Becoming a pharmacist can lead to a rewarding and lucrative career.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a pharmacist in 2018 was $126,120. While pursuing a career in pharmacy can lead to a six-figure salary, it can also lead to six-figure student loan debt. The pharmacist leaves school with an average of $166,528 in debt, according to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy.
Fortunately, there are pharmacist student loan forgiveness programs to help people become debt-free. Here’s a comprehensive guide to student loan forgiveness for pharmacists, and repayment options.
Pharmacist loan forgiveness options by state
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- West Virginia
- Additional pharmacist loan forgiveness options
Alaska’s SHARP program offers loan assistance to pharmacists working in underserved communities. Through the SHARP-I program, pharmacists can receive up to $35,000 a year. In some cases, if the position is difficult to fill, pharmacists may be eligible for up to $47,000 a year.
To qualify, pharmacists must work at least half time and commit to serving for at least two years. If a recipient remains in good standing, they can reapply, but they must repeat the process.
Through the Arizona State Loan Repayment Program, pharmacists can receive loan repayment assistance by serving at an eligible nonprofit or designated health professional shortage area (HPSA). Funding depends on a variety of factors, including HPSA score, years of service, provider type and how much funds are available.
Pharmacists can receive up to $50,000 in loan repayment assistance for the first two years. They can receive additional funding by committing to additional years of service. You can get up to $25,000 in the third year, up to $20,000 in the fourth and $10,000 in the fifth (and beyond).
The California State Loan Repayment Program offers loan repayment assistance to pharmacists who commit to working in a designated HPSA.
Pharmacists who work full time can receive up to $50,000 for a two-year service agreement — $25,000 from the program and a $25,000 match from the provider site. Full-time pharmacists may be eligible for one-year extensions for a total of four years, which could result in an additional $60,000 maximum in loan repayment assistance.
Half-time applicants are eligible for up to $50,000 for a four-year service agreement, with another $30,000 available over four one-year extensions.
To qualify, pharmacists must work at an approved site, such as a public or private nonprofit outpatient or ambulatory setting. If you primarily work in a retail setting, you are not eligible.
Under the Colorado Health Service Corps program, clinical pharmacists working in a designated shortage area may be eligible for loan repayment assistance. Pharmacists must commit to three years of service and work either part time or full time.
Full-time pharmacists are eligible for up to $50,000, while part-time pharmacists are eligible for up to $25,000.
The Idaho State Loan Repayment Program offers dollar-for-dollar loan repayment assistance for pharmacists who work for public or nonprofit facilities in underserved areas.
The repayment is disbursed as a federal grant in coordination with a pharmacist’s employer. The program must match each dollar an employer provides, with awards ranging from $10,000 to $25,000 a year (or $20,000 to $50,000 total).
To qualify, pharmacists must commit to a two-year service period, working a minimum of 40 hours a week for at least 45 weeks a year.
Pharmacists in Iowa may be eligible for student loan forgiveness through the PRIMECARRE Loan Repayment Program. To be considered eligible, a pharmacist must work in a designated shortage area for a period of at least two years as a full-time employee or four years as a part-time employee.
Recipients must work 40 hours a week for a minimum of 45 weeks a year to be considered full time. Half-time employment is defined as 20 to 39 hours a week for 45 weeks.
Pharmacists may receive up to a maximum of $50,000 in loan repayment assistance.
Through the Kentucky State Loan Repayment Program, pharmacists may be eligible for student loan funding. For every federal dollar spent, a sponsor, such as an employer or private foundation, can match the contribution.
Qualified candidates that work at a designated HPSA and work full time may be eligible for up to $80,000. They must serve a two-year commitment.
Under Minnesota’s Rural Pharmacist Loan Forgiveness Program, eligible candidates can receive loan repayment assistance if they work in a designated rural area.
Pharmacists may be eligible to receive up to $20,000 a year for a maximum of four years, totaling $80,000.
Interested candidates must work at least 30 hours a week for at least 45 weeks a year and commit to three years of service.
Pharmacists in Montana may be eligible for up to a total of $30,000 in loan repayment assistance through the Montana State Loan Repayment Program. Recipients must work at an approved site, which may be a public or private nonprofit facility. Some rural private practice sites in a designated shortage area may also be approved.
Individuals may receive up to $15,000 each year for a two-year commitment. If a pharmacist’s employer chooses to match the program funds dollar for dollar, pharmacists may receive up to $50,000 — or $25,000 a year — under those same guidelines.
Nebraska offers two programs for pharmacists that work in designated shortage areas: the State Loan Repayment Program and the NHSC Nebraska State Loan Repayment Program.
Qualified candidates can receive a total of $90,000 to $100,000 in loan repayments. To qualify, candidates must commit to two to four years of service.
An employee or local entity will need to provide matching funds. You must have at least 32 hours of scheduled patient time a week to be eligible.
You can fill out one application if you’re interested in either program.
The New Mexico Health Professional Loan Repayment Program offers loan repayment for pharmacists if they serve in a designated shortage area.
The maximum award eligible candidates can receive is $25,000 a year. However, the award amount depends on many factors, including your student loan debt balance and the program’s available funding. To qualify, candidates must work full time for two years at an eligible site.
Pharmacists may be eligible for the program, but other health care professionals receive funding priority.
The federal government, in conjunction with the North Dakota Department of Health, offers loan repayment assistance to registered pharmacists who work in designated shortage areas.
Eligible candidates can receive up to $50,000 a year. This is a matching program where worksites must match the dollars provided.
To qualify, candidates must commit to two years of service.
The Oregon Partnership State Loan Repayment Program offers loan repayment assistance to pharmacists who work in designated shortage areas.
Full-time providers can receive repayment assistance amounting to 50% of qualifying student debt — up to $35,000 a year — for the initial two years. Part-time providers can receive payment assistance of up to 50% of their debt, with a maximum of $17,500 a year for the first four years.
The program requires a two-year commitment, with the possibility of two additional one-year extensions.
Through the Rhode Island Health Professionals Loan Repayment Program, pharmacists in Rhode Island who work at a qualified site in a designated shortage area could be eligible for loan repayment assistance.
There are award options for full-time and half-time employment. Candidates must commit to two years of service, or four years of service if they are working part time.
The program doesn’t specify exact award amounts, though funding is available for pharmacists as well as other health care professionals.
The Virginia State Loan Repayment Program offers pharmacists loan repayment assistance in exchange for serving in a designated HPSA at a qualified site in Virginia.
The program requires a dollar match from the community work site. To qualify, eligible candidates must commit to two years of service. Candidates are eligible for a maximum award of $140,000 for a four-year commitment.
Under Washington’s Health Professional Loan Repayment and Conditional Scholarship Program, pharmacists who work at an eligible site may qualify for loan repayment assistance.
Pharmacists can receive up to $75,000 in exchange for three years of service. This program does require pharmacists to work at a designated HPSA.
Through the Federal Health Program, pharmacists can receive up to $70,000 in exchange for two years of service.
The West Virginia Health Sciences Service Program will award around 15 health professionals a year with loan repayment funds.
Pharmacists may qualify for up to $15,000 in assistance and are required to commit to either full-time service for two years at an approved site or half-time service for four years at a similarly approved site. Those working a minimum of 40 hours a week will be considered full-time employees, while those working at least 20 hours a week will be considered half-time workers.
Pharmacists in their final year of a doctoral program are eligible to apply.
- NHSC Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Program
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF)
- National Institutes of Health Loan Repayment Programs
- Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program
- U.S. Army and Navy student loan repayment assistance
While there are pharmacist loan forgiveness options by state that offer loan repayment assistance, there are also federal options for student loan forgiveness for pharmacists.
The National Health Service Corps Substance Use Disorder Workforce Loan Repayment Program is designed to encourage pharmacists and other medical professionals to work in designated areas to address substance use disorders.
Those who commit to three years of full-time service may be eligible for up to $75,000 in repayment funds, while those who commit to three years of half-time service may qualify for up to $37,500.
Full-time employment is defined as working a minimum of 40 hours a week for 45 weeks a year, while those in the half-time program must work at least 20 hours a week for 45 weeks a year.
Through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, eligible candidates who work in the public sector, either at a government organization or nonprofit, are eligible for student loan forgiveness.
To qualify, you must work full time (which is classified as 30 hours a week) and make 120 qualifying payments.
The payments do not have to be consecutive to qualify. If you’re looking for student loan forgiveness for pharmacists, this could be a good option because your loans might be completely forgiven in 10 years and you will not have to pay tax on your forgiven balance.
Very few people are being approved for PSLF — about 1% — so be cautious as you consider this program.
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in medical research and have a pharmacy degree, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) offers several programs that help.
There are eight programs, five of which are for researchers not employed by NIH, with three available to researchers employed by NIH.
The program offers $50,000 a year in exchange for research related to the NIH’s mission. To qualify for the program, your student loan debt must be at least 20% of your base salary when you receive the award.
Through the Indian Health Service Loan Repayment Program, health care professionals who practice in facilities serving American Indian and Alaska Native communities may be eligible for loan repayment assistance.
The program offers up to $40,000 in exchange for two years of service.
If you’re interested in working for the U.S. Army or Navy, you could get significant loan repayment assistance.
Qualified U.S. Army candidates can receive up to $120,000 in assistance to pay back your pharmacy school loans. Another option aside from the repayment program is the Pharmacist Accession Bonus. Qualified pharmacists may be eligible for a sign-on bonus of $30,000. The best part? It’s paid in a lump sum at the first duty station.
The Navy offers financial assistance through the Health Professions Loan Repayment Program. It will pay up to $40,000 a year toward loan repayment, minus 25% or so in federal income taxes.
Individuals must qualify for or be an active-duty commissioned officer and be enrolled as a full-time student in their last year of school. Individuals may also qualify if they’re in the final year of a residency program.
There are a variety of programs that offer student loan forgiveness for pharmacists at the state and federal level. Many of these options require you to work in certain areas or at qualified sites, so it’s important to weigh your choices before pursuing loan repayment assistance or pharmacist loan forgiveness.
In the end, it could be a rewarding experience and also help you get a good chunk — if not all — of your loans paid back.
The information in this article is accurate as of the date of publishing.
Anne Bouleanu contributed to this report.