I have been licensed in a total of three states in my career and have learned some hard lessons along the way about obtaining licensure. In fact, I think this is one of the most important topics not covered in pharmacy school (I have precepted probably 30-40 students and have never had one say that pharmacy school prepared them for it).
The majority of people will likely end up moving to a new state at least once in their career and will thus have to go through obtaining a new license. For travelling nurses and allied health professionals, working in a new state is highly likely and sometimes happens frequently, depending on your career path, so I wanted to offer some tips so that others do not have learn the hard way, as I did.
If you plan on pursuing a residency, this is also crucial information because the residency will likely require you to become licensed by a certain deadline.
Requirements for Licensure
Every state requires three things to become licensed:
- Graduation from pharmacy school (either accredited or candidate status),
- Passing the NAPLEX and their law exam, most often the MPJE (one notable exception is California, which requires their version called the CPJE), and
- Obtaining the minimum number of hours of experience.
Number three is the trickiest and, if you are either in school now or a new graduate (i.e. licensed less than one year), you will need to read the hours requirements carefully or it could make it very difficult for you.
The first state I worked in after graduation was South Carolina, which requires the candidate to obtain 500 hours outside of pharmacy school. While their website is much clearer about this requirement now, they were not at the time I was pursuing licensure. I did not work in a pharmacy during the summers and did not have those hours, although even when I called the Board office, the representative I spoke with at the time told me I “should be fine.” Of course, my application was marked as deficient and I was stuck working 500 hours in a pharmacy as an intern after passing the NAPLEX and MPJE.
To make matters worse, South Carolina required proof of those hours to be submitted by filling out a form that is signed by the pharmacy manager and notarized. I worked for Walgreens and some of the hours prior to becoming licensed were used for training and others were used to help cover technician vacation (a smart business move in my opinion). Because of this, I had worked in over 20 stores across upstate South Carolina and ended up being forced to hire a mobile notary to ride with me store-to-store obtaining signatures as I coordinated when the 20+ managers would be working over two full days.
The Board did not allow the district manager (who was a licensed South Carolina pharmacist) to attest to my time, so I had no other option. While my experience is an outlier (I have not heard of another pharmacist that went through so much to obtain their hours) please do not make this mistake – read carefully!
Pathways to Licensure
Most states have three primary ways to become licensed:
- Initial licensure,
- Score transfer, and
- Licensure by reciprocity.
Initial licensure is relatively straightforward and requires proof of the above three elements.
Score transfer is similar to an initial licensure because it is a situation when the pharmacist is pursuing licensure but is either not licensed yet in their state of initial licensure or is newly licensed (less than one year). The tricky thing about score transfer is that you only have 89 days after taking the NAPLEX to send scores to an additional state; any later than that and you will need to retake the NAPLEX.
So choose your states carefully! The cost is minimal compared to either retaking the NAPLEX and delaying your full pharmacist salary or having to give up your first-choice job or residency, I always recommend students transfer scores to any state they think they might want to pursue licensure in the near future. Scores are valid in most states for one to two years, so there is plenty of time to decide after sending scores.
Licensure by reciprocity is now primarily done on the NABP website and is for pharmacists that have been licensed at least one year for most states. With this pathway (and their current license and experience), the candidate has already demonstrated that: (1) they have graduated from an accredited pharmacy school and (2) they have met the required hours of experience for practice. Thus, the only additional requirement is to pass the MPJE (or other law exam) for that particular state.
Preparing for the MPJE
I won’t sugarcoat it – the MPJE is a tough exam. I’ve taken it three times (once for each state I obtained a license) and it didn’t get much easier. Some questions I would have missed even if I had all the laws in front of me. However, I passed each time and you can too. Here are some tips:
- Read all of the laws on the Board of Pharmacy website: Nearly every state has (a) a pharmacy practice act, (b) a controlled substance act, (c) a state version of the Food Drug and Cosmetic Act, and (d) administrative rulings. This should be obvious but read them! It takes time, so give yourself a good 3-6 months to prepare if you can. Of note, be sure to pay close attention to the Definitions section of each of those laws. For example, when the state controlled substance act defines “Provider” it is listing all of the types of providers authorized to write controlled substances.
- Take practice questions: My favorite preparation tool is RxExam; it is inexpensive, provides plenty of questions, has a format similar to the MPJE, and provides references and explanations for all the answers.
- Don’t sweat it: You are going to be confronted with questions that seem to come out of left-field. Part of the test is mental – if you let those questions get to you then you won’t be able to focus on the rest of the test!