Pharmacists are more than people behind the counter who fill prescriptions. Pharmacists are the medication experts, and their professional services ensure that patients receive the best health care outcomes and obtain the best results from their medications.
The scope of pharmacy practice continues to expand. Pharmacists provide patients with medication therapy management services that improve patient health care outcomes and reduce overall health care costs; they administer vital immunizations that protect patients against disease; and they are part of new treatment models being developed, including accountable care organizations and patient-centered medical homes. In addition, pharmacists are advocating for status as a nonphysician provider under Section 1861 of the Social Security Act.
There are many different practice settings and professional paths available to those pursuing a career in pharmacy. Below are descriptions of several options available to people who choose pharmacy as their calling.
In addition, in 2014, MPA began publishing practice spotlights that focus on unique career opportunities in pharmacy in Michigan Pharmacist journal. Click on the links below to access these features. Additional spotlights will be published in the future.
Academic pharmacy has far-reaching effects on the profession. Pharmacy educators excite individuals about pharmacy and lay the groundwork for continuing advances in the field. They are involved with teaching, research, public service and patient care. Others serve as consultants for local, state, national and international organizations. Pharmacy faculty and administrators have broad and diverse responsibilities and positions. Each makes unique contributions to pharmacy education and the profession. Disciplines within academic pharmacy include administration, biological sciences, clinical science, continuing education, experiential education, drug discovery, medicinal/natural products and pharmacology.
- Ambulatory Care Pharmacy
Ambulatory care pharmacy practice is the provision of integrated, accessible health care services by pharmacists who are accountable for addressing medication needs, developing sustained partnerships with patients, and practicing in the context of family and community. This is accomplished through direct patient care and medication management for ambulatory patients, long-term relationships, coordination of care, patient advocacy, wellness and health promotion, triage and referral, and patient education and self-management. Ambulatory care pharmacists may work in both an institutional and community-based clinic involved in direct care of a diverse patient population.
- Clinical Pharmacy
Clinical pharmacy is a health science discipline in which pharmacists provide patient care that optimizes medication therapy and promotes health, wellness and disease prevention. The practice of clinical pharmacy embraces the philosophy of pharmaceutical care; it blends a caring orientation with specialized therapeutic knowledge, experience and judgment for the purpose of ensuring optimal patient outcomes.
- Community Pharmacy
Community pharmacy practice generally occurs in chain or independent pharmacies. If you’re a “people person” with strong interpersonal and verbal communication skills, community pharmacy may be for you. It’s a fast-paced environment, requiring intense focus, organization and efficiency. The ability to communicate on many levels is key: scientifically with health professionals and clearly and concisely for patients. A career in community pharmacy can also lead to a challenging management position for those interested in combining their pharmacy expertise with business skills. Community pharmacists also practice in independent pharmacies. When many people think of a pharmacist, they think of the caring individual in their local, community pharmacy, where the pharmacist is often the owner of the pharmacy. One reason pharmacy is among the most trusted professions is because patients truly appreciate the exceptional level of care and service provided by independent pharmacists year in and year out. Independent community pharmacies are stable, reliable businesses that are at the heart and soul of many communities.
- Compounding Pharmacy
The purpose of pharmacy compounding is to meet the needs of people who are unable to take medication in the commercial form. Compounded medications are ordered by a licensed physician, nurse practitioner, veterinarian or other prescriber, and mixed by licensed compounding pharmacists in a safe and carefully controlled environment. Pharmacists are the only health care professionals trained in chemical compatibility, making them the only ones qualified to compose alternate dosages. In addition, it’s important for compounding pharmacists to seek additional, continual training on their trade to stay current on the latest information and techniques.
- Consultant Pharmacy
A consultant pharmacist is a specialized pharmacist who focuses on reviewing and managing the medication regimens of patients, particularly those in institutional settings such as nursing homes. Consultant pharmacists are medication therapy experts who take responsibility for their patients’ medication-related needs; ensure that their patients’ medications are the most appropriate, effective and safest possible, and are used correctly. They also identify, resolve and prevent medication-related problems that may interfere with the goals of therapy. Consultant pharmacists manage and improve drug therapy and improve the quality of life of the senior population and other individuals residing in a variety of environments, including hospitals, nursing facilities, sub-acute care and assisted living facilities, psychiatric hospitals, hospice care and home- and community-based care.
- Hospital (Health-System) Pharmacy
The structure of a hospital pharmacy department varies with the size of the institution where it is located. Large hospitals may have more than 100 pharmacists and technicians on staff. Because of the complexity of medications, including specific indications, treatment effectiveness, safety and patient compliance issues, hospital pharmacists may gain more education and training after pharmacy school through a residency in pharmacy practice or a specific area of interest. Those pharmacists are often referred to as clinical pharmacists and specialize in various disciplines of the profession, such as oncology, HIV/AIDS or anticoagulation. Hospital pharmacies generally stock a wider variety of medications and provide unit-doses of medicine. Health-system pharmacists and trained pharmacy technicians also compound sterile products for patients including total parenteral nutrition and other intravenous medications. Oftentimes, these pharmacies outsource higher risk preparations to companies who specialize in compounding. Health-system pharmacists also come into contact with a lot of information technology and technological advancements to improve the productivity of providers.
- Managed Care Pharmacy
The managed care pharmacist is intimately involved in the care and course of pharmaceutical treatment and plays a vital role in contributing to positive patient outcomes. The areas of opportunities for pharmacists to coordinate patient care include, but are not limited to, data integration, communication management with physicians and patients, outcomes research efforts, drug utilization review, disease management, and academic detailing, cost analysis programs and pharmacy benefit design. In addition, pharmacists are able to qualify and quantify the results of different therapies and programs, therefore, adding value to the health care team. The managed care environment offers a great opportunity for pharmacists to move away from the technical tasks of pharmacy and assume greater responsibility for patient care.
- Military Pharmacy
All branches of the military have a need for pharmacists and, therefore, pharmacy technicians to assist them. Due to most military property being federal land, rather than land of a state, pharmacy technicians are often granted rights and responsibilities that cannot exist outside of the military structure.
- Nuclear Pharmacy
Nuclear pharmacy involves the preparation of radioactive materials that will be used to diagnose and treat specific diseases. It was the first pharmacy specialty established in 1978 by the Board of Pharmaceutical Specialties. Nuclear pharmacy seeks to improve and promote health through the safe and effective use of radioactive drugs for diagnosis and therapy. Nuclear pharmacists receive extensive training on the various radiopharmaceuticals that they use. They are trained in radiation safety and other aspects specific to the compounding and preparation of radioactive materials. There are essentially two different kinds of nuclear pharmacy services: institutional nuclear pharmacy and commercial centralized nuclear pharmacy. Institutional nuclear pharmacy is most likely operated through large medical centers or hospitals. Commercial centralized nuclear pharmacy provides their services to subscriber hospitals. They prepare and dispense radiopharmaceuticals as unit doses that are then delivered to the subscriber hospital by nuclear pharmacy personnel.
- Pharmacy Informatics
It is impossible to imagine a pharmacy practice environment that is not heavily supported by information technology (IT). As the first health care profession to widely adopt computers, pharmacy has a history of utilizing IT to support patient care. Pharmacy informatics is a unique field that brings people, information, and systems together to support safe and effective medication-related outcomes. Pharmacy informaticists work collaboratively with other pharmacists, physicians, nurses, information systems personnel, and a variety of other health care professionals. At the end of the day, pharmacy informaticists' goal is to ensure that appropriate systems are in place to support an informed practice environment. These systems include e-prescribing, computerized prescriber order entry (CPOE), electronic medical records (EMR), bar code dispensing and administration systems, and automated dispensing cabinets, to name just a few.
This list doesn’t even begin to cover the endless possibilities available to those interested in a career in pharmacy. Pharmacists also hold positions in federal, state and professional organizations (including MPA!) Students who aren’t sure of the area of pharmacy they’d like to go into are encouraged to research different areas of practice, talk with current pharmacists practicing in those fields and utilize mentors to help guide them to the right career choice.
For more information about the career opportunities available in pharmacy, utilize these resources on the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy Web site: