Curriculum Description

As a UCSF PharmD student, you’ll experience a dynamic, science-based way of learning. This means that you’ll constantly be thinking through potential answers to questions, solutions to problems, and making connections between your learning week to week and year to year. 

You’ll develop critical thinking skills as you actively engage in your own learning with peers.

Your knowledge will grow as our faculty members share with you their tremendous research and clinical expertise, and as they teach and challenge you to question as you learn.

This approach will prepare you to thrive as a compassionate pharmacist with a keen scientific mindset and unmatched professional skillset—a pharmacist who easily adapts to continual changes in health science and patient care.

The three-year, year-round curriculum consists of five parts—all tightly integrated:

1: Foundations

Learning key concepts. At the beginning of year one and year two, you’ll gain the fundamental knowledge and skills you’ll apply repeatedly as you progress through the curriculum. You’ll learn:

  • Key concepts in biomedical science and therapeutics, sequentially mapped, from the biology of disease to the biochemistry of medication action, and from medication access to medication use in patients. You’ll use this knowledge map to put subsequent learning into perspective.
  • How to critically approach problems and their solutions, how to explore and interpret the literature and use resources—in short, how to think scientifically.
  • Skills for professional and academic success.

2: Integrated themes

Mastering essential knowledge while exploring the frontier. Equipped with the fundamentals, you’ll dive deeper into 1) biomedical science and therapeutics—the knowledge you’ll use as a practicing pharmacist, and 2) inquiry—the latest developments and innovations in science and practice. You’ll investigate both through the integrated study of organ systems and disease category themes.

Year 1 themes:

  • Cardiovascular
  • Respiratory
  • Renal
  • Gastrointestinal

Year 2 themes:

  • Endocrinology
  • Psychiatry and neurology
  • Infectious diseases
  • Oncology

Beginning in year one and through the spring of year two, you'll progressively integrate and build on what you learn from one organ system or disease topic to the next, and will take time at the end of each to synthesize and assess what you’ve learned up to that point.

Science and therapeutics

  • Learn biomedical science and explore therapeutic considerations from the perspective of organ systems and diseases.
  • Use the organ systems and disease category themes as a framework through which to explore social science considerations such as pharmacy law, medication access, models of health care delivery, health policy, and health economics.
  • Apply your growing knowledge to increasingly complex real-life patient cases.


  • Learn about the latest developments in science and the latest innovations in practice with a faculty of renowned research and clinical leaders. This is a special, additional aspect of the science-based curriculum, possible at UCSF because of our pioneering research and singular focus on health.
  • Progressively develop your skills in inquiry, discovery, and innovation—all needed to solve complex problems in pharmacy and health care.

3: Discovery Project

Making discovery personal. As you integrate essential learning in biomedical science and therapeutics and learn to think scientifically, you’ll also become adept at developing and answering questions on your own and as part of a team.

You’ll further develop your inquiry skills and pursue your interests in greater depth through a Discovery Project. Our scientists and clinicians will be there to mentor you. Your Discovery Project begins in the late spring of year two.

4: Practice experiences

Applying your learning in clinical settings. Pharmacy practice experiences begin early in the curriculum and closely integrate with the organ systems and disease themes you’ll be studying. 

These clinical experiences reflect the situations and challenges you’ll face as a practicing pharmacist. They’ll gradually increase in complexity over time, from introductory to advanced.

  • Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experiences (IPPEs) run throughout the first and second years of the curriculum, exposing you to contemporary pharmacy practice in community and health systems settings.
  • Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences (APPEs) begin during late spring of the second year and continue through the third year in community, health systems, and outpatient clinic settings.

Throughout these experiences, you’ll learn under the guidance of seasoned pharmacist preceptors at sites located at UCSF and throughout the Bay Area and the state, and from richly diverse patient populations.

5: Applied patient care skills

Building your skills. You'll take this course in unison with your IPPEs in years one and two. The course focuses on preparing you with the hands-on practice skills and the oral and written communications skills essential to today's health care practitioners. It reinforces the critical thinking and problem-solving skills that pervade the entire curriculum and are essential in patient care and practice. 

Orientation and progress

In late summer, immediately before the academic year begins, you’ll participate in an orientation program with fellow classmates; our aim is for you to become comfortable with your new peers and your new environment. There is also an online orientation, which you'll finish over the summer before the academic year begins.

Your academic progress will be assessed throughout the curriculum. At two points, you’ll have comprehensive progress examinations; our aim here is both to assess your learning and to give you valuable feedback.

At the end of your program, you’ll present your Discovery Project and review for the pharmacist licensure examination.

Time to customize

Time is built into the curriculum for you to pursue electives such as additional APPEs, student project work, innovative experiences, interviews for advanced training programs, and professional development activities.


You’ll have nine breaks throughout the three-year curriculum; the breaks will range from one to three weeks.

Education approach

We believe that the best way to learn is through a variety of means—including some lectures, self-directed learning, team learning, group discussions, and debate. You’ll bring your learning to class sessions, to actively share with classmates and faculty members.

We’re continually innovating in our use of education technology. Faculty members and staff education experts work together to provide a learning experience enhanced through technology.

Throughout the curriculum, you’ll also participate in sessions—on topics such as self-care, effective learning, professionalism, career development, and leadership—to help you succeed as a student and a professional.

We are here to ensure your success, to help you to learn through an inquiry approach, and, ultimately, to improve the health of your future patients.

Beyond the PharmD

The UCSF PharmD degree, coupled with additional advanced specialized training, is a powerful combination. You’ll graduate ready to build on your pharmacy expertise through advanced training; we encourage this.