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 know how different drugs interact. Becoming a pharmacist can be challenging but rewarding for detail-oriented individuals who want a career where they can work closely with the public, continue to learn throughout 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 many different types of pharmacist work environments and requirements 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 and scholarly research and publication.

While positions for academic pharmacists grew more than 60 percent from 2006 to 2018, starting in 2019, jobs stagnated and 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 and undergraduate pharmacy studies. Some positions require either a PharmD or a PhD in a related field, such as biology, microbiology, or chemistry. Similarly, academic pharmacists may teach in various 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 other conditions that might find relief with the right medication treatment plan.

It is important to note that hospital pharmacists, including those working for state and local governments, can expect slightly higher salaries than their retail counterparts. The BLS estimates the median salary for clinical pharmacists to be $128,570, which is the second-highest median salary for all tracked pharmacist data (BLS May 2021).

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

  • 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 with 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, compounding pharmacists can put medications in liquid suspensions, suppositories, topical creams, transdermal gels, lozenges, or other forms that are more suitable for a patient.

Compounding can confuse some pharmacists and patients, as compounded drugs are technically not FDA-approved. This means that the final medication has not been evaluated for safety, efficacy, or potency. However, this does not mean the medications are unsafe 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 takes not only the ability to handle its academic rigor, but also takes time and a large investment of funds.

Earning a PharmD is not the only way you can 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 by 5 percent between 2021 and 2031 (BLS 2022).

Of course, there are tradeoffs as well, namely in terms of salary. A pharmacy technician can expect to make a median salary of $36,740 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 fills prescriptions at a drugstore or grocery chain. 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 pharmacists have this duty at many pharmacies.

Retail pharmacists can expect a comfortable salary and benefits in exchange for this scheduling. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, pharmacists employed by drugstores earn a median salary of $127,820, while those who work at ambulatory healthcare services earn a median of $131,790 per year (BLS May 2021). Openings for pharmacists will increase 2 percent nationally between 2021 and 2031, with an estimated addition of 7,700 jobs in this field. This is primarily due to more patients filling their prescriptions online or by mail order.

While this salary level is certainly appealing, it is important to note that a pharmacist must complete a professional degree before becoming eligible for a retail pharmacist career. A PharmD degree 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

With her passion for uncovering the latest innovations and trends, Kimmy Gustafson has provided valuable insights and has interviewed experts to provide readers with the latest information in the rapidly evolving field of medical technology since 2019. Kimmy has been a freelance writer for more than a decade, writing hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics such as startups, nonprofits, healthcare, kiteboarding, the outdoors, and higher education. She is passionate about seeing the world and has traveled to over 27 countries. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. When not working she can be found outdoors, parenting, kiteboarding, or cooking.