Should I Apply to a Pharmacy Residency or Medical School? The Pharmacy Student Dilemma.

Updated: Dec 29, 2021

Deciding to partake in a pharmacy residency program is by far one of the most challenging and perhaps ominous decisions that a modern pharmacy student must make. They have finally come to a point in their education where they will need to decide if they are going to settle for the "quiet" community pharmacist position, or endure 1-2 years of pharmacy residency with the ambition of becoming a clinical pharmacist. This traditional cross-roads example does little justice to highlight the variety of new pharmacy subspecialties but, it serves to emphasize the two most common student outcomes. In pharmacy school, I established myself so that I could one day apply for a pharmacy residency and comfortably match into the program of my choice. I did good in school, completed research, networked with my faculty mentors, and demonstrated zeal for healthcare. All of which were qualities that would have made me a great residency applicant. What many pharmacy students fail to recognize is that setting yourself up to be a competitive pharmacy residency applicant also makes for a rather competitive medical school applicant! This may be a completely novel concept to a pharmacy student reader, yet it is surprisingly well-founded. Disregarding a few extra requirements for a complete medical school application (MCAT), most aspiring pharmacy residents are well-prepared to pursue a career in medicine.


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Before you can make an educated decision on your potential career, it is imperative that you understand the two primary currencies at stake here. The first being the traditional monetary implications of making the switch, and the second being the time dilation you will experience. Once you have an appreciation for these two factors you can confidently make a decision! Of course, if you are already convinced that a career in medicine is right for you, I recommend that you begin reading "PHARM.D. TO M.D." to craft the perfect medical school application.


#1 The Opportunity Cost of a Career in Medicine:

In order to really appreciate the magnitude of this switch I want to introduce the principle of "financial opportunity cost." In other words, you must consider the lost pharmacist income and added student loan burden associated with this switch. While you shouldn't let financials dictate your career ambitions, it would also be naive to disregard these principles as insignificant. Quite frankly the gravity of making this switch has tangible losses that could reach half a million dollars. The average pharmacy student graduates with $163, 496 in student loans while the average cost of four years of medical school is approximately $215,900. Based on these average values your decade long career in higher education will run you just shy of $400,000 in debt. We haven't even factored in the potential interest these mortgage sized loans will accumulate! Additionally, you may want to consider the lost income potential you will experience when you trade up a six-figure pharmacy salary a spend your time cramming for exams in a campus library. This isn't to scare you away but rather highlight that some financial factors should not be overlooked. On a positive note, just because you are electing to take on more debt doesn't mean that you will be forever indebted to your loan distributor. How quickly you pay them off will be based on your future medical specialty (the more specialized the higher annual income) and how disciplined you are with your money.


Contrast this with 1-2 years of pharmacy residency. The long work hours and minimal pay are certainly downsides but it affords you a respectable position in the pharmacy profession upon completion of an accredited program. While you are probably aware of the wonders of completing a pharmacy residency, doing so may not fully satisfy your professional goals. If you are a pharmacy student who desires more hands-on approach to medical care, a pharmacy residency may leave you dissatisfied. If the mystery of diagnostic medicine interests you then medical school may be a more appropriate fit. At the end of the day you will need to decide where you want to ultimately end up. If you can see yourself being completely happy as a clinical pharmacist then residency is certainly the path for you. Alternatively, if you aren't completely convinced perhaps medical school is worth reading into!


#2 Time Dilation:

The principle of "time dilation" refers to the potential downsides of living as a semi-permanent college student. Going to 4 years of medical school after completing 6-8 years of challenging graduate level pharmacy education is tougher than it sounds. Regardless of how well you performed in your previous studies, students who wish to travel this road need to be mentally prepared for what is to come. Burnout is a major topic of discussion in healthcare these days and a battered pharmacy student turned battered medical student is practically pathognomonic for the condition! Not to mention that while you are still reading through textbooks, your graduated peers will be living a life outside of work. You will see them express a new sense of freedom as their responsibilities melt away after they close the pharmacy for the evening. You may witness newfound financial security as your graduated peers purchase fancy cars, clothes, and even settle down on a property. This is a difficult reality that the pharmacist-medical student must come to accept. Hey, at least you will have acquired a taste for Ramen noddle's during pharmacy school! Starting medical school should be an easy transition!


I mention these realities because I want you, the reader, to make an educated decision and be aware of the potential sequalae associated with this switch. With that said, I can confidently say I have zero regrets about going to medical school after pharmacy school. I to weighed the principles of financial opportunity cost and time dilation and I found that medicine was still the correct path for me! I only ask that you consider them too and decide if the extra time and money is worth the delayed gratification.


If you are still with me at this point then you are either immensely curious, procrastinating some school assignments, or just plain crazy (like myself). I applaud you nonetheless! Deciding between a pharmacy residency and applying to medical school is far more complex than this simple article posits it to be. Regardless of what you decide, I can confidently say you will find tremendous success in your endeavors! There is no nobler career than one serving patients in need!


For more information about the medical school application process read PHARM.D. to M.D. now available on Amazon. You can also download the first two chapters for free from The Physician Pharmacist home page.

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