Viewpoint: A matter of degree: Let's get it right

March 5, 2007

In the "B.S. vs. Pharm.D." exchanges that have been featured in these pages over recent months, one facet of the issue has been overlooked. A sine qua non of pharmacy is attention to detail, yet these exchanges have, as is so often the case, fallen into using the abbreviation "B.S." to refer incorrectly to the bachelor of science in pharmacy degree.

A bachelor of science (B.S.) degree could be earned in any number of fields-chemistry, economics, psychology, and on and on. But colleges and schools of pharmacy did not confer that degree; they awarded the degree bachelor of science in pharmacy (B.S.Pharm.) or, in the case of at least one institution, the degree bachelor of pharmacy (B.Pharm.).

Many colleges and universities offer programs of study that add to basic degree designations information indicating a particular specialty. These are referred to as "specified degrees" or "tagged degrees" because the root degree wording has been supplemented with additional information reflecting field of study. As a general rule a tagged degree is more focused and requires more specialized course work than a B.S. or B.A. degree.

Specified or tagged degrees can come in two types, the first of which is a more general degree with a tag indicating a specialty appended, e.g., B.S.N. for nursing or B.S.L.A. for landscape architecture. Such a degree program would incorporate both the general education requirements for a baccalaureate degree and the specialized course work focused, in the case of the B.S.N., to prepare one to practice nursing.

The general education components of a baccalaureate degree program are generally expected to provide the student with competencies in analytical and inferential reasoning, communications, computational skills, humanities and fine arts, and social and behavioral sciences as well as an understanding of a defined area of knowledge complemented by the ability to learn on one's own. The goal of this portion of the student's higher education is to develop characteristics that help define an educated person. Granting a baccalaureate degree implies that the student has completed both the general education experiences and the specialized preparation that may be part of a given degree program. Accreditation agencies and higher education coordinating boards have established standards regarding the minimum number of general education credits required outside of specialized portions of a program for each type of bachelor's degree.

Moreover, courses within a student's major program of study should form a coherent pattern in which introductory work in the major field provides a foundation for advanced work. Introductory course work should provide a broad exposure to the concepts, principles, and substance of individual disciplines, while advanced course work should be of sufficient intensity and complexity to provide an in-depth examination of the concepts, principles, and substance of individual disciplines.