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Virginia Pharmacist Professional Licensing Guide

HOW THE PROFESSION IS ORGANIZED IN VIRGINIA

REGULATION OF PHARMACISTS IN VIRGINIA

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 Virginia Board of Pharmacy (Virginia Board) to register as a pharmacy intern, obtain practical experience as a pharmacy intern, take the pharmacist licensure examinations, and become licensed as a pharmacist.

The Virginia Board regulates the profession of pharmacist in Virginia. 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 exams required to obtain a license:

  • Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination (FPGEE) – standardized pharmacy test for international candidates
  • North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) – skills and knowledge of pharmacy
  • Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination (MPJE) – application of laws and regulations for specific states in which you want to be licensed

The NABP is also 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 Virginia Pharmacist Licensing section below.

EMPLOYMENT

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, most pharmacists work in a retail setting (independent or chain retail drugstores) or in hospitals. 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 U.S. Department of Labor is projecting a 2% decrease in new jobs available to pharmacists from 2020 to 2030. Despite declining employment, the Bureau still expects about 11,300 openings nationally for pharmacists each year over the next decade to replace workers who are transferring to other occupations or exiting the labor force (such as to retire).

As of May 2020, the national median wage for pharmacists was $128,710 annually. As of May 2020, Virginia had an annual mean wage for pharmacists of $125,390.

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 and disease management methods and opportunities to monitor patient treatment plans to prevent potentially harmful drug interactions.

INCREASING PROFESSIONAL STANDARDS AND INELIGIBLE PHARMACY PROGRAMS

Reform in pharmacy education in the U.S. 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 U.S. professional degrees in pharmacy, this is not the case worldwide.  Foreign-educated pharmacy candidates who graduate from a 4-year program after January 1, 2003, cannot qualify for the FPGEC Certification with their current degree. Not even post-graduation internships, work experience, continuing education certificates, or extra coursework 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 U.S. 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). You can use the PharmCAS School Directory to research such programs.
  • 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 WASHINGTON PHARMACIST LICENSING 

The process for getting a license as a pharmacist in Virginia is as follows:

A. Obtain FPGEC Certification

The purpose of the FPGEC Certification Program is to document the educational equivalency of your foreign pharmacy education. For specifics, refer to the most current FPGEC Application Bulletin on the NABP website: 2021 FPGEC Application Bulletin.

The following outlines the process:

  • Submit an application package for the FPGEC Certification Program and the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination (FPGEE). The application is available on the NABP website. It requires several supporting documents, including proof of a foreign pharmacist license or an accepted substitute. The fee (as of Dec. 2021) is $550, which includes document evaluation ($450) and an application fee ($100).
  • Submit a 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 for, register for, and pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language Internet-Based Test (TOEFL iBT).  For applications submitted on or after January 1, 2020, you must pass the TOEFL iBT before being accepted to sit for the FPGEE. TOEFL iBT scores are valid for 2 years from the date of the administration of the test.  If you score less than the minimum required score in any section, your score report will not be accepted. The FPGEC does not accept “My Best” scores and will not consider a total score on the TOEFL iBT.  Passing scores are:
    • Reading – 22;
    • Listening – 21;
    • Speaking – 26; and
    • Writing – 24.
  • Pass the Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination (FPGEE). The FPGEE will be explained in more detail in the section on testing.

1. Important Notes On the FPGEC Certification Program

  • Your foreign credential evaluation does not occur early in the Certification Program. If you graduated from your pharmacy institution in or after 2003 and believe that your pharmacy degree may not be equivalent to a 5-year professional (PharmD) degree, 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 on from FPGEC or a PharmD program to understand if your degree is likely to qualify.
  • Your FPGEC Certification application and fees may be closed if you do not complete all application requirements within 2 years of submitting your application (including the TOEFL iBT requirement), or if you fail to pass the FPGEE within 2 years of being accepted to the FPGEC Certification Program.
  • If you sit for the FPGEE and fail, you will have to retake the FPGEE if the next FPGEE administration falls within your 2-year period and pay a fee. If the next administration does not occur until after your 2-year period has ended, as the exam is only offered once per year, you will need to restart the process by applying to the FPGEC Certification Program again.
  • 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 that 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.

B. Complete Your Pharmacy Intern Hours

You will need to complete at least 1500 hours of practical experience as a pharmacy intern for your licensure by examination application. Prior to gaining practical experience in Virginia for credit, you must register as a pharmacy intern. The application can be completed online on the Virginia Board site. Once you complete your practical experience hours, you must submit an affidavit. There are specific requirements for the hours:

  • Credit will not be given for more than 50 hours in any one week or for less than an average of 20 hours a week averaged over a month.
  • A pharmacy intern must be supervised by a pharmacist who holds a current, unrestricted license and assumes full responsibility for the training, supervision and conduct of the intern.
  • Practical experience gained in another state within the U.S. must be certified by that state’s board of pharmacy and may require registration as a pharmacy intern with that state board.
  • A temporary intern registration may be issued without a social security number for 90 days only.

C. Apply for a Pharmacy License

Once you have obtained FPGEC certification and completed your practical experience hours, you can submit an application for licensure as a pharmacist. You will need to apply online and submit the fee.

You will also need to apply to take the NAPLEX and the MPJE offered by NABP.  When you are approved, authorization to take these tests will be granted by the Virginia Board.

D. Pass Examinations:  North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) and the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE)

To be licensed in Virginia as a pharmacist, you must pass the NAPLEX and the MPJE. NAPLEX tests your general practice skills and knowledge of pharmacy, while the MPJE tests your knowledge of jurisdiction-specification laws that apply to the profession. All pharmacy graduates must pass these exams before being licensed in Virginia.

You will need to register and pay for NAPLEX and MPJE through the NABP website. Once your application and required documentation have been processed, NABP will send you an Authorization to Test (ATT) so that you can schedule your test with Pearson VUE. The ATT is valid for one year. The exams will be discussed in more detail in the next section.

TESTS

As a foreign pharmacy graduate, you will take three tests during your Virginia pharmacist licensing process:

  • Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination (FPGEE)
  • North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX)
  • Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE)

A. General Test Procedures & Basic Characteristics

  • Testing Approval:  Once you are approved for testing, you will receive an ATT from NABP. The ATT includes detailed instructions for scheduling your test.
  • Testing Sites:  The tests are administered by the computer-based testing company Pearson VUE at test centers nationwide. Limited space means that the centers can have full schedules, so you should schedule your exams soon after receiving your ATT.
  • Answer Once:  Once you confirm an answer during the exam, you will not be allowed to return to it or make any changes. You may not skip a question
  • Test Day Procedures:  On the day of the test, you must bring the ATT and two 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 half an hour early. You will not be allowed to take the test if you arrive more than half an hour late for your appointment. If you arrive late or do not go to the center at all, you will have to pay to reschedule. You may have limited scheduled breaks during the examination time depending on the exam.
  • 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.

B. Foreign Pharmacy Graduate Equivalency Examination (FPGEE)

The FPGEE is a 4.5 hour exam (5.5 hour total seat time) consisting of 200 questions taken on a computer. The scaled passing score is 75. To register for the FPGEE, you will need to fill out an online application through your NABP e-Profile.

The test is offered only once a year, usually in October, so you should be careful of timing and make sure to schedule your appointment at Pearson VUE as soon as you receive your ATT.

The FPGEE tests four content areas:

  1. Basic Biomedical Sciences: approximately 10% of questions
  2. Pharmaceutical Sciences: approx. 33%
  3. Social, Behavioral, and Administrative Sciences: approx. 22%
  4. Clinical Sciences: approx. 35%

The NABP offers a Pre-FPGEE official practice exam, which you should consider taking as part of your preparation. The practice exam consists of 66 questions, and you will have 85 minutes to complete the exam. The practice exam can be taken up to twice per year and is available online.

Candidates have a maximum of five attempts to pass the FPGEE. If you fail the FPGEE, you may be able to retake it during the same 2-year acceptance period if the next test administration occurs during your acceptance period. If it does not, you will need to restart the process for applying to the FPGEC Certification Program

C. North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX)

The NAPLEX tests the general knowledge you have gained in your education as a pharmacist. To register for the NAPLEX, you will need to fill out an online application in the Exam Services section of your NABP e-Profile.

The NAPLEX is a six-hour exam consisting of 225 questions taken on a computer. 200 questions will be used to calculate your exam results; the remaining 25 questions are administered for evaluation for possible inclusion in future examinations. You will not know which questions will affect your exam results.

The NAPLEX tests six content areas:

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

The NABP offers a Pre-NAPLEX practice exam, which you should consider taking as part of your preparation. The practice exam consists of 100 exam questions, and you will have 140 minutes to complete the exam.  The Pre-NAPLEX can be taken up to two times annually, and costs $75 per attempt.

Candidates have a maximum of five attempts to pass the NAPLEX. If you fail the NAPLEX, you will need to wait 45 days before you can try taking it again. Further, if you fail the NAPLEX three times in a 12-month period, you must wait at least 12 months from the first attempt to reapply and begin the application process again. You may need to contact the FPGEC to request an early closure of your acceptance period so that you can reapply earlier.

D. Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE)

The MPJE tests your knowledge of the laws and regulations for specific jurisdictions. You take the MPJE for the state in which you want to be licensed, and there is a unique MPJE developed for each state. If you want to be licensed in more than one state, you will need to pass multiple versions of the MPJE. To register for the MPJE, you will need to fill out an online application in the Exam Services section of your NABP e-Profile.

The MPJE is a 2½ hour exam consisting of 120 questions taken on a computer.

The MPJE tests three content areas:

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

The MPJE offers a Pre-MPJE practice exam, which you should consider taking as part of your preparation. The practice exam consists of 40 exam questions, and you will have 50 minutes to complete the exam. The Pre-MPJE can be taken once each year per jurisdiction and costs $75 per attempt.

Candidates have a maximum of five attempts per jurisdiction to pass the MPJE. If you fail the MPJE, you will need to wait 30 days before you can try taking it again. To retake the MPJE, you will need to apply to retake the exam.

TIME AND COSTS

Successfully licensing as a pharmacist in Virginia 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

You can also consider registering as a pharmacy technician.  The Virginia Board website has a section on the pharmacy technician application process, which includes applying for registration as a pharmacy technician, completing a Virginia Board approved training program, and passing the approved examination (the ExCPT exam).

BEYOND LICENSING

A. Maintaining Licensure

Pharmacist licenses expire on December 31 and need to be renewed annually prior to that date, but note that a pharmacist newly licensed on or after October 1 will not be required to renew that license until December 31 of the following year. If you let your license lapse, you will have different requirements to renew or reinstate your license depending on how much time has passed, and you may have to undergo a much more complicated process to renew or reinstate.

Pharmacists are also required to obtain a minimum of 15 contact hours of continuing pharmacy education (CE) per calendar year, at least three of which must be from courses or programs that are live or real-time interactive. A guide to CE can be found here. You should maintain, for two years following renewal, the original certificates documenting successful completion of CE.

B. 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 Virginia and across the U.S. Their websites may offer useful orientation to pharmacy candidates about the licensing and examination process, including test preparation. They often provide CE to members as well.

American Pharmacists Association (APhA)

American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP)

Virginia Pharmacists Association (VPhA)

Virginia Society of Health-System Pharmacists (VSHP)

 

C. Licensing Mobility (Reciprocity)

Virginia does allow licensure by “endorsement” in which an applicant may transfer a pharmacist license from another state, provided the applicant’s credentials for licensure in the other state meet Virginia’s credentialing requirements, and there are no grounds that exist to deny the license. But not every state offers reciprocity, so if you choose to practice pharmacy in another state, you will need to research the requirements of that other state.

TIPS

A. 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.

B. Check Transfer Credits

If you graduated after 2003 from a four-year pharmacy program, you will have to return to school in the U.S. 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.

C. 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 Virginia Board or NABP for help.

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