Ultimate Guide to Pharmacy Career Opportunities
Not all pharmacy career opportunities are created equal.
If you have a PharmD degree, your career options are vast and varied. From traditional pharmacy jobs to non-traditional jobs outside of the industry, your hard work in pharmacy school gives you flexibility and marketability to work in a variety of industries.
As a coach who has worked with countless pharmacists who are unhappy in their work, I believe it’s important for pharmacists to understand that they don’t have to feel trapped. They don’t have to stay in unfulfilling jobs for fear that they have no other options.
This guide is intended to help you identify pharmacy career opportunities available to those with a PharmD degree. Realize, though, that this list is not exhaustive.
Emerging pharmacy career opportunities
The changes in the pharmacy industry over the past few years have been fast and furious as a result of developing technology and a changing marketplace. Many pharmacists have found new careers as a result of working to solve existing problems in the industry.
Others have seized the opportunity to join seemingly unrelated disciplines (like computer science and pharmacy) to create new pharmacy opportunities like informatics.
Some of the careers on this list will be obvious because they are the mainstream positions that people associate with pharmacy. Others will be less well known. Keep in mind as you read through the list that there is likely overlap between most, if not all, of these careers, and your perfect job might exist somewhere in the common space between the two.
Use this list as a jumping-off point to consider where your talents lie, how those talents overlap with your passions, and how your talents and passions help solve a problem that exists in the world.
2. Ambulatory Care
3. Association Management
5. Clinical Pharmacy
6. Chain Community Pharmacy (Management)
7. Chain Community Pharmacy (Staff)
8. Community Health Center
9. Community Pharmacy (Independent)
12. Contract Research Organization
13. Corporate Management
14. Critical Care
15. Drug Information
16. Functional Medicine
21. Home Care
23. Hospital (Staff)
24. Hospital (Management)
26. Infectious Disease
28. Long-Term Care
29. Managed Care
30. Mail Service
31. Medical Science Liaison
33. Neonatal Intensive Care
34. Nuclear Pharmacy
35. Nutrition Support
37. Operating Room
38. Pediatric Oncology
40. Pharmacy Benefit Management
41. Primary Care
42. Psychiatric Pharmacy
43. Research and Development
44. Public Health Services Commissioned Corps
Pharmacists who enjoy engaging with students may benefit from a career in academia. The role has evolved over the years so that it isn’t necessarily confined to a classroom setting but can extend to clinical practice as well.
It’s worth noting that these positions are often best suited to those who have extensive experience in the industry so they can teach from experience and example.
Ambulatory care refers to patients who are treated outside of inpatient hospital settings. Also referred to as outpatient, ambulatory care pharmacists provide care to patients transitioning from the hospital to home or to another healthcare facility.
These pharmacists must manage patients with concurrent illnesses who are taking multiple medications, and they engage in the promotion of patient health and wellness.
Pharmacists who choose association management careers apply their pharmacy experience and knowledge to advance the cause of the industry as a whole. The sector includes specialties such as government relations, clinical education, professional development, and professional advocacy.
Association management cites the diversity of their work and their ability to serve the industry as the most appealing part of the job.
Cardiology pharmacists deliver direct patient care to patients with cardiovascular disease, usually as members of larger interprofessional health care teams. They focus on disease treatment as well as prevention in both short-term and long-term scenarios.
Cardiology pharmacists often deal in multiple comorbidities and complex medications in varied settings like ambulatory, acute, and intensive care.
Chain Community Pharmacy Manager
Chain community pharmacy managers oversee the staff, clinical services, inventory management, and business development of their pharmacies. The job requirements vary according to the size of the organization, with larger chains having more levels of management.
Their responsibilities also include training and recruitment of new pharmacists and patient interactions as well as resolving insurance issues.
Chain Community Pharmacy Staff
Chain community pharmacies are those consisting of four or more stores, and its staff members spend the majority of their time dispensing medication and providing patient counseling. They also order and stock supplies and work closely with pharmacy technicians.
Those in the job point to patient interaction as the most rewarding component of the work.
Clinical pharmacists work with physicians, patients, and other health professionals to ensure that medications produce the best possible health outcomes. They frequently interact with other providers to coordinate care.
Clinical pharmacists frequently have a combination of clinical experience with a demonstrated knowledge of medication therapy.
Community Health Center Pharmacy
Pharmacists in community health centers provide health care services and information to underserved communities in outpatient settings. They work with a broad range of patients and a broad variety of disease states.
In some cases, they work as part of health care teams to care for patients who cannot afford care.
Community pharmacists dispense prescriptions and over-the-counter medications in a variety of settings like retail pharmacies and healthcare facilities. They help patients avoid negative interactions and sometimes practice compounding in the case of customized medicine.
Perhaps most importantly, community pharmacists interact with patients to answer questions, give advice, and solve problems related to their health.
Compounding pharmacists create personalized medications for patients with medication-related challenges: a child who can’t swallow pills or an adult with a gluten allergy. In cases where mass-produced medicines won’t solve a problem, they work to fill the healthcare gap for patients with specific needs.
Many pharmacists find the work particularly rewarding because they are able to solve unique and sometimes lifesaving challenges
Consultant pharmacists specialize in drug therapies for the prevention of drug therapy related problems. Traditionally, they review medical records and drug regimens for patients in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, adult day health care programs, and group homes. Most recently, the practice has expanded to serve individual patients.
Consultant pharmacists are clinicians who usually don’t dispense medication themselves but rather they monitor dosages, side effects, and length of therapies.
Contract Research Organization
Contract research organizations provide a variety of pharmaceutical services to the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries. Services may include formulation, data entry and management, project management, statistical analysis, and a variety of other services often related to new drug applications.
The position relies heavily on research in a fast-paced setting and provides an opportunity to influence future policy decisions.
Corporate management refers to those pharmacists who manage corporate environments such as chain community pharmacy, health systems, wholesale organizations, pharmacy benefits management, and the pharmaceutical industry. They work in a wide variety of functional areas like regulatory affairs, clinical support, human resources, merchandising, and marketing.
The job allows pharmacists to impact other pharmacists, and patients indirectly and offers variety in daily responsibilities and flexibility in the workplace.
Critical Care Pharmacy
Critical care pharmacists often work in dynamic environments like intensive care units and emergency departments providing appropriate medication therapy in a timely manner. They provide a wide range of services like therapeutic drug monitoring, medication dosing, and responding to medical emergencies in order to improve patient outcomes.
They also serve on hospital committees and help with the education of students, staff, and residents.
Drug Information Pharmacist
Also called medical communications, drug information pharmacists provide educational information to healthcare professionals, consumers, and pharmaceutical personnel. They may work in academic settings, managed care settings, hospitals, or professional associations, both large and small.
Those in the sector describe their role as finding answers to questions that no one else can answer and providing authoritative information to the communities they serve.
Emergency pharmacists work with emergency staff to promote safe and effective medication use in the emergency department. They collaborate in the selection and monitoring of medications and provide direct patient care as part of the ED team.
They also monitor for adverse drug reactions, provide patient and caregiver education, and provide educational information to other providers in the department.
Because pharmacists develop valuable analytical skills over the course of their education, they often make good candidates to transition to the financial sector. Pharmacists find roles in financial planning, prescription savings, and other sectors that demand attention to detail.
Functional medicine seeks to determine how and why illness occurs and restore health by identifying and addressing the root causes of disease. Unlike modern medicine, which often focuses on symptom relief, functional medicine seeks to reverse chronic disease by focusing on the entire body rather than a single organ.
Functional medicine pharmacists gather large amounts of information from their patients and seek to provide personalized care to their patients.
Geriatric pharmacists have special knowledge in the care of older adults, and they frequently have experience in ambulatory care, acute care, and long-term care. They may engage with institutionalized adults as well as those still living in their communities.
Many geriatric pharmacists specialize in pharmacodynamics, or the understanding of what a drug does to the body, and pharmacokinetics, or the study of the time course of a drug and its absorption and metabolism.
Government pharmacy jobs involve service in government organizations like the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs, or even the armed forces. These pharmacists practice a variety of specialties under the umbrella of the U.S. government.
Home Infusion Pharmacist
A home infusion pharmacist administers medication through a needle or catheter for patients whose condition cannot be effectively treated by oral medications. Infusion pharmacy requires coordination of care with other providers and usually involves patients who have been discharged from a medical facility or hospital.
These pharmacists also provide patient counseling and personalized care to their patients through nutritional support and other mechanisms.
Hospice pharmacists provide care to patients with end-of-life challenges while providing care and empathy to the patient, family members, and caregivers. The pharmacist collaborates with an interdisciplinary team to provide pain-management services as ell as emotional and spiritual support.
Hospice pharmacists monitor dosages to regulate pain management, prevent breakthrough pain, and alleviate patient suffering.
Hospital Pharmacist Staff
Hospital pharmacists typically treat patients with complicated medical conditions across a variety of specialties. These providers often deal with oncology, IV medication therapy, neonatal care, pain therapy, geriatrics, and many other categories of care.
Hospital pharmacists work closely with physicians and nurses to care for the patient, and though they don’t routinely interact with patients, there are occasional opportunities to do rounds and engage in other patient interactions.
Hospital Pharmacist Manager
Hospital pharmacy managers oversee the pharmacy department’s professional and administrative components. They ensure that services meet both accreditation and professional standards. Duties may include facilitating workflow, working to contain costs and acquisition of equipment.
These pharmacists work with other pharmacists, patients, nurses, and physicians.
As pharmacy owners, independent pharmacists practice as both medical practitioners and business owners. They provide services like medication therapy management, medication adherence, compounding, and durable medical equipment and they have the freedom to adjust their practice to meet the community’s needs.
In the competitive field of pharmacy, independent pharmacists must distinguish themselves from big-box stores by using niche concepts and providing customized service to their patients.
Industrial pharmacists work together to create and market medicines that help millions of people. They manufacture medicines, working from initial concept to marketing, and public launch to sales.
Some industrial pharmacists work in lab roles while others work in regulatory affairs and business development.
Infectious Disease Pharmacist
Infectious disease pharmacists provide direct patient care in a variety of settings, from internal medicine to critical care. These pharmacists act as stewards of antibiotics, often operating surveillance programs for antibiotics.
They can work in oncology, transplant, and outpatient settings like HIV clinics.
Informatics seeks to use data, information, and knowledge to improve human health and the delivery of healthcare. The emerging field combines elements of computer science and technology with a knowledge of medicine to advance public health and patient care.
Recent growth in the field has deepened the need for more people to work in informatics and has led to increased pharmacy school programs as well as residencies to address the need.
Many pharmacists have found satisfying work writing about the medical field for journals and online publications. A limited number of organizations employ staff writers to help with their content, while others engage freelance writers.
To be as competitive as possible, study a well-rounded variety of topics that make your work relevant to a broad spectrum of users, including technical and non-technical audiences.
Compliance is one of the fastest-growing branches of healthcare, with compliance officers helping organizations adhere to state and federal laws as well as internal policies and procedures. Additionally, pharmaceutical companies often require the services of patent attorneys to help them introduce new drugs or enhance current ones.
Long-term Care Pharmacist
Long-term care pharmacists usually care for a resident population in a setting such as a mental institution, rehabilitation center, urgent care facility, or even correctional institutions. Long-term care providers often act as primary care physicians to their populations, providing diagnosis and treatment for common ailments.
They monitor patient conditions and regulate drug protocols, and they also often provide nutritional support, drug research, and patient counseling as part of their daily routines.
Mail Order Pharmacist
The number of mail-order pharmacies has grown exponentially as startups seek to address customer convenience and help customers save money on their healthcare costs. Mail order pharmacists frequently choose to create niche business models, like hospice, respiratory care, erectile dysfunction, and other specialized fields.
Managed Care Pharmacist
Managed care professionals usually work for health plans, PBMs, and other managed care organizations to enhance patient outcomes while optimizing healthcare resources. Managed care pharmacists will frequently collaborate with physicians and nurses to manage quality and cost-effectiveness.
They also institute practices to ensure patient safety.
Medical sales professionals sell medical products to doctors, scientists, pharmacists, and organizations like hospitals and clinics. Though technology and automation have changed almost every aspect of the healthcare industry, medical sales depend largely on relationships and face-to-face interactions.
Those who choose a career in medical sales must invest significant time and energy in order to master the job and be financially successful.
Medical Science Liaison
Medical science liaisons spend most of their time consulting and advising healthcare professionals. They work closely with doctors, nurses, and pharmacists to educate them on the uses, merits, and scientific data related to the products their firms produce.
They spend far less time involved in direct patient care and much more time educating and collaborating with other professionals.
Medical writers generate regulatory and research-related documents as well as promotional literature and journal abstracts. Medical writers must have a deep understanding of medical concepts and terminology as well as research data and publishing requirements.
The exponential growth in medical technology and the healthcare industry make medical writing a fast-growing field with a need for effective communicators that can effectively target their writing to the intended audience.
Military pharmacists contribute to the health of service members during peace and war. They may serve in community hospitals on military bases, where they serve service members and their families, or they may be deployed with field hospitals.
Specialties include inpatient and ambulatory, nuclear, oncology, investigational drug, and materials development services.
Neonatal Intensive Care Pharmacy
Neonatal intensive care pharmacists focus primarily on preventing medication errors and tailoring therapies to the individual needs of each patient. They work as part of healthcare team to provide relevant interventions.
They may also engage in patient education and research into medication safety.
Nuclear pharmacists prepare and dispense patient-specific compounds that aid in diagnostic imaging and therapeutic procedures. They practice mostly in hospitals and clinics and they have minimal patient interaction.
Nuclear pharmacists also frequently participate in drug discovery and development research.
Nutrition Support Pharmacy
Nutrition support pharmacists address the care of patients who receive specialized nutrition support in the form of IV or feeding tubes. They handle direct patient care including feeding design, monitoring, dosing, and administration of care.
They also monitor patient response to treatment and develop transitional plans for those moving to a care facility or home.
Oncology pharmacists aid cancer care teams in treating patients by educating patients about side effects, conducting safety checks, preparing chemotherapy doses, and conducting drug development research. They work to maximize the benefits of drug therapy and minimize toxicities.
They engage with patients by helping them anticipate drug side effects and understand how to safely take their medicines.
Operating Room Pharmacy
OR pharmacists help surgical teams reduce the incidence of adverse drug events by reviewing orders prior to administration. They ensure regulatory compliance processes and oversee safe injection practices. They also manage narcotic dispensing.
OR pharmacists assist with dosing, selection, and dispensing, as well as pharmaceutical waste disposal and regulatory compliance.
Pediatric pharmacists ensure safe and effective drug use for patients up to age 18. They provide patient care, provide alternate dosage forms and specialized drug therapy monitoring for pediatric patients.
They also promote health and wellness to patients and educate children and families about medications.
Pediatric Oncology Pharmacy
Pediatric oncology pharmacists provide direct patient care, monitor patient therapies, and provide drug information to the healthcare team to avoid drug-related problems. They also monitor therapies for efficacy and share information about new therapies that might be unfamiliar to the healthcare team.
These pharmacists also track published guidelines for cancer treatment and keep the team notified of any changes.
Pharmaceuticals offer a variety of roles, from sales to research to quality control. Depending on the area you choose, a career in pharmaceuticals could marry your existing sales experience or your technical background with your pharmacy degree to create an entirely new career opportunity.
Even within the pharmaceutical industry, there are a variety of specialties like medical hardware, clinical trials, and regulatory affairs.
Pharmacy Benefits Manager
A pharmacy benefits manager (PBM) is a third-party administrator of prescription programs who dictate which drugs consumers can receive from their insurance plan without incurring additional out-of-pocket costs. PBMs leverage their power to negotiate drug discounts from drug makers.
Think of PBMs as a middleman between employers and drug manufacturers working to achieve a fair deal for both parties, while minimizing costs.
Primary Care Pharmacy
Clinical pharmacists are moving into more primary care roles that allow them to address gaps in care, like medication errors and adherence. More and more organizations are adding pharmacists to the healthcare team to help with monitoring and patient education.
By helping with medication reconciliation and patient safety issues, primary care pharmacists are helping to reduce readmission rates and drive cost savings.
Psychiatric pharmacy is driven by collaboration between the pharmacist and the healthcare provider. Because psychiatric medications can be complex, drug regimens can be confusing for providers, and psychiatric pharmacists can clarify the choices and help the healthcare team make the best decisions.
They also conduct medication education for patient groups and providers and engage in patient advocacy.
Public Health Services Commissioned Corps
The U.S. Public Health Service is an arm of the U.S. government that promotes public health and works to improve the nation’s healthcare system. The organization responds to natural disasters and serves populations like prison inmates, Coast Guard service members, and American Indians, among others.
Regulatory pharmacists oversee the regulations and guidelines that regulate clinical trials and other aspects of human research. They anticipate and study how regulations, laws, and guidelines impact patients and they ensure that clinical trials of new products adhere to government guidelines.
The field deals largely with emerging issues and indirectly impacts public safety.
Research and Development
Research and development pharmacists spend the majority of their time researching the development of new drugs as well as alternative indications for existing ones. Those in the field consider it to be stimulating work with a variety of tasks.
The segment is high on collaboration and problem solving with indirect impacts on patients.
Toxicology brings together knowledge of biology, chemistry, medicine, and pharmacology to understand the adverse effects of certain substances on humans. Because different people can have unique responses to different substances, toxicologists must evaluate factors such as age, susceptibility, and exposure in determining the impacts of a substance.
The study of toxicology is closely tied to safety and public health.
Solid organ transplantation pharmacists manage complex medication regimens involved in all stages of the transplant. One of the newer specialties, its practitioners design, monitor, implement and modify plans to improve patient safety.
The practice of veterinary pharmacy is newer than many of the other pharmacy disciplines, tracing its origins to the late 1950s when veterinarians recognized a need for increased pharmaceutical services. Since that time, the role of the veterinary pharmacist has evolved from one of compounding medicines to include pain management treatments and other consults.
Finding Pharmacy Career Opportunities
The pharmacy landscape constantly evolves as a result of technology and automation. As a result, it would be impossible to create an all-encompassing list of pharmacy career opportunities.
Instead, consider the culmination of your entire career to this point.
- What problems do you encounter that you could help solve?
- How can you combine your pharmacy experience with other passions to create new opportunities?
- Are there unrelated industries that you are poised to succeed in?
- Can you create new opportunities by helping your current company solve an existing problem?
Recognize your existing network, and any future network you build, as a key part of your search. Those who are working in the industries that interest you are the people best poised to help you infiltrate them.
When you’re ready to explore new possibilities, begin by serving the people you’d most like to connect with. Rather than immediately asking for their help, do things that benefit them. Share links to articles, connect them with people in your own network when there’s the possibility of a beneficial relationship, and even volunteer to help them with projects.
There are no other pharmacists who have all the same experiences, passions, and skills as you. Make the most of your lifetime of experience and seek ways to capitalize on your body of work.
Alex is the Founder of The Happy PharmD. He loves anime, his family, and video games, but not in that order.