Best Master's Degrees in Psychopharmacology

Nov 05, 2021

What Is a Master's in Psychopharmacology Degree?

Master's degrees in clinical psychopharmacology are post-doctoral programs aimed at practicing PhD-level psychologists. Unlike psychiatrists, psychologists cannot prescribe medication to patients without training and licensure in clinical psychopharmacology. Degree programs in clinical psychopharmacology give students an in-depth look at medications used to treat mental illness as well as their effects on and contraindications with physical illnesses. In the U.S., only five states currently allow psychologists to prescribe medication with additional training.

Degrees in this field are generally awarded as a Master of Science (MS).

The Best Masters Degree Program in Psychopharmacology

School Tuition* Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
1 New Mexico State University-Main Campus $5753 55% 48% 99% Yes Yes AP Credits

To get a more in-depth look at our school ranking methodology, please visit our ranking methodology page.

*Tuition information is based on published tuition and required fees, per data by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Common Undergraduate Degrees for Psychopharmacology

To be eligible for acceptance to a master's program in clinical psychopharmacology, students must be accepted to or have completed a PhD program in psychology. While many students applying to PhD programs in psychology will have studied and received a bachelor's in psychology, it is possible to be admitted with an undergraduate degree in another field. Students may come from other social science backgrounds or the humanities, although it is not impossible for students with degrees in math and the physical sciences to transition to a graduate program in psychology.

Admissions Requirements for Psychopharmacology Master's Programs

Master's degree programs in clinical psychopharmacology are for students who have been accepted to a PhD program in psychology or for licensed psychologists who have already completed their PhD. Students or professionals will need to provide proof of this in the form of a license or official university transcripts. Universities typically also ask for a letter of intent explaining a student's motivation for studying for a master's degree in clinical psychopharmacology. Universities may also require the following:

  • Letters of recommendation from professors, supervisors, or colleagues working in professional psychology
  • Curriculum vitae (CV) or professional resume

Students will generally need to complete an online application to submit alongside required documents.

Why Should I Get a Psychopharmacology Master's Degree?

Practicing psychologists who are living in a state where they could be eligible to prescribe medication may want to pursue a degree in clinical psychopharmacology. Reasons for getting a master's degree in clinical psychopharmacology may include:

  • Opportunity to serve patients in rural or underserved areas who may not have ready access to psychiatrists
  • Ability to streamline the therapeutic and treatment processes without the need for referrals
  • Cut down waiting time for patients needing medication

Additionally, students with an interest in how medications work to treat illness will likely find this master's program especially interesting.

How to Choose a Master's in Psychopharmacology Program

Since there are currently only five programs accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) in the U.S., students will have less choice when considering applying to a master's degree in clinical psychopharmacology. For this post-doctoral training degree, students can study online, through a hybrid model, or completely on-campus. If students are not living close to a university offering this program and are not willing or able to relocate, online study may be preferable.

In terms of location, students may wish to attend a program in or near a state they would like to work in after graduation. Psychopharmacology master's graduates must be licensed in order to begin prescribing. At the moment, this is only available in five states.

Master's in Psychopharmacology Program Accreditation

Post-doctoral training programs such as master's degrees in clinical psychopharmacology are accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). As of April 2021, the APA accredits five universities offering Master of Clinical Psychopharmacology in the U.S. under their Prescriptive Authority Program Designation. This designation program ensures that universities offer quality training in line with APA recommendations. Master's programs in clinical psychopharmacology must apply for APA designation and go through a review process to demonstrate adherence to the strict criteria set forth.

Universities must provide documentation proving they meet APA requirements such as:

  • Diversity in student and faculty recruitment and acceptance
  • Adequate resources to support a functioning program
  • Routine quality assurance of program and curriculum
  • Sequential courses in training program set out by APA recommendations

Psychopharmacology Master's Degree Courses

Master's degrees in psychopharmacology follow an APA-accredited course sequence. These classes teach the basic foundations of neuroscience and pathophysiology as it applies to clinical pharmacology. Students will also learn about the types of medications used to treat mental disorders as well as ethical and legal considerations for prescribing. Most programs include a clinical practicum that may be required or optional. As there are so few programs in the U.S. approved by the APA, students may study online or on-campus.

Psychopharmacology Foundational Courses

The APA-accredited master's in clinical psychopharmacology follows a similar structure with curriculums covering the same major topics. Students will learn biological and physiological responses to medications and then will apply those concepts to treating specific disorders and populations. Equally as important is understanding how to address legal questions related to prescribing medication as well as the ethical implications behind it. Some courses students will take during their master's in clinical psychopharmacology include:

  • Neuroscience
  • Pathophysiology
  • Professional and legal issues in prescribing
  • Clinical pharmacology
  • Treating special populations

Most programs include a required clinical practicum where students engage in practice supervised by a medical doctor or prescribing psychologist.

Psychopharmacology Specialist & Elective Courses

Given the nature of the degree, elective courses are not generally offered. The master's program in clinical psychopharmacology is highly specialized and follows a course structure set by the American Psychological Association (APA). However, students may have flexibility when it comes to practicum experiences and/or capstone projects. Although students must demonstrate competency working with diverse populations, they may be free to choose the settings in which they encounter these patients. Capstone projects might also allow for more creativity and choice.

Licensure & Certification in Psychopharmacology

Students undertaking a master's degree in clinical psychopharmacology must already be licensed psychologists in their state. This entails completing a PhD in psychology and supervised practice hours.

However, additional licensing is required to be able to prescribe medication. Currently, only five states in the U.S. allow psychologists trained in clinical psychopharmacology to prescribe. These states include Idaho, Illinois, New Mexico, Iowa, and Louisiana. To be eligible for licensing, graduates must complete an American Psychological Association (APA) approved master's program in clinical psychopharmacology and pass the Psychopharmacology Examination for Psychologists (PEP).

To sit for the PEP exam, applicants must prove that their license is in good standing. They must also submit transcripts verifying completion of a master's degree in clinical psychopharmacology. Additionally, prospective exam participants must have been a practicing service provider in psychology for at least two years.

Post-Graduate Options After Master's in Psychopharmacology

What makes a master's degree in clinical psychopharmacology unique is that it is considered post-doctoral training. Students interested in pursuing a master's in clinical psychopharmacology must already have a PhD, be accepted to a program, or currently studying for a PhD in psychology. Practicing psychologists who receive training in clinical psychopharmacology and become licensed will provide therapy and treatment to patients, much like a psychiatrist does. Some students may wish to attend medical school for further healthcare training.

What Can I Do with a Psychopharmacology Master's Degree?

Many students who earn a master's in clinical psychopharmacology are often already licensed and practicing psychologists. Psychologists without additional post-doctoral training cannot prescribe medication. However, with a master's in psychopharmacology and a passing grade on the licensing exam, psychologists can begin to give out prescriptions to patients. Psychologists with prescribing power may work in:

  • Hospitals
  • Community clinics
  • Doctor's offices
  • Private practice

These professionals may wish to dedicate their careers to serving rural or low-income communities. They also might choose to open their own practice and be their own boss. For some individuals, opting into a career in a pharmaceutical research setting may take them away from direct service provision.

Job Outlook for a Master's in Psychopharmacology

The job outlook for psychologists in the U.S. is positive. Employment in the field is expected to grow 3% between 2019-2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This growth will add an estimated 5,700 jobs to the market during the same period.

Psychologists holding a master's degree in psychopharmacology and who are licensed to prescribe medication are likely to be even more in demand. Rather than referring patients to a doctor or psychiatrist for medication, these psychologists will be able to give their patients a prescription directly. In underserved areas with a shortage of psychiatrists, psychologists with prescribing power will have an advantage.

How to Become a Clinical Psychologist

Clinical psychologists work with patients suffering from mental and emotional trauma. They provide therapy that is personalized to each individual and devise treatment plans. Clinical psychologists administer psychological tests in order to better assess patients. They may also work with groups.

Clinical psychologists need a minimum of a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) in psychology. In addition to formal study, students generally also need to complete an internship followed by supervised practice. After completion of the degree and other requirements, students must pass a licensure exam to be licensed to practice in their state. Psychologists, unlike psychiatrists, cannot prescribe medication without additional post-doctoral level training in clinical psychopharmacology.

According to BLS data from May 2020, the median annual salary for clinical and counseling psychologists is $79,820. The highest paid psychologists work for the government and earn $100,360 a year. Prescribing psychologists may see increased salaries due to the specialized nature of their job.

How to Become a Psychopharmacologist

Psychopharmacologists often work in research settings to help guide clinical drug trials. The difference between psychiatrists and psychopharmacologists is in their interaction with patients. Psychiatrists are concerned with diagnosing and treating individual patients while psychopharmacologists look at the bigger picture of how medications affect patient groups. They may do research to test or develop new drugs. Some may work in a hospital or clinic setting as consultants.

Students interested in becoming a psychopharmacologist must first earn a bachelor's degree and then attend medical school. Students may choose to follow psychiatry or a general medicine path with a focus on psychopharmacology. This typically involves residency beyond medical school.

Per BLS statistics from May 2020, Psychopharmacologists (which fall under medical scientists) working in a pharmaceutical research setting make a median annual income of $107,270. Between 2019-2029, employment for medical scientists is expected to grow by 6% which adds around 8,400 jobs to the current market.

Master's in Psychopharmacology Program Financial Aid & Scholarship Resources

Students seeking help funding their master's in clinical psychopharmacology should consider student loans, grants, and scholarships. The U.S. government provides loan money to undergraduate and graduate students studying at accredited universities. To qualify, applicants must complete an online application called the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Loans must be repaid by students after graduation, but payment plans exist to make it easier.

Grants are a type of aid offered to students from low-income or disadvantaged backgrounds. Students are not obligated to pay back grants which makes them an especially attractive form of aid.

Scholarships, like grants, are also essentially "free money." But unlike grants, any student who meets the eligibility requirements may apply. Each year, the American Psychological Foundation's (APF) awards up to nine scholarships of $5,000 to postdoctoral students studying clinical psychopharmacology. The Walter Katkovsky Scholarships require applicants to submit two letters of recommendation, a current CV, and a statement demonstrating their commitment to the field.

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