparation for the professional school curriculum, but does not place the pre-pharmacy student on the path to any particular major.  The student may choose to enter pharmacy school upon completion of the pre-pharmacy requirements or to go on and complete a bachelor’s degree, delaying entry into pharmacy school.

Between 30 and 40 students – approximately half – of the Gatton College of Pharmacy’s new students each year enter without a bachelor’s degree, says Steve Ellis, assistant dean for Student Affairs.  Even though they appreciate the “fast track” this offers to the Pharm.D. degree, he says, many students see the benefit a bachelor’s degree would provide.

“Even when we first opened our doors, we had students ask if there was any way they could receive a (bachelor’s) degree,” Ellis said.  “We had to say, ‘No, we wish we could, but we just have the Pharm.D.’  We did have a few students who were able to manage ways on their own, working with their undergraduate schools, to receive degrees.”

After continuing to receive such requests, and noticing that some other institutions were offering bachelor’s degrees to pharmacy students, Gatton College of Pharmacy administrators pursued the establishment of the B.S. degree in pharmacy studies, and Ellis believes the new program will be of benefit to not only its students, but also to the university.

“This will allow interested students to receive an ETSU degree even if they did not start their undergraduate careers here at ETSU,” he said.  “We also think it will attract students, from the start, to attend ETSU for their undergraduate work, because even though they don’t have to, they will be able to complete two or three years of undergrad and go on to pharmacy school and (concurrently) get a bachelor’s degree, and overall, save time.  Theoretically, a person could go from high school to a Pharm.D., completing a B.S. along the way, in six years.  So it’s really a terrific opportunity for them.”

This new degree will be of particular benefit to students who wish to pursue further graduate study, which usually requires a bachelor’s degree for admission.  One such avenue, Ellis says, is the Gatton College’s dual degree programs combining the Pharm.D. with the master of business administration (M.B.A.) or master of public health (M.P.H.) degree.  Offered in conjunction with ETSU’s College of Business and Technology and College of Public Health, respectively, these degrees are attractive to pharmacy students who wish to enter government, health policy, administrative, public health or advanced critical care fields, as well as those who intend to become independent pharmacy owners.

            The B.S. in pharmacy studies would also help students who enter pharmacy school, only to find that it is not the right path for them.  Ellis said that while this is rare, students who withdraw from pharmacy school to pursue other careers “almost invariably” have to go back to school to complete a bachelor’s degree.

            “There aren’t that many jobs out there where you can say, ‘Hey, I’ve got a pharmacy studies degree and I’m ready for this job,’” Ellis said.  “However, there are some jobs within the pharmaceutical industry – perhaps a pharmaceutical (sales) rep for a corporation or even in a lab setting – if they have that interest.  But it would at least open those doors.”

The pharmacy studies degree program provides instruction in mathematics, biology, chemistry, physics, statistics, pharmaceutics, pharmacology and toxicology, dosage formulation, manufacturing, quality assurance and regulations.

“As a college, we are excited to work with the university and offer this opportunity,” Ellis said.  “It is in keeping with the trends that we are seeing to some extent across the country, and we think it’s a tremendous opportunity for the university to attract quality people and continue to show our commitment to serving our students and the region.”

For more information, call the Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy at 423-439-6338 or email

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