How to Become a Pharmacist in Associations | Associations

by | Jan 8, 2021 | Career, Career Path

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This article is a part of a series of The Many Paths of Pharmacy, which has 48 other pharmacy career paths.


Summary – Pharmacists in Associations

There are more than 135,000 associations representing various professions, hobbies, and industries across the United States. In these organizations, members may serve roles in different degrees such as volunteering, officers, or committee members. Some professionals decide to take it to the next level and pursue associations as a career. This is typically done by pursuing management positions or special areas of interest in an association, such as policy, education, publishing, media, or communications.

Responsibilities of an Association Pharmacist

Associations may also be responsible for the following:

Pharmacists will typically work on a team with other pharmacists and various support members to develop policies, create CE, run committees, organize events, and lobby. On occasion, people in this role might have the opportunity to pitch the policy to the government that will decide on the policy. Not all policies will be legality issues though, and some might be “recommendations” for practice.

  1. Produce policy and education for both lobbyists and pharmacists
  2. Create resources for student pharmacists, technicians, and pharmacists 
  3. Develop Continuing Pharmacy Education accredited by ACPE
  4. Organizational and professional development
  5. Develop communications, media, and online resources
  6. Participate in events, networking, and lobbying activities and
  7. Research current laws, articles, studies and practices to gain insight into policy

Many of these activities are done in concert with other pharmacists and non-pharmacy team members. Association pharmacists use their expertise to be the safeguard of policy, rather than safe medication use as clinical pharmacist safeguards.

This Pharmacy Association Career Description is a part of The Ultimate Guide to Pharmacy Careers, part of our future book POTENTIAL.

Requirements of an Association

The obvious requirement will be association experience, membership and passion for the profession. An association is unlikely to hire a pharmacist who isn’t an active member. Leadership skills like grit (passion and perseverance for long term goals), teamwork, communication, and empowering others are essential for a successful association position. A team shouldn’t expect a new employee to be perfect in these skills, but an association career will be difficult if interpersonal skills are lacking.

Communication was the top reported high valued skill in associations, next to leadership and business skills. Any pharmacist in an association will spend a considerable amount of time using written and verbal communication concerning practice guidelines between pharmacists, team members, government officials, and the public. One association pharmacist jokingly commented, “Much of my day is spent answering phone calls and emails.” Interpersonal skills work cooperatively with communication because much of a pharmacist’s time is spent working with team members to develop effective guidelines and policies. Being able to multitask your priorities will become an essential role as you’ll likely find yourself adding more responsibilities to your role. For those who specialize in policy development, there likely will be friction as multiple parties will be involved, and being able to work with others to overcome conflict is an essential skill to the role.

In this setting, clinical knowledge is not typically used for patient care; however, it is useful in content creation and policy development. Practice experience is valuable for astute policy creation and the development of continuing education related to patient care. Patient interaction is very minimal and typically comes in the form of delivering patient education when volunteering at advocacy or preventative health events. At these events, the pharmacists are expected to have the ability to communicate with the patients effectively.

Finally, attending meetings, conferences, live events, networking sessions will be expected. Association pharmacists use these activities to perform presentations, gather support, request information, and start new relationships for the betterment of the association.

Salary of an Association Pharmacist

APhA provided an in-depth career survey and analysis that is worth reviewing if considering an association career, although it is slightly outdated. Respondents reported incomes between $80,000-$170,000. The breakdown was:

  • 30% reported between $80,000-$100,000
  • 62% reported over $100,000
  • 16% reported income >%170,000

Association management pay is consistent with salaries among the other fields in pharmacy, albeit salaries begin lower than most starting clinical roles. A higher percentage reported salaries of around $170,000 than in other fields.

Pros and Cons of Being an Association Pharmacist

Work-life balance

Working on holidays will be a rarity. Association pharmacists reported high satisfaction and flexibility that allowed for life priorities like family and administrative leave. Work contains a wide variety of activities, so prepare for a versatile day and flexible schedule. Setting your schedule is a great positive for associations.

Career Development

In association careers, there is much room for growth, but this growth is not necessarily going to be pharmacy related. Much of these positions will include managerial roles within the organization. Because of such, job security for association management is high so long as the pharmacist does more than adequate work. As long as there are members of an organization there will always be positions to hold at the organization. APhA poll respondents reported job security at an 8 on a scale of 10.

Development Time

Working long hours on projects and policies for months to years can become discouraging. For example, provider status has been a 40+ year-long endeavor for multiple associations. Losing sight of the end objective may lead some to feel disengaged with association work.

How to Stand Out as a Job Candidate in Associations

Simply put: join an association and become heavily involved. One way to transition is by volunteering for a leadership role and becoming essential to the association, such as joining committees, special interest groups, association journal peer review, mentoring students, or creating content. A few association pharmacists informed us during our research that this transition strategy is how they were hired. Once staff and leaders of the association are able to see your strengths and involvement on a voluntary basis, they will be interested in reaching out to you if a position opens that fits you. If you aren’t already involved in an association, then this path may not be for you. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t start now if interested.

Residency programs are offered by multiple associations, which can be an excellent career jumpstart to an association career. There are many rotations and residencies offered in association management. APhA, ASHP, NCPA, and NACDS offer residencies and APhA offers summer internships working in association management. These internships are very competitive as they provide insight and experience in working with committees helping organize certain events such as the APhA’s Summer Leadership Institute. However, residencies are not required to start a career in associations.

The companies hiring in this field can be vastly different. They can range from large national organizations such as the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) to state-level pharmacy organizations. In addition, pharmacists have found themselves as part-time employees or as consultants for non-pharmacy health-care professions. A pharmacist may consider working in professions related to pharmacy, such as physical therapists, Chiropractors, Physicians, or nurses. Pharmacists interact with multiple professions and their insight can be immeasurable for other professions.

Networking is very important in pharmacy, and especially important in this field. Get plugged into an organization of interest and get involved as much as you can. Start off getting involved at a chapter level then look into national leadership positions to show your passion for the organization you want to be involved in. Positions are rare and usually take getting to know the right people at the right time. Take time to build relationships with others in associations. Volunteer to help others and projects as this is the best way to network your way to an opportunity.

Prepared by: Bryan Milner, PharmD CandidateInterviewed: Allie Jo Shipman, PharmD, National Alliance of State Pharmacy AssociationsEdited by: Alex Barker, PharmD and Janan Sarwar, PharmD and Senior Director, Books and Digital Publishing American Pharmacists Association

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