California Pharmacist Professional Licensing Guide
Regulation of Pharmacists in California
All foreign graduates must obtain certification by the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Committee (FPGEC) before they can apply with the California State Board of Pharmacy to obtain an intern license, take the pharmacist licensure examinations or become licensed as a pharmacist.
The Department of Consumer Affairs and its California Board of Pharmacy regulate the profession of Registered Pharmacist in California. It gives licenses and enforces state law regarding the practice of pharmacy. The Board also administers one of the 3 exams you will be required to take before licensing:
- The California Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (CPJE) - which tests pharmacy law
The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) is a national standards and regulation body and another major organization you will work with to earn your license. It administers the other 2 exams:
- FPGEE - Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination - standardized pharmacy test for international candidates
- NAPLEX - North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam - skills and knowledge of pharmacy
The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy is home to the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Committee (FPGEC), which will be your first point of contact in your license process. You must first earn FPGEC certification through credential verification and exams before you can qualify for next steps.
The exact process you need to follow will be discussed in detail in theEligibility for Licensing section.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 60% of pharmacists work in independent or chain retail drugstores, and hospitals employ another 23%. Outside of a clinical pharmacy setting, pharmacists in the United States also find work with pharmaceutical companies in research or sales roles; in insurance companies working with medical benefit packages; or with government agencies working in health policy and services.
Demand for pharmacists is high, as in many healthcare professions. An aging population, new drug treatments and insurance coverage of prescriptions all help fuel this 25% growth from 2010-2020. The average salary nationally was $111,570 in 2010. That year, the average salary for pharmacists in California was $122,800.
The highest earning potential for pharmacists is in pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, with an average salary of $125,480. Pharmacists in general hospitals make an average of $110,810, while those in general merchandise stores earn an average of $118,630 and those in health and personal care stores earn an average of $114,040.
Communication skills and knowledge of medical information systems are important factors in career success for pharmacists. Their responsibilities in advising both doctors and patients continue to grow with the development of new medicines, disease management methods, and opportunities to monitor patient treatment plans to prevent potential harmful drug interactions.
Increasing professional standards and ineligible pharmacy programs
Reform in pharmacy education in the US now means that new pharmacy graduates will only qualify for licensing if they hold a 5-year professional degree - a PharmD or its equivalent. This change went into effect for all students graduating after January 1, 2003.
While 5 years is now the standard for US professional degrees in pharmacy, it is not the case worldwide. Unfortunately, foreign-educated pharmacy candidates who graduated from a 4-year program after the change date cannot qualify for the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Certification process with their current degree. Not even internships or extra coursework after graduation can count towards the 5-year minimum.
Currently, there are only two ways for you to become eligible if you are in this situation:
- You can use your foreign degree as a basis for transfer credit to a US or other 5-year pharmacy program and graduate from the new institution with a 5-year professional degree (some pharmacy schools even offer special advanced standing programs for foreign pharmacy graduates).
- If you completed pre-pharmacy coursework before entering your 4-year program, you may be able to gather this documentation and have it count towards the 5 year total.
Another trend in professional standards applies to pharmacy technicians. This entry-level pharmacy position can be one way to work in your field while you go through the steps required for licensing. However, it is also becoming more professional and requires its own licensing, including proof of education and/or testing (see the Other Careers and Credentials section for more information).
The process for getting a license as a pharmacist in California is as follows:
I. Complete the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Examination Committee (FPGEC) Certification Program
The purpose of the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Examination Committee (FPGEC) Certification Program is to document the educational equivalency of your foreign pharmacy education. This certification is a four-step process. The following information outlines the process and you can connect to more program information under Important Links:
- Passing the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination (FPGEE). The application can be downloaded from the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) website. It requires several supporting documents, including proof of a foreign pharmacist license or an accepted substitute.
- Passing the Test of Spoken English (administered by Educational Testing Service).
- Passing Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) (administered by Educational Testing Service). Scores:
- TOEFL-iBT: Reading - 21; Listening - 18; Speaking - 26; Writing - 26, or:
- TOEFL + TSE: TOEFL - 550 paper-based or 213 computer-based; TSE - 50
- Evaluation by the FPCGE of educational curriculum and foreign licensure requirements of each applicant.
Important notes on the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Examination Committee (FPGEC) Certification Program:
- Your Certification Program file will close if you do not correspond with the FPGEC office for two years unless you go through an extension process with the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Examination Committee.
- Some foreign pharmacy graduates are able to pass the FPGEE even before they can pass the TOEFL. If your oral English is not as strong as your written English, consider taking the TOEFL before applying for the Certification Program so you do not have to extend your Certification Program timeline because of language study.
- If you sit for the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination (FPGEE) and fail, you will have to resend your application and pay the $600 fee again to retake the exam.
- Are you sure you have the equivalent of a 5-year PharmD degree? Your foreign credential evaluation is not the first step in the Certification program - it takes a while to happen. If you are a pharmacy graduate from 2003 or later and think your pharmacy degree may not be equivalent to a first professional degree (a 5-year PharmD), you are participating in this process at your own risk. Many candidates like you have spent a lot of time and money - even passed the certification program exam! - before learning they are disqualified based on the credential evaluation. They are judging how your education compares to US requirements. Get advice sooner rather than later - from FPGEC or a PharmD program - to understand if your degree is likely to qualify.
- Now is the time to make sure your name is the same on all of the major documents you will need for your licensing process. There can be real complications in your paperwork and licensing times if you do not have exactly the same name on your identification, applications, and foreign documents.
II. Register as a California Pharmacy Intern and complete an approved clinical training program
Pharmacy Intern Application
Some of the main items you will need to put together for your application include:
- 3-page Pharmacy Intern Registration application form (Form 17A-17)
- 2” x 2” passport type photo
- LiveScan request receipt - showing your fingerprint scan is done and fees are paid (LiveScan forms are included in the online application packet)
- Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Examination Committee (FPGEC) Certification
- Fee: $90 check to "Board of Pharmacy"
If you want to know that your application was received you can include a stamped postcard addressed to you, and the Board will mail it back to you; you can also see when your check was cashed.
Your registration will not be approved until the Board has confirmed your certification with the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Committee. This can take up to 12 weeks.
Fingerprinting optionsYour fingerprints are used by both the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to do a criminal background check. There are two ways to get your fingerprints taken:
- LiveScan - a digital service that requires you to go to one of many centers available in California for fingerprinting; costs vary for the service ($20-50). This is the faster and more efficient choice if you are able to go to a site. Save your receipt for the application!
- Paper fingerprint cards - this option is only available if you cannot get fingerprinted via LiveScan in California; you will need to request the cards from the Board by phone and pay an extra service fee (cost as of June 2012: $49 - $32 to California Department of Justice and $17 to FBI).
A 1,500 hour clinical training program is required of all foreign pharmacy graduates in the state of California before you can be eligible to take the pharmacy professional exam (the NAPLEX, discussed in detail in the Tests section) and qualify for a California pharmacist license.
You will need to find your own internship in a hospital or retail pharmacy under the supervision of a pharmacist licensed in California.
You must be registered as a Pharmacy Intern before you begin to count your hours - it is not enough to have a job in a pharmacy (as a pharmacy technician, for example).
Your internship must total 1,500 hours, with at least 900 of these earned in direct practice of pharmacy in two environments:
- Community pharmacy (ex: a commercial pharmacy like those found in stores) and
- Institutional pharmacy (ex: in a medical facility like a hospital or clinic)
You can also use up to 600 hours of your total 1,500 hours in activities that are not direct practice but closely related to pharmacy practice (ex: some types of research). The Board must grant you permission before the hours are completed in order to count these hours toward your internship.
You must track your hours and your experience in the internship developing both introductory and advanced skills, as defined by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. Be sure to understand the goals of your internship early so that you do not waste time doing the wrong activities.
The Board of Pharmacy asks you to prepare two forms to document your internship experience; these steps are necessary for licensing, and are defined by the Board of Pharmacy, so you should start your internship knowing what these expectations are. Your internship hours must be reported using Forms 17A-29 the Pharmacy Intern Hours Affadavit and 17A-77 the Experience Affadavit. If your internship hours were completed outside of California, you must also include form 17A-16 the License Verification. A separate 17A-29 form is needed for each site where you completed internship hours.
Please note: The FPGEC has seen a rise in fraudulent documents. These fraudulent documents come from entities pretending to be official government offices with the right to approve documents. These entities say that they can speed the authentication of educational and licensure and/or registration documents for use abroad. Candidates should tell friends and relatives gathering documents for them to make sure that documents are from the issuing bodies only. If the FPGEC receives fraudulent documents, the application will be delayed and your acceptance to the FPGEC Certification Program may be jeopardized.
Consider registering as a Pharmacy Technician
You do not have to be Pharmacy Technician to complete your internship as a Pharmacy Intern.
However, getting a Pharmacy Technician authorization first can have some advantages - these are discussed in the Other Careers and Credentials section.
III. Submit Application for Licensure and Examination
Once your Certification and Internship hours are complete, the next step is preparing your Application for Pharmacist Licensure and Examination (available in Important Links). This application will not result in a license now, though. Instead, if your application is complete, the Board of Pharmacy will allow you to take the two exams you have left for licensing.
Your licensing application should include the following:
- Application for Licensure - Form 17A-1
- Passport-style photograph (not from a digital camera)
- Examination Security Agreement - Form 17A-76
- A copy of your FPGEC certificate
- Documentation of at least 1,500 hours of intern experience on 2 forms:
- Pharmacy Intern Hours Affidavit - Form 17A-29
- Affidavit of Intern Experience Obtained in Community and Institutional Settings - Form 17A-77
- Fees - A check or money order for $200 made payable to "Board of Pharmacy"
Note: you do not have to send your transcripts from your foreign pharmacy school, since you already did tis step to obtain your FPGEC.
IV. Pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) and the California Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (CPJE)
When your Application for Licensure and Examination is complete, the California Board of Pharmacy will send you a letter confirming that you are eligible to take both the NAPLEX and CPJE. If your application is not complete, you will receive a "Deficiency Letter" about two months after you apply, which will tell you what part of your application is missing.
Information about registering for the tests, plus a quick look at their content, is discussed in the next section Tests.
Once you have successfully passed both NAPLEX and CPJE, the California Board of Pharmacy will make a licensing decision.
As a foreign pharmacy graduate you must take three tests during your California licensing process:
- Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination (FPGEE)
- North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX)
- California Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (CPJE)
General Test Procedures & Basic Characteristics:
- Testing sites: the tests are administered by computer-based testing companies with many centers, dates and times available to take your tests. Since they give many different kinds of tests, however, their space can fill up - so it is best to set up an appointment soon after you get permission to schedule your test.
- Testing day procedures: you need to carefully read the instructions for what identification and materials are required and allowed on your testing day. There are security controls, sometimes including having your picture or fingerprints taken. You will also have limited breaks during the test. It is very important to arrive at least a half hour early for your test. If you arrive late or do not go to the center at all, you will have to pay to reschedule.
Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination (FPGEE)
The Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination consists of 250 multiple-choice questions and lasts 5 1/2 hours.
The test is only offered 2 times a year. This means that it is especially important to schedule your appointment as soon as you receive an Authorization to Test (ATT).
The FPGEE tests four content areas:
- Basic Biomedical Sciences: 16% of questions
- Pharmaceutical Sciences: 30%
- Social, Behavioral, and Administrative Pharmacy Sciences: 22%
- Clinical Sciences: 32%
The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy encourages candidates to take the FPGEE online practice exam for $50. The practice exam can only be taken once.
North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX)
The North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) tests the central knowledge you have gained in your education as a pharmacist.
To register for the NAPLEX, you will need to fill out an online application. You can apply and pay NAPLEX the $485 test fee before you hear from the Board about your License and Examination Application. However, you will not receive an Authorization to Test (ATT) notice until the Board has told NAPLEX you are eligible. The ATT contains instructions on scheduling your exam, and it is valid for only 1 year.
The NAPLEX consists of 185 multiple-choice questions and lasts 4 hours and 15 minutes.
NAPLEX tests three content areas:
- Assess Pharmacotherapy to Ensure Safe and Effective Therapeutic Outcomes: about 56% of questions
- Assess Safe and Accurate Preparation and Dispensing of Medications: about 33%
- Assess, Recommend, and Provide Health Care Information that Promotes Public Health: about 11%
The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy encourages candidates to take the NAPLEX online practice, called the pre-NAPLEX, exam for $50. It contains questions that were used on older tests, and the computer program works under conditions similar to the real NAPLEX. The pre-NAPLEX can be taken up to two times, with the $50 fee payable each time.
California Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (CPJE)
The California Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam tests your knowledge of both Federal laws and the laws of the state of California.
The CPJE is scheduled and administered by Psychological Services, Inc. (PSI). They will contact you about two weeks after the Board informs you that you are eligible for testing. PSI will ask you to pay the $33 test fee; pay it to PSI, not to the Board. You will then be able to set a date and time to take the test at one of their many testing centers.
The CPJE consists of 90 multiple-choice test questions and lasts 2 hours.
The CPJE tests 3 content areas:
- Patient Medications (25 items)
- Patient Outcomes (30 items)
- Pharmacy Operations (20 items)
The CPJE Candidate Bulletin contains a detailed content outline and sample questions.
4. Time and Costs
Successfully licensing as a Registered Pharmacist in California depends on a number of factors, including
- The completeness of your educational and professional records and a qualifying degree program
- Your performance on several tests
- Your ability to find an internship placement
- Your free time and expendable income
We provide two hypothetical scenarios to show some of the variety of results that immigrant professionals may find when they seek to become pharmacists in California. Please consider these scenarios as two examples out of many possibilities. Your experience will vary. Please keep in mind that living expenses and the cost of test-preparation courses are not included in the scenarios below.
Two Hypothetical Scenarios for Pharmacist Licensing:
|Step||More Efficient Scenario|
Approximate Time and Cost
|Less Efficient Scenario
Approximate Time and Cost
FPGEC Certification Program
Register as a Pharmacy Intern + Complete Clinical Training Program
Application for Licensure + Examination
|More Efficient Total
About $2,400 and 3 1/2 years
|Less Efficient Total
About $3,200 and 6 1/2 years
A Pharmacy Technician is an entry-level staff position in a hospital or retail pharmacy. It usually earns an hourly wage and requires only limited pharmacy education.
Becoming a Pharmacy Technician can have some advantages
- You will have a first US credential that makes you more employable and able to earn some income to support your licensing process
- You will not have to wait for your FPGEC certification to begin working in a pharmacy environment
- You will be able to gain US work experience and adapt to a US pharmacy environment with fewer professional responsibilities
- Once you become a Pharmacy Intern you may be a more attractive candidate because of your US job experience and the range of responsibilities you are allowed as both an Intern and a Technician
- You may improve your chances of receiving a salary as you complete your 1,500 internship hours
Registering as a Pharmacy Technician includes showing proof of some types of pharmacy education, plus an application packet, which you can find in the Important Links section.
6. Beyond Licensing
Pharmacists must meet continuing education requirements of 30 hours every 2 years. The education must be given by a provider approved by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education or the Pharmacy Foundation of California. You should keep records of your continuing education for four years, since licensees are sometimes audited.
You must also renew your license every 2 years. The California Board of Pharmacy sends a notice reminding you to renew your license, so be certain to keep your contact information up-to-date with their office. If you let your license expire, you will have a much more complicated process to restore the license.
Joining a professional association
State and national associations for pharmacists provide opportunities for professional development and networking. They also help set acceptable working conditions for the profession and give information and opinions on policy in California and across the US. Their websites may offer useful orientation to pharmacy candidates about the licensing and examination process, including test preparation. They often provide Continuing Education to members as well.
- California Pharmacists Association
- California Council of Health-System Pharmacists
- American Pharmacists Association
- American Society of Health-System Pharmacists
The Important Links section has more information on these associations. There is a large variety of specialized professional associations for pharmacists based on workplace, specialty, ethnicity, gender, or religion.
Licensing mobility (reciprocity)
The state of California does not have any reciprocal agreement to honor the pharmacy licenses of other states. It grants licenses to candidates either by examination (the process described in this topic) or endorsement (where a pharmacist already licensed in another state must independently meet all California requirements for licensing).
7. Important Links
Common Words used in this article
Licensing and regulation
- The Careers for New Americans website offers an overview of information and steps someone will need to take to become licensed in a number of regulated professions.
- The website of the California Board of Pharmacy includes links to fingerprinting information and licensing applications, including for: Pharmacy Technician (for temporary employment in a pharmacy while you wait for licensing) Intern Pharmacist (for use in clinical training) and Licensed Pharmacist.
- California Board of Pharmacy contact information:
1625 N Market Blvd, N219
Sacramento, CA 95834
Phone (916) 574-7900
- Educational Credential Evaluators evaluate the records of participants in the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Examination Committee (FPGEC) Certification Program.
- Contact Information:
- Educational Credential Evaluators, Inc.
PO Box 514070, Milwaukee, WI 53203-3470
Phone: (414) 289-3400
- The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) offers extensive information on examination programs, including the FPCEG and the . You can take the Pre-FPGEE and Pre-NAPLEX practice exams for $50 each; Phone: (916) 574-7912. NAPLEX
- Psychological Services, Inc. administers the California Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam and has the Candidate Bulletin on its site available for download.
- Pearson Vue and its NABP homepage can help you schedule test appointments or answer your questions; Phone: (888) 709-2679
- American Society of Health-System Pharmacists
- American Pharmacists Association
- California Society of Health-System Pharmacists
- California Pharmacists Association, CPhA
- US Food and Drug Administration
- National Association of Chain Drug Stores
- Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy
Get your degree evaluated
Make sure your foreign degree is likely to be accepted by the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Committee before you start its certification program. Your degree will not be evaluated immediately, so you may use valuable time and resources preparing for and even passing the program's exam, only to learn later that your degree disqualifies you
Check transfer credits
If you graduate after 2003 from a four-year pharmacy program you will have to return to school in the US and complete requirements for a PharmD degree. Your foreign degree could count for a significant amount of transfer credits or for placement in a special advanced standing program. State your case with more than one pharmacy school and share your credential evaluation: it is possible that one school may grant more credits than another
Register as a pharmacy technician
This is a good first step back into pharmacy and is necessary for participation in the 1,500-hour course of clinical instruction you need to license as a pharmacist. Remember that you will not be able to earn hours towards your clinical program until the State has approved the course.
Be your own advocate throughout the licensing process. Seek clarification about questions and concerns directly from official sources. If you feel your degree has been misinterpreted or you do not understand a fine point of the state regulations, organize your questions, contact the California Board of Pharmacy for help.