HOW THE PROFESSION IS ORGANIZED IN ILLINOIS
REGULATION OF PHARMACISTS IN ILLINOIS
The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) regulates the profession of registered pharmacists in Illinois. The IDFPR reviews the credentials of foreign pharmacy graduates directly. It also contracts with a private company, Continental Testing Service (CTS) to process applications for Licensure by Examination for pharmacist candidates.
The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP), which is headquartered in Illinois, administers all tests related to licensing eligibility for foreign pharmacy graduates:
● FPGEE – Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination – standardized pharmacy test for international candidates
● NAPLEX – North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam – general practice skills and knowledge of pharmacy
● MPJE – Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE) – jurisdiction-specific pharmacy law
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2019, a little under 60% of all pharmacists in the United States work in what is considered a retail setting (independent or chain retail drugstores), and an estimated 31% of all pharmacy jobs are in the hospital, clinical or 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 3% decrease in new jobs available to pharmacists from 2019 to 2029. As of May 2020, the national median annual wage for pharmacists is $128,710. As of May 2020, Illinois’s annual mean wage for pharmacists is $125,640. Refer to the US Department 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 after January 1, 2003.
While 5 years is now the standard for US professional degrees in pharmacy, this is not the case worldwide. Foreign-educated pharmacy candidates who graduate 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 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. Previously, this entry-level pharmacy position required registration in Illinois but did not require an examination. Beginning in 2008, new hires must pass a certification exam within 2 years registration (see the Other Careers and Credentials section for more information).
ELIGIBILITY FOR ILLINOIS PHARMACIST LICENSING
The process for obtaining a license as a pharmacist in Illinois is as follows:
I. OBTAIN FPGEC CERTIFICATION
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:
● Application package for the FPGEC Certification Program and 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.
● Credential Evaluation Application. Educational Credential Evaluators, Inc. is the only credentialing organization accepted by the NABP to verify your degree credentials. You must submit your official transcripts and proof of degree, plus translations submitted according to the instructions found in the application package.
● Prepare and register for the Test of English as a Foreign Language Internet-Based Test (TOEFL iBT). Passing scores are:
o Reading – 22;
o Listening – 21;
o Speaking – 26;
o Writing – 24.
● Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination (FPGEE). The FPGEE will be explained in more detail in the section on testing.
IMPORTANT NOTES ON THE FPGEC CERTIFICATION PROGRAM:
● Your FPGEC Certification Program file will close after two years unless you appeal the decision with the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Examination Committee within 30 days.
● If you sit for the FPGEE and fail, you will have to retake the FPGEE if the next FPGEE administration falls within your two-year acceptance period and pay a fee, or restart the process by applying to the FPGEC Certification Program again if the next administration will not happen until after your acceptance period has ended.
● Completing your foreign credential evaluation does not occur early in the Certification Program. 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. Candidates like you have spent a lot of time and money before learning they are disqualified based on the credential evaluation. Get advice early from the FPGEC or a PharmD program to understand if your degree is likely to qualify
II. SUBMIT THE ILLINOIS LICENSURE BY EXAMINATION APPLICATION AND COMPLETE AN APPROVED CLINICAL TRAINING PROGRAM
After you earn your Certification it is time to apply for Licensure by Examination to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR). Your examination process will not start at this time, but the application is your first point of contact with the State and leads to your next immediate step: the 1,200 hour clinical training program required of all foreign pharmacy graduates.
Some of the items in your application to IDFPR will include:
● 4- page Application for Licensure and/or Examination (note: this application opens your file at IDFPR, but you won’t be considered eligible for the exams in Step IV until your internship is completed and accepted by IDFPR)
● FPGEC Certification
● Credential evaluation from Educational Credential Evaluators, Inc.
● Official transcripts issued by school of pharmacy with school seal affixed and certified translations
● Pay fee
CLINICAL TRAINING PROGRAM
IDFPR will send you guidelines for the 1,200-hour clinical training program. Program participants are commonly called “pharmacy interns,” although there is no special intern status or license in Illinois. In fact, you will have to arrange your own 1,200-hour internship in a hospital or retail pharmacy under the supervision of a pharmacist licensed in Illinois.
The supervising Pharmacist must write a letter to IDFPR confirming that clinical training will occur and outlining its proposed content. The State Board of Pharmacy, which meets every other month, will review this documentation and make a recommendation to the IDFPR director. You will need to receive IDFPR approval before you can begin earning hours towards your 1,200 goal.
This approval is for a specific internship under a specific pharmacist. Unfortunately, if your circumstances change and you abandon your program before completion, you will need to start all over again with a new, pre-approved, 1,200-hour clinical training program.
III. PASS EXAMS: NORTH AMERICAN PHARMACIST LICENSURE EXAMINATION (NAPLEX) AND THE MULTISTATE PHARMACY JURISPRUDENCE EXAM (MPJE)
The North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) tests your general practice skills and knowledge of pharmacy, while the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE) tests your knowledge of jurisdiction-specific laws that apply to the profession. All pharmacy graduates must pass these exams before being licensed in Illinois – whether they graduated from a US or a foreign program.
Once you complete your application and clinical training as described in Step II, the IDFPR will send you a letter confirming that you are eligible to register for the NAPLEX and MPJE. You can take the exams in any order.
The registration process for both the NAPLEX and MPJE is similar in Illinois. It involves registering with two different organizations. The first is Continental Testing Services, which works with the IDFPR to manage Illinois candidate records. The second is Pearson Vue, a testing company which administers both exams for the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy. You must fill out applications on the CTS and NABP web sites and pay fees to them separately. Pearson Vue will then send you an Authorization to Test (ATT) notice, which contains instructions on scheduling your exam. The ATT is valid for only 1 year.
● Scores will be sent to the IDFPR and they will report them to you.
● Exam results will be reported as either pass or fail – you will not receive a scaled score.
● If you fail, you must wait at least 45 days to test again. If you fail 3 times, you will have to take remedial classes with IDFPR approval.
● Scores will be sent to the IDFPR and they will report them to you.
● To receive an MPJE exam result, candidates must have completed at least 107 questions on the examination. Candidates completing fewer than 107 questions will not have their exam result reported. Exam results will be reported as either pass or fail – you will not receive a scaled score.
● If you fail, you must wait at least 30 days to test again.
Both tests are discussed in greater detail in the next section Tests.
Once you have successfully passed both NAPLEX and MPJE, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation will submit your file to the Illinois Board of Pharmacy for a licensing decision.
As a foreign pharmacy graduate you will take three tests during your Illinois licensing process, all developed by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP):
● Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination (FPGEE)
● North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX)
● Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE)
GENERAL TEST PROCEDURES & BASIC CHARACTERISTICS:
● Approval required before testing: testers will make an appointment to test once they are approved by the NABP or by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) and receive an Authorization to Test (ATT) notice. The ATT includes detailed instructions for choosing a testing center and scheduling a date to sit for your exam. It is recommended that you schedule your exams soon after you receive your ATT.
● Testing sites: the tests are administered by the testing company Pearson Vue in test centers nationwide. Limited space means that the centers can have full schedules – it is best to set up an appointment soon after you receive authorization.
● Computer-based adaptive tests: the difficulty of the questions and their order will vary from one tester to another depending on the answers given.
● No returning to finished questions: once you confirm your answer you will not be allowed to return to it or make any changes.
● Testing day procedures: on the day of the test, you must bring the ATT and 2 types of approved identification. All candidates will be required to have palm vein scans, provide digital signatures, and have digital photographs taken before being admitted to the testing room. You should arrive at least a half hour early; you will not be allowed to take the test if you arrive more than a half hour late for your appointment.
● Rescheduling or not completing tests: each exam has strict policies for giving notice if you have to reschedule your exam. There are different costs involved in making changes. If you miss your appointment or abandon the test, you will be charged all fees and may have to do additional paperwork to re-qualify.
The Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination consists of 200 multiple-choice questions and lasts 5 1/2 hours.
The test is only offered once a year. This means that it is especially important to schedule your appointment as soon as you receive an Authorization to Test (ATT).
- Basic Biomedical Sciences: approx. 10% of Test
- Pharmaceutical Sciences: approx. 33%
- Social, Behavioral, and Administrative Pharmacy Sciences: approx. 22%
- Clinical Sciences: approx. 35%
The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy encourages candidates to take the FPGEE online practice exam for $75.
The North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) consists of 225 questions and lasts 6 hours.
● Obtain, Interpret, or Assess Data, Medical, or Patient Information: approx. 18% of Test
● Identify Drug Characteristics: approx. 14%
● Develop or Manage Treatment Plans: approx. 35%
● Perform Calculations: approx. 14%
● Compound, Dispense, or Administer Drugs, or Manage Delivery Systems: approx. 11%
● Develop or Manage Practice or Medication-Use Systems to Ensure Safety and Quality: approx. 7%
The National Association of Boards of Pharmacy encourages candidates to take the NAPLEX online practice, called the pre-NAPLEX, exam for $75. It contains questions that were used on older tests, and the computer program works under conditions similar to the real NAPLEX.
The Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam tests your knowledge of both federal laws and the laws of the state you plan to get licensed in. Therefore, there is a customized MPJE for each state and if you want to be licensed in more than one state, you will have to pass multiple versions of the MPJE.
The MPJE consists of 120 test questions and lasts 2.5 hours.
- Pharmacy Practice: approx. 83% of Test
- Licensure, Registration, Certification, and Operational Requirements: approx. 15%
- General Regulatory Processes: approx. 2%
TIME AND COSTS
Successfully licensing as a Registered Pharmacist in Illinois depends on a number of
● 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.
OTHER CAREERS AND CREDENTIALS
CONSIDER REGISTERING AS A PHARMACY TECHNICIAN
A pharmacy technician is an entry-level staff position in a hospital or retail pharmacy. It usually earns an hourly wage and only requires an education minimum of high school graduation. You must register as a Pharmacy Technician by sending in an application to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR). The cost of the application is $40.
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.
Licenses expire on March 31 of even-numbered years. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) 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 Illinois 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.
● Illinois Pharmacists Association: https://www.ipha.org/
● Illinois Council of Health-System Pharmacists: https://www.ichpnet.org/
● American Pharmacists Association: https://www.pharmcists.com
● American Society of Health-System Pharmacists: https://www.ashp.org
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 Illinois does not have any reciprocal agreement to honor the pharmacy licenses of other states. Illinois 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 Illinois requirements for licensing).
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.
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 CTS, Pearson, or the IDFPR, and ask for assistance.