Hot Healthcare Careers: Pharmacist
Pharmacy ranks as one of health care’s hot careers of 2008 for a number of reasons, with two of the simplest being demand is up and supply is low. Pharmacists not only fill and dispense medications at your local drugstore, they also work in a clinical setting to teach patients to use their medications, prevent drug interactions and work with physicians to wean patients off maintenance meds. Although more than half of all pharmacists work in drugstores, 23 percent work in a hospital setting. Clinical pharmacy definitely has a higher prestige factor and can be argued to be a more challenging line of work.
The pharmacy field has made a dramatic turnaround since the ‘50s when pharmacists apprenticed themselves to other pharmacists, instead of undergoing formal schooling. Now pharmacists are required to hold a four-year Pharm.D degree and encouraged to have a post-graduate residency program to round out their training. The industry has also come a long way from the days when the medication name wasn’t printed on the bottle and pharmacists were required to direct patients to their doctors for instruction on how to use the drug. Nowadays, pharmacists have a more active role in a patient’s care.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor pharmacist employment will grow by 22 percent between 2006 and 2016, much faster than the occupational average. With increasing numbers of elderly patients requiring medications and more scripts being covered by health insurance, demand is on the rise for pharmacists, who nationwide fill 3.3 billion prescriptions each year. There has been a shortage of pharmacists over the past decade, as drugstore chains like CVS and Walgreens proliferate, adding more and more stores. Clinical jobs however are still highly competitive, as they are fewer and viewed as more prestigious than their drugstore counterparts.
Department store pharmacists who make on average $99,050, according to the Department of Labor, rake in the most dough in the profession. Clinical pharmacists make around $93,640, and drugstore pharmacists fall in between.
Negative Side Effects
While retail pharmacists tend to make more in salary than those their clinical counterparts, drugstore pharmacy can come with a host of challenges. Many times drugstores put pressure on pharmacists to fill a large amount of prescriptions in a given time, which precludes pharmacists from having much patient interaction. This problem was spotlighted in 2007 by ABC Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross in a 20/20 expose on prescription errors in drugstores. ABC uncovered several (and at times fatal) medication errors that had been made by overworked drugstore pharmacists.
A key for success in the pharmacy field is specialization, which new pharm grads can achieve through one- or two- year residency programs after getting out of school. Residency programs are also encouraged as they provide grads with extra experience that looks good to employers, who sometimes are reticent to hire grads fresh out of school.
For new pharmacy practitioners, the American Society of Health-System Pharmacists suggests several ways to get ahead professionally. New pharmacists can become a preceptor to a student to provide guidance and instruction. New practitioners can also join or create a pharmacy and therapeutics committee at their workplace to develop policies, communicate more effectively and educate others. Furthermore, the Society recommends young pharmacists embark on the time-honored tradition of networking—interdisciplinary to build bonds across departments to communicate about treatment options and policies.