Guide to Pharmacy Careers - Types of Pharmacist Jobs

Pharmacists are an essential piece of the healthcare puzzle, distributing prescription medication, recommending over-the-counter options, and counseling patients on their options and potential hazards of pharmaceuticals. The career requires much more than the counting of pills and the preparation of prescriptions.

Pharmacists must be well versed not only in individual drugs but also must know the way in which different drugs interact with one another. Becoming a pharmacist can be a challenging but rewarding option for detail-oriented individuals who want a career where they can work closely with the public, continue to learn throughout the entirety of their career, and ultimately help people live happier and healthier lives.

While those outside of the healthcare profession may only have regular interaction with retail pharmacists, the truth is that the field is much broader than this. There are actually many different types of pharmacist work environments and requirements that are available to those who choose to pursue this important career.

Become an Academic Pharmacist

The job of an academic pharmacist is far removed from that of a standard retail or even hospital pharmacist. As the name implies, academic pharmacists work in an educational setting. While some may have minimal patient care responsibilities, particularly if they are associated with a hospital, the academic pharmacist job is much more focused on teaching as well as scholarly research and publication.

While positions for academic pharmacists grew more than 60 percent from 2006 to 2018, starting 2019 jobs stagnated then began to decline. In a commentary, the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education notes that the recent decline in pharmacy school enrollment and the decline in pharmacy jobs has led to an inevitable decline in pharmacy faculty jobs. “The emerging period of school downsizing or closing will produce a restrictive faculty job market. Some will join the ranks of the unemployed, and those aspiring to a career in academia will find it difficult to secure an entry-level position. Opportunities for advancement into leadership positions will be less prevalent than in years past,” the commentary notes.

Most, but not all, academic pharmacist positions require a PharmD as well as undergraduate pharmacy studies. Some positions require either a PharmD or a PhD in a related field, such as biology, microbiology, or chemistry. By the same token, academic pharmacists may teach in varied fields such as pharmaceutical sciences or clinical practice.

The following links should give you a better idea of what it means to be an academic pharmacist:

Become a Clinical Pharmacist

Clinical pharmacists, often called hospital pharmacists, work in a clinical setting, such as a hospital or other patient care facility. As clinical pharmacists, individuals work as an integral part of patient care teams, often working to provide medication recommendations and pharmaceutical therapy evaluations in conjunction with nurses and physicians.

In hospital settings, a clinical pharmacist is likely to become very well educated on the pharmaceutical treatment of many chronic illnesses, including cancer, diabetes, HIV, arthritis, and any other condition which might find relief with the right medication treatment plan.

It is important to note that hospital pharmacists, inclusive of those working for state and local governments, can expect salaries that are slightly higher than those of their retail counterparts. The BLS estimates the median salary for clinical pharmacists to be at $131,290, which is the second-highest median salary for all tracked pharmacist data (BLS 2021).

Learn how the clinical pharmacist career compares to other pharmacy careers with the links below:

  • A Day in the Life of a Clinical Pharmacist: If you want to know exactly what a day looks like for a clinical pharmacist who specializes in pediatrics and women’s health, check out this informative video by Dr. Sierra Richard.
  • Retail or Hospital Pharmacy?: Many prospective pharmacists find themselves debating between retail and hospital pharmacy. This comparison article may be what you need to help you make the right choice.
  • A Day in the Life: This feature from the University of Southern California explores a unique program that has physicians working closely with a team of pharmacists to improve patient outcomes in their Southern California hospital.
  • About Clinical Pharmacists: The American College of Clinical Pharmacy provides an overview here of what a clinical pharmacist does and how they improve patient outcomes.

Become a Compounding Pharmacist

Many patients cannot take medications in the form that pharmaceutical companies make them. This can be due to allergies, swallowing problems, sensory issues, and more. Thankfully, there are compounding pharmacists who can put medications in liquid suspensions, suppositories, topical creams, transdermal gels, lozenges, or other forms that are more suitable to a patient.

Compounding can seem confusing to some pharmacists and patients, as compounded drugs are technically not FDA approved. What this means is that the final medication has not been evaluated for safety, efficacy, or potency. However, this does not mean the medications are not safe when prepared in a sterile environment by trained pharmacists.

All pharmacists receive some compounding training during pharmacy school. However, pharmacists who want to specialize in this field can complete additional training from organizations such as the Professional Compounding Centers of America Institute. Courses can range from short boot camps to advanced compounding. They even offer courses on veterinary compounding. There are no additional licensing or certification requirements to work as a compounding pharmacist.

To learn more about working as a compounding pharmacist follow the links below:

Become a Pharmacy Technician

Becoming a pharmacist is a rewarding career, both financially and spiritually. However, completing an advanced graduate degree not only takes the ability to handle its academic rigor, but it also takes time and a large investment of funds.

Luckily, earning a PharmD is not the only way you might be able to work in the pharmacy environment. Pharmacy technicians work closely with pharmacists, but many jobs require only a high school diploma, vocational training, and state licensure. Further, the demand for pharmacy technicians is expected to increase 4 percent between 2020 and 2030 (BLS 2021).

Of course, there are tradeoffs as well, namely in terms of salary. A pharmacy technician can expect to make a median salary of $35,100 annually, which is low relative to other careers in medical technology, and very low relative to a pharmacist’s expected salary. On the other hand, pharmacy technicians can and do work in nearly every environment where pharmacists work, including hospitals, clinics, retail drugstores, and ambulatory clinics.

Pharmacy technicians may interact with patients, taking necessary information to fill prescriptions, keep track of a pharmacy’s inventory, use computer software to track patients and their confidential health data, and process purchases for patients.

If you’re considering a career as a pharmacy technician, be sure to check out the following links:

Become a Retail Pharmacist

A retail pharmacist is what most people think of when they hear the term ‘pharmacist.’ A retail pharmacist generally works at a drugstore or grocery chain, filling prescriptions. Retail pharmacists can expect to work long and unusual hours, particularly at the beginning of their careers, since most retail pharmacies are open on weekends, and some are even open 24 hours a day.

In addition to filling prescriptions, retail pharmacists are often responsible for such tasks as administering flu shots and other vaccinations to walk-in patients. This is not always the case, but at many pharmacies, pharmacists have this duty.

In exchange for this scheduling, retail pharmacists can expect a comfortable salary as well as benefits. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, pharmacists employed by drugstores earn a median salary of $125,740, while those who work at grocery chains earn a median of $131,200 per year (BLS 2021). The demand for all pharmacists will decline by 2 percent between 2020 and 2030, with an estimated decrease of 7,000 jobs in this field. This is primarily due to more patients filling their prescriptions online or by mail order.

While this level of salary is certainly appealing, it is important to note that a pharmacist must complete a professional degree before becoming eligible for a retail pharmacist career. This degree, a PharmD, usually takes a minimum of four years to complete and has prerequisites such as university-level chemistry and biology.

For more details on the retail pharmacy career, review the following resources:

Kimmy Gustafson
Kimmy Gustafson Writer

Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with a passion for sharing stories of bravery. Her love for world-traveling began when her family moved to Spain when she was six and since then, she has lived overseas extensively, visited six continents, and traveled to over 25 countries. She is fluent in Spanish and conversational in French. When not writing or parenting she can be found kiteboarding, hiking, or cooking.