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D.C Pharmacist Professional Licensing Guide

HOW THE PROFESSION IS ORGANIZED IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

REGULATION OF PHARMACISTS IN THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

If you received your primary pharmacy degree from a school of pharmacy that is not accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), you are considered a foreign pharmacy graduate.  Status as a foreign pharmacy graduate is independent of citizenship and based solely on where you received your pharmacy education.  If you are a foreign graduate, you must obtain certification by the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Examination Committee (FPGEC) before you can apply with the District of Columbia Department of Health, Health Regulation and Licensing Administration to obtain an intern license, take the pharmacist licensure examinations and become licensed as a pharmacist. 

The District of Columbia Department of Health, Health Regulation and Licensing Administration (DC Board) regulates the profession of Registered Pharmacist in the District of Columbia. It gives licenses and enforces state law regarding the practice of pharmacy. 

The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) is a national standards and regulatory body and another major organization you will work with to earn your license. It administers the three exams required to obtain a license in the District of Columbia:

  • FPGEE – Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination – standardized pharmacy test for international candidates
  • NAPLEX – North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam – skills and knowledge of pharmacy
  • MPJE – Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination – standardized pharmacy test based on both federal law and state-specific law

The NABP is home to the FPGEC, which will be your first point of contact in your licensing process. You must first earn FPGEC Certification through credential verification and exams before you can qualify for next steps.

The process you need to follow will be highlighted in the Eligibility for Licensing section below.

EMPLOYMENT

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 50% of all pharmacists work in what is considered a retail setting (independent or chain retail drugstores), and an estimated 32% of all pharmacy jobs are in the hospital, clinical and home health settings.  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.

The US Department of Labor is projecting a 2% decrease in new jobs available to pharmacists from 2020 to 2030.  As of May 2020, the national median annual wage for pharmacists was $128,710.  As of May 2020, the mean annual wage for pharmacists in the District of Columbia was $123,450.  Refer to the US Dept. of Labor website for the most current data. 

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 on or after January 1, 2003.

While five 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 FPGEC Certification 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 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.

ELIGIBILITY FOR DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA PHARMACIST LICENSING

The process for getting a license as a pharmacist in the District of Columbia is as follows:

1.Obtain FPGEC Certification from the NABP.

  1. Submit your FPGEC Candidate Application.
  2. Submit your supporting documents, including taking and passing the TOEFL iBT.
  3. Wait for NABP evaluation of application.
  4. Obtain acceptance of your FPGEC application and become eligible to take the FPGEE.

2.Take the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination (FPGEE).

  1. Register for the Exam.
  2. Prepare for the Exam, including taking the Pre-FPGEE practice exam.
  3. Take the Exam.
  4. Achieve a passing score of 75 or higher to obtain the FPGEC Certification.

3.To be licensed in the District of Columbia as a pharmacist, you must pass two exams: (a) the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) and (b) the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination (MPJE) (see below).  But in order to be eligible to sit for the NAPLEX and MPJE, you need to first file the online licensing application with the DC Board, and to file this application, you need to first complete a 1,500 hour clinical training program with 400 additional hours of practice in a pharmacy setting with emphasis on the distribution of medicines and prescriptions. You will need to find your own internship in a hospital or retail pharmacy under the supervision of a pharmacist licensed in the District of Columbia. All hours must be verified through the DC Board.  

4.Apply to be a registered pharmacist in the District of Columbia. 

  a. Once you have your FPGEC Certification and your pharmacist internship hours are     complete, the next step is to prepare and submit your online application to the DC 

    Board.  Note the DC Board no longer accepts paper applications. The main items you 

    will need to put together for your application to register as a District of Columbia 

    pharmacist include:

  • Complete signed application
  • Non-refundable application fee:  $280 (current as of 2021)
  • US Social Security Number or a sworn affidavit
  • Two (2) recent 2” x 2” passport type photos with full name printed on the back
  • Name change document (e.g., marriage certificate, divorce decree, court order), if applicable
  • One (1) clear photocopy of a U.S. government-issued photo ID (e.g., driver’s license)
  • Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Examination Committee (FPGEC) Certificate
  • Proof of completion of pharmacist internship
  • Criminal background check

b. Take and pass the NAPLEX and MPJE. Passing score results will be transmitted from

    NABP to the DC Board. 

CERTIFICATION PROCESS:  For specifics, refer to the most current FPGEC Application Bulletin on the NABP website. 2021 FPGEC Application Bulletin

IMPORTANT NOTES ON THE FPGEC CERTIFICATION:

  • Your FPGEC Certification file will close if you do not correspond with the FPGEC office for two years unless you go through an extension process with the FPGEC.
  • If you sit for the FPGEE and fail, you will have to retake the FPGEE, which costs $750, but if the next administration of the exam will not happen until after your 2-year acceptance period has ended, you will need to restart the process by applying to the FPGEC Certification Program again.  You can request the FPGEC close your application early to allow you to reapply earlier.
  • Are you sure you have the equivalent of a 5-year PharmD degree?   If you are a pharmacy graduate from 2003 or later and think your pharmacy degree may not be equivalent to a 5-year PharmD, you are participating in this process at your own risk. Many candidates have spent a lot of time and money – even passed the certification program exam! – before learning they are disqualified based on the credential evaluation. The FPGEC is 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.
  • 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, 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.

TESTS

Once your online licensing application is complete, the DC Board will confirm your eligibility to take both the NAPLEX and MPJE. Upon eligibility, you will register and take the NAPLEX and MPJE.

GENERAL TEST PROCEDURES & BASIC CHARACTERISTICS:

  • Testing sites: the tests are administered by computer-based testing companies with different centers, dates and times available to take your tests. Since the testing companies give many different kinds of tests, 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: carefully read the instructions regarding the required identification and materials about your testing day. There are security controls, including needing to provide palm vein scans and digital signatures and take digital photographs prior to being admitted to the testing room. You may have limited breaks during the examination time. 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.

TEST-SPECIFIC DETAILS:

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 and pay the $100 application fee. Once the DC Board has told the NABP you are eligible, a link to purchase the NAPLEX will be available.  You are strongly recommend to purchase the exam ($475) as soon as you are granted eligibility, since you only have a certain period of time you are eligible and may purchase the NAPLEX.  After your payment is processed, you will receive via email the Authorization to Test (ATT).  The ATT contains instructions on scheduling your exam, and it is valid for only one testing session.  NABP strongly recommends scheduling your exam(s) as soon as you have received your ATT letter.  If your eligibility period expires prior to scheduling an examination appointment, you will forfeit all fees and must begin the application process again, including paying the application and examination fees. A thorough breakdown of the application steps, including answers to common questions, can be found in the Candidate Application Bulletin on the NABP website.  

The NAPLEX is a 6-hour exam composed of 225 questions, and it tests six content areas:

  1. Obtain, Interpret, or Assess Data, Medical, or Patient Information:  approximately 18% of questions
  2. Identify Drug Characteristics:  approximately 14% of questions
  3. Develop or Manage Treatment Plans:  approximately 35% of questions
  4. Perform Calculations:  approximately 14% of questions
  5. Compound, Dispense, or Administer Drugs, or Manage Delivery Systems:  approximately 11% of questions
  6. Develop or Manage Practice or Medication-Use Systems to Ensure Safety and Quality:  approximately 7% of questions

The NABP encourages candidates to take the NAPLEX online practice test, called the pre-NAPLEX exam. 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.

MPJE

The Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam tests your knowledge of both federal laws and the laws of the District of Columbia. Similar to the process for taking the NAPLEX, to register for the MPJE, you will need to fill out an online application and pay the $100 application fee. Once the DC Board has told the NABP you are eligible, a link to purchase the MPJE will be available.  You are strongly recommend to purchase the exam ($150) as soon as you are granted eligibility, since you only have a certain period of time you are eligible and may purchase the MPJE.  After your payment is processed, you will receive via email the ATT to schedule the MPJE.  

The MPJE consists of 120 multiple-choice test questions and lasts 2.5 hours, and it tests three content areas:

  1. Pharmacy Practice:  approximately 83% of questions
  2. Licensure, Registration, Certification, and Operational Requirements:  approximately 15% of questions
  3. General Regulatory Processes:  approximately 2% of questions

TIME AND COSTS

Successfully licensing as a Registered Pharmacist in the District of Columbia 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 time and expendable income.

OTHER CAREERS AND CREDENTIALS

CONSIDER REGISTERING AS A PHARMACY TECHNICIAN

Working as a pharmacy technician can be one way to work, gain experience and earn a living in your field while you complete the steps required for licensing.  You do not have to be Pharmacy Technician to complete your internship as a Pharmacy Intern.  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 Technician 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 internship hours.

Please see the DC Board website for more information on becoming registered as a Pharmacy Technician.

BEYOND LICENSING

MAINTAINING LICENSURE

You must renew your license every 2 years, and in connection with that, meet continuing education requirements of 40 hours during the 2-year period.  A minimum of 10 hours of the required 40 hours of continuing education must be obtained by attendance at live continuing education programs. The DC Board 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 the District of Columbia 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.  Some professional associations include: 

LICENSING MOBILITY (RECIPROCITY)

The District of Columbia has reciprocal agreements to honor the pharmacy licenses of other states.  An applicant for licensure by reciprocity must submit a NABP licensure transfer form and pass the MPJE examination for the District of Columbia.

TIPS

GET YOUR DEGREE EVALUATED

Make sure your foreign degree is likely to be accepted by the FPGEC before you start the certification process. Your degree will not be evaluated immediately, so you may lose 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 graduated 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.

SPEAK UP

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 and contact the DC Board for help.

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