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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 services to their patients.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) is a third-party administrator of prescription programs who dictates 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 increased pharmacy schools 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.
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.
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.