Career Paths Available in Pharmacy

A pharmacist informing patient about a new prescription
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You will have many options if you want to pursue a career in pharmacy. It's common to think of a pharmacist as the person who is behind the counter when you go to fill a prescription at the drug store or grocery store. While retail pharmacy is a common career choice for pharmacists, there are many other options available in pharmacy for those who have completed their doctor of pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree and the necessary licensure requirements.

Although there are a variety of practice settings, pharmacists' compensation range remains relatively consistent across all of these employment options, with minor variations according to hours worked and call requirements.

Retail Pharmacy Careers

Retail pharmacists dispense medications at drug stores or grocery stores. While the pay and benefits are excellent, the hours can be tough in retail pharmacy jobs, due to the fact that most stores are now open 24 hours, seven days a week. If you plan to work in a retail pharmacy setting, be prepared to work at least every other weekend. Most retail stores employ two full-time pharmacists who work a shift-based schedule of 12-hour shifts alternating two days on and two days off.

Clinical Pharmacy Careers

Clinical pharmacists work in a hospital as part of a medical care team. They typically do rounds on patients with a physician and help to determine which medications and doses would be most effective for each patient. The Board of Pharmaceutical Specialties offers certification in nuclear pharmacy, nutrition support pharmacy, oncology pharmacy, pharmacotherapy, and psychiatric pharmacy. Certifications are also offered by other organizations, such as the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

Long-Term Care Careers

Long-term care facilities provide an ongoing car to elderly or incapacitated individuals who are not in need of acute medical care, but who are unable to care for themselves. Pharmacists who work in long-term care homes are sometimes referred to as "closed-door pharmacists," meaning they do not directly interact with patients. On a scale of 1-10, long-term care pharmacists rated the amount of time that they spent interacting with patients as a 3.9 in a survey created by the American Pharmacists Association.

Typically, nurses deliver drugs to each patient's room from a cart which is stocked by the pharmacist on staff at the facility. The pharmacist is responsible for stocking and organizing the contents of the cart, dose by dose, with the prescription and over-the-counter medications for each patient. This is typically done twice per day. The pharmacist remains on call for the rest of the day, including overnight.

A role in long-term care would not be ideal for a pharmacist who really thrives on interacting with patients.

Nuclear Pharmacy Careers

Nuclear pharmacists are responsible for measuring and delivering the radioactive materials which are used in digital imaging (MRI, CT, etc.) and other procedures in medical offices and hospitals. Due to the nature of the radioactive materials and how they are handled, nuclear pharmacists are typically required to start each workday very early, sometimes pre-dawn, as the radioactive materials must be delivered within a few hours of their use, or they lose their effectiveness. If you're not an early riser, nuclear pharmacy jobs might not be the best option for you.

Home Infusion and Chemotherapy Careers

These pharmacists are responsible for accurately mixing chemotherapy drugs for cancer patients, antibiotics to treat infections and medications for patients who have gastrointestinal problems. The pharmacist works as part of a multidisciplinary team with a home health nurse.

Pharmaceutical Benefit Management Careers

These pharmacists develop and maintain the formulary, contract with pharmacies, negotiate for discounts and rebates with drug manufacturers, process and pay prescription drug claims, and help members better control their prescription costs. There are not as many jobs available for pharmacists at pharmaceutical benefit management companies as there are in more traditional pharmacy roles, but such corporate jobs could provide a viable option for pharmacists who are seeking a change from retail or clinical pharmacy jobs.

Contract, Temporary, or Hourly Pharmacy Careers

Still can't decide which pharmacy career is best for you? You might want to work on a contract basis until you figure out where you'd like to work long-term. Contract work entails shift-based work, on an as-needed basis.

Contract pharmacy careers offer a great deal of flexibility and versatility in the schedule, which is great if you're trying to work around extenuating circumstances or a busy family.

As a contractor, you can experience different types of employers and work settings first-hand prior to committing to long-term or permanent employment.

Other Industry Careers for Pharmacists

Finally, there is always the option of going into an "industry" career or non-clinical career for those with a background and degree in Pharmacy. Some non-clinical industry job options include those in regulatory affairs, medical sales, and medical writing.

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Article Sources

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  1. American Pharmacists Association. Clinical specialists. 2013.

  2. American Pharmacists Association. Long-term care. 2013.

  3. American Pharmacists Association. Nuclear pharmacy. 2013.

  4. American Pharmacy Association. Pharmacy benefit management. 2013.