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This article is a part of a series of The Ultimate Guide to Pharmacy Career Opportunities, which has 48 other pharmacy career paths.
Summary - Community Staff Pharmacist
Among the other types of pharmacy, chain community pharmacy (retail pharmacy) is the most well-known. The positions consist of Pharmacy Manager, Pharmacist Staff, Pharmacy Technician and Pharmacy Clerk. A community pharmacist works directly with the public in a store setting, which provides the community with accessible medication and informative direction for medical use. Community pharmacists are also taking on more of the clinical roles by managing long term conditions, with providing immunizations and medication therapy management (MTM) services. Larger retail chains such as CVS, Walgreens, and Walmart are of the top pharmaceutical providers to the public.
Responsibilities of a Community Staff Pharmacist
Chain Community Pharmacists Manager may include the following responsibilities:
- Supervision of Pharmacy Technicians
- Inventory Procurement & Restoration
- People & Performance Management
- Team Training and Development
- Accurate processing of insurance claims
- Management Collaboration Meetings
- Performs retail, clinical, and wellness services such as (immunizations, flu shots, diabetes awareness and other preventative healthcare services)
- Customer Engagement
- Patient Counseling
- Follow up with medical provider offices for prescription clarification, medication history, and drug-drug interactions
Community Staff Pharmacist Job Requirements
Typically, a PharmD degree is required from an accredited educational institution in order to practice as a pharmacist in the community setting. A Bachelor’s degree in Pharmacy may also work, or its equivalent, as long as all of the intern and/or experiential hours are met before applying for a pharmacist license. Unlike pharmacists in the pharmaceutical industry who may work without a license, a pharmacist in the community setting cannot practice pharmacy without obtaining a pharmacist license. This is accomplished through passing both Board exams, NAPLEX and the state law exam, MPJE, or its equivalent in that state (CPJE in California). A pharmacist license must be obtained in the state of interest (or willing to obtain in 1 year) per district guidelines. A pharmacist may only practice pharmacy in a patient setting to the state in which they are licensed; a pharmacist may also obtain licenses in other states in order to practice in multiple states if they wish, but they must pass that state’s respective law exam, and continually renew their license by meeting that state’s Continuing Education (CE) requirements.
The pharmacist who wishes to work in the community also has to be a certified immunizer or willing to become an immunizer within 90 days of hire. Because of the increase in the number of graduating pharmacists per year, and a lack of growth in full-time positions in many of the community and retail companies, it has become more challenging to obtain a full-time staff pharmacist role, especially right after graduation. The typical practice in most retail companies is not to hire first-time applicants as staff, but rather to have an applicant start out as a floater (traveling or district pharmacist). The floater or district pharmacist travels to different stores within that district’s region and obtains the hands-on experience, team skills, and problem-solving skills necessary to one day run their own store efficiently. Once the district leader appreciates the experience and skills obtained in the floating pharmacist role, the DL may promote that pharmacist to a staff role once it becomes open, or promote them as a pharmacy manager if that position becomes available. A floater pharmacist must also be persistent in asking their regional pharmacy leader for a staff and/or manager position in order to be promoted, and show interest in obtaining a staff position.
Experiences such as a prior pharmacy intern position in the retail setting and/or prior work as a pharmacy technician is helpful in obtaining a staff pharmacist role within that company. It is also possible to transition to a staff role at a different retail company with relative ease, as long as the candidate is able to demonstrate their ability to learn quickly and take on challenging roles. For example, an applicant must be able to demonstrate that they can work independently in a store that may not be fully-staffed or trained, and handle that store’s prescription or patient volume. An applicant must also be able to learn the pharmacy software and technology relatively quickly and be able to troubleshoot issues with billing. The pharmacist must understand the shortcuts and loopholes within different insurance plans, and be able to communicate effectively with patients if insurance is not active or does not cover a certain product, be able to suggest discount programs, and/or provide patients with other payment options.
Knowledge about pharmacy software and pharmacy operations is obtained primarily through experience, so a first-time applicant is not expected to have all this knowledge under their belt. What is expected is a basic knowledge of applicable state and federal pharmacy laws to practice patient care. Other expected skills include supervisory experience planning, organizing, and directing the work of pharmacy staff.
Salary of a Community Staff Pharmacist
There are many specific factors that influence the pharmacist’s salary, but the main factors include:
- Experience in Pharmacy
Assuming that the position is full-time, the average salary of a Chain Community Pharmacist in the US is $122,380. This does not include bonuses or extra monetary incentives. The Kroger Company is the highest-paying retail pharmacy, coming in at an annual pharmacist salary of $126,261. CVS Caremark Corporation pays the lowest at $112,352 per year.
Pros and Cons of Being a Community Staff Pharmacist
Community pharmacists have unique characteristics because of their retail work setting and their collaboration with the store in which they’re partnered or leased to. One advantage about working in this setting is that you get to build personal relationships with patients in the community, and you will be seen as a trusted and primary source of information. This relationship is key to your role as a clinician because these patients will often listen to you if they know you and trust you; they will also come to you first with medical questions instead of their medical providers. Having a strong, genuine relationship with your patients will allow you to feel a sense of accomplishment in making a difference in your patient’s and their family’s life.
The good news is that the hours as a community pharmacist will usually be predictable and scheduled, and pharmacists will be expected to work on the clock, and never off the clock. This might be desirable for those individuals who like to physically show up to work, and want specific work hours assigned to them, rather than working on their own schedule, or working remotely. Most retail pharmacies are open 9-12 hours a day; some may be open 24 hours. Other community pharmacies may have only daytime hours. However, that does not mean that staff pharmacists do not get called in for emergencies during their days off or outside of business hours. This may include emergencies such as access to the pharmacy if the pharmacy key gets lost or misplaced by another pharmacist.
The community pharmacy setting can be quite unpredictable and sometimes unsafe. At worst, it can become hazardous or threatening to one’s well-being because of lack of security within and outside the premises of most public establishments, such as lack of security guards. Retail pharmacies are open spaces, and you can expect anyone from the public to show up to the front counter--such as patients with mental crises or previously incarcerated individuals. The public can be volatile and dangerous. Robberies and theft are common at most retail stores. Coupled with the pandemic and times of political unrest, as well as natural disasters, power outages, computer malfunction, or other technological breakdowns that delay pharmacy operations, pharmacists can reasonably expect lots of challenges and stress in this setting. Pharmacists need to be prepared for any and all emergency situations, such as shutting down the pharmacy early to ensure their safety, and protecting their pharmacy from theft and robberies.
To be a community retail pharmacist, you have to have strong stamina to stand for long hours on your feet as well as to handle exhausting demands from the public. You also have to be prepared to get calls from prescribers or patients for last-minute emergency orders that need to be filled at the time of closing. The line between our ethical duty as a pharmacist and our oath to serve the public can sometimes get blurred by the policies, procedures, and rules by the employer and the rules imposed on us by the state that we practice in.
Retail pharmacists are also expected to multi-task and work at least one 12-hour shift during their week. Pharmacists can expect themselves to be chronically short-staffed and overworked, or have staff call in sick at the last minute, leaving them overwhelmed and behind in their queue. This work is not for everybody--to be successful in this setting, you have to be energetic and quick on your feet, be able to walk back and forth constantly, work quickly and efficiently, be able to prioritize competing tasks, meet the end-of-the-day deadlines, and close shop within a reasonable time if staying after-hours to catch up.
Finally, because community pharmacists usually work for big corporations, the benefits packages are not as generous and work hours are not that flexible. Depending on the company they work for, community pharmacists must work for at least a year or two before accruing any vacation time. Healthcare coverage is not expected to kick in on the first day of work--most benefits packages only go into effect if working full-time for at least 3-6 months with that company. PTO is also accrued after working a certain amount of hours within that company. Retail pharmacists don’t have the option to start work early, or leave their shift early without prior approval from their District Leader. Floater pharmacists, for example, can expect resistance to changes in their schedules or requests for shifts closer to home without proper medical documentation to show the reason for restriction in travel. Work injuries may not be covered by the employer, though they often occur as a result of the physical nature of this job. You must weigh in on the benefits and risks of taking a community retail position with the offer you are getting from the employer--and evaluate whether or not it is something you will be satisfied with, if given the opportunity to work full-time. Most corporations look out for themselves, not their employees, despite their statements advertising otherwise. A company employee is there to make revenue for the business--the business needs will always trump the self-interests, safety, and well-being of the employee.
Typical Day as a Community Pharmacist
The workload varies, but a typical day will include typing, processing, billing, and filling prescriptions to be dispensed or delivered; receiving prescriptions via fax, phone, written, or electronic sources and ensuring their legitimacy, completeness, accuracy, and compliance with the state and federal laws as well as the company’s policies; clinical roles also include providing immunizations and performing MTMs, counseling, recommending over-the-counter products for self-care, and triaging patients presenting with urgent medical needs to an appropriate setting such as urgent care or the ER. Other roles include assisting with prescription pick-up, preparing prescriptions for delivery, answering phone calls and requesting new prescriptions from the doctor’s office per patient’s request. The business side perspective is more administrative and those responsibilities include signing and receiving orders, performing annual or quarterly inventory, performing outdates and transfers, returning to stock orders that were not picked up, ordering supplies for the pharmacy, and other pharmacy operations. It also includes handling budget, workflow, prioritizing tasks, supervising staff, and focusing on sales goals, attending weekly conference calls, checking work emails and reading updates about the company’s policies, procedures, and workflow.
How to Stand Out as a Job Candidate in a Community Pharmacy
Though a residency is not required to work in the community setting, an interested graduate may pursue a PGY-1 residency in the community setting in order to strengthen their skills in direct patient care, communication, leadership, and management, and to make themselves stand out from the crowd of other applicants looking for similar roles. The residency experience consists of a minimum of 2,000 hours of education and training over a 12- month period. PGY-1 residency applicants to accredited programs are required to participate in the ASHP Resident Matching Program.
The time commitment and location of the residency helps a candidate stand out from other applicants. There are specific qualifications that the pharmacy student must adhere to. One year of retail pharmacy and/ or an accredited educational program as contribution will play a role. It is also important to join organizations and stay involved. Involvement in organizations like SNPhA, Kappa Psi, and APhA can help increase a pharmacist’s network and exposure to leadership positions. Skills utilized from participation in organizations are able to be transferred over to the community pharmacy setting. It is preferable for current pharmacy students to keep their GPAs competitive, and to present themselves professionally during rotations. Rotations allow for potential employers to see a pharmacy student in action. Students are reminded to show focus and commitment during rotations because companies often view them as job interviews.
Prepared by: Bryan Milner, PharmD Candidate
Interviewed: Amanuel Wodajo, PharmD
Edited by: Janan Sarwar, PharmD, Warda Nawaz, PharmD
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Alex is the Founder of The Happy PharmD. He loves anime, his family, and video games, but not in that order.