Guide to Pharmacy Careers

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 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.

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, the pharmacists has this duty.

In exchange for this scheduling, retail pharmacists can expect a comfortable salary as well as benefit. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, pharmacists employed by drugstores earn a median salary of $117,850 while those who work at grocery chains earn an average of $116,000 per year (BLS, 2012). The demand for all pharmacists is expected to grow by 14% over the next decade, with an additional 41,400 pharmacist jobs becoming available by 2022.

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 Pharm. D., 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 links:

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 towards teaching as well as scholarly research and publication.

The American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) notes that, in general, “there is a severe shortage of pharmacy faculty in the U.S.” with 2002 showing more than 417 vacant faculty positions around the country. Clearly academic pharmacists are in high demand.

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:

Clinical Pharmacist

Clinical pharmacists work in a clinical setting, such as a hospital or other patient care facility. As a clinical pharmacist, 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 education 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 below those of their retail counterparts. The BLS estimates the median salary for clinical pharmacists to be at $114,100, which is actually the lowest median salary for all tracked pharmacist data ().

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 oncology, peruse this article for some useufl information.
  • 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.
  • What is Clinical Pharmacy?: For a European view, check out this overview of clinical pharmacy from the European Society of Clinical Pharmacy.

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, 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 even faster than that of pharmacists, with an expected uptick of more than 20% in the next decade (BLS, 2012).

Of course, there are tradeoffs as well, namely in terms of salary. A pharmacy technician can expect to make a median salary of $29,320 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:

  • Working in a Hospital Pharmacy vs. a Retail Pharmacy: Just as pharmacists have to make the choice as to the work environment where they will be most comfortable, so do pharmacy technicians need to know the differences between the career paths available to them.
  • Pharmacy Technicians: The BLS tracks pharmacy technician data separately from that of pharmacists and the differences are fairly vast. Check out salary, demand, and requirement information for the pharmacy technician career.
  • Traits of a Great Pharmacy Technician: Do you have what it takes to be a great pharmacy technician? Read this article and find out.
  • Pharmacy Technicians Resource Center: The American Society of Health-Systems Pharmacists (ASHP) put together this useful list of links to resources for pharmacy technicians.
Barry Franklin
Barry Franklin Editor

Barry is the Editor-in-Chief of MedicalTechnologySchools.com, operated by educational web publisher Sechel Ventures Partners LLC, which he co-founded. Previously, Barry served as a VP at a Silicon Valley software company. In addition to running editorial operations at Sechel, Barry also serves on the Board of Trustees at a local K-8 school, and graduated from Carnegie Mellon University, where he also met his wife.