I was having a conversation with some friends the other day who are not pharmacists and the question came up as to why some pharmacists use RPh after their name and others use PharmD; why some use the more esoteric PD or DPh, and still others use a combination of all of the above. The fact of the matter is, you could assemble five pharmacists together in the same room and each could use different identifiers after their names. After some 40 years of calling myself an RPh, I am still at a loss to explain a phenomenon that, as far as I can tell, is somewhat unique to our profession.
After all, each credential stands for something else, right? Well, yes and no. Let's start with PharmD. There is no question that this refers to a Doctor of Pharmacy degree. It really has nothing to do with whether or not the pharmacist is licensed to practice pharmacy. On the other hand, if you really think about it, neither does the RPh credential. This confusion over credentials leads to a whole slew of unanswered questions, such as why don't pharmacists use LPh after their name to represent a licensed pharmacist, instead of RPh? Exactly who is an RPh registered with anyway? Is it the state where he/she passed a licensing exam? But if that were the case, then what about those of us who took and passed multistate licensing exams? And what about those pharmacists who have successfully passed a state board exam but allowed their licenses to lapse? Are they not entitled to call themselves a registered pharmacist anymore?
This and other strange questions concerning our credentialing process led me to do an Internet search to determine exactly when pharmacists started calling themselves Registered Pharmacists or RPhs. Unfortunately, I came up empty-handed. Sure, there were many urban legends surrounding the title, but no real, hard facts. What I did find was absolutely astounding, as I waded through several pharmacy discussion sites and blogs. What I thought was a fairly benign topic had many pharmacists very vocal over the issue of what to call themselves. Several of the more outspoken comments came from pharmacists who were disgusted with fellow pharmacists holding PharmD degrees who call themselves Doctor. Many of these ranting pharmacists suggested that any pharmacist who calls themselves Doctor simply because they graduated with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree were on an ego trip and somehow misrepresenting themselves as a medical doctor. Of course, this line of thinking is absurd. I mean, what about other doctorate degrees? Do they really think that someone holding a doctor of philosophy (PhD) is passing himself or herself off as a physician when they are addressed as Doctor?
But in the real world, confusion apparently reigns over the exact title for a pharmacist who has passed a licensing exam and holds a degree to practice pharmacy. The bottom line is that there is no universal designation for pharmacists; I think that is just not right. I believe pharmacists should be recognized for their professional achievements as well as their scholastic accomplishments. If a title were to be standardized for all pharmacists, I would personally prefer the RPh designation because while it really does not signify anything, it is probably the most recognizable due to its long history. While pharmacists are not truly registered in the strictest sense, it has been traditionally accepted over many years. However, pharmacists should also be recognized for their scholastic achievements. So it would be only fitting that a pharmacist who has successfully passed the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX), or any licensing exam that predates the NAPLEX, to have the designation of RPh followed by their scholastic degree(s). This would effectively put an end to the question of superiority. After all, in the final analysis, regardless of our current status, we are all pharmacists and we should have equal recognition of that accomplishment.
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