Keith Loria is a contributing writer to Medical Economics.
Pharmacy managers and educators offer career advice.
Obtaining a PharmD has such broad value when it comes to career offerings, and those offerings can best align with not only one’s personal strengths, but professional goals. Sure, you can look to practice as a pharmacist in the community setting or within the hospital setting- where the majority of jobs still reside- but there are non-traditional roles that pharmacists play as well.
“Serving in the long-term care market, the specialty pharmacy market, or even the ambulatory care setting, pharmacists can use their clinical expertise to directly impact the patient’s utilization and response to taking medications,” said Jonathan Ogurchak, PharmD, CSP, founder and CEO of STACK, a compliance management software company for pharmacists. “Beyond that, pharmacists can be looked upon as educators, frequently being hired as medical science liaisons within the pharmaceutical industry and tasked with teaching providers about disease processes and the medications used to treat them.”
Pharmacy schools are tasked with a huge responsibility–not only training pharmacists to understand the complexities of disease states and the drugs to manage, but also with educating about career opportunities.
“The experiential education component of the curriculum plays a huge part in understanding what types of roles might be available, since it’s often one of the closest steps to direct practice that student pharmacists would have prior to graduation,” Ogurchak said.
Pharmacy students regularly do rotations during their last year of schooling, which places them in different industries and shows them how different segments of pharmacy operate. But just because they decide to go in one direction initially does not mean they are stuck in that area for their entire career.
Jeannie K Lee, PharmD, BCPS, BCGP, FASHP, associate professor for pharmacy practice and science at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy, said that often students know about community pharmacy work, but not much more.
“Pharmacy is a broad and interesting field with many possibilities and opportunities in general and specialized practices, managed care, industry, research, academia, etc,” she said.
That’s why, at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy, one of the courses students participate in their first semester is Pharmacy Practice, where students take a survey of their interest areas and learn how to explore and pursue those fields through resources that have been gathered for them.
“At the same time, practitioners from various pharmacy careers come into class to present their journey and engage students in a question and answer session,” Lee said. “Our students are surveyed each year to help them explore as many career paths in pharmacy as they wish.”
Tips for the Established Pharmacist
It’s not unusual for someone in the pharmacy field to want to find something new and pivot to a different career path in pharmacy, and it’s not as hard to do as some may think.
Lee noted that the best way to start a possible switch is to first explore the field of pharmacy they are passionate about and identify details-training needed, procedures, types of patients, niche opportunity, collaborators, settings, salary, benefits, etc.
“For each possible position, they may want to create a pro and con list to think about the choice deeply and to help with decision making,” she said. “It will help tremendously to talk with a pharmacist who is currently in the position to learn about their path and others they know of."
Nonye Uddoh, PharmD, BCACP, clinical pharmacist at CHC Health, pivoted from retail to managed care 5 years ago by gaining additional certifications and experience outside of her 9-to-5 schedule, and by networking with other pharmacists. She believes others can make a smooth transition.
“What I’m noticing in the field is the focus on developing yourself with certifications and/or residency, consider gaining more than 1 state license, connect with your colleagues and add value as much as possible,” Uddoh said.
Conrad Dhing, PhD, assistant dean of student academic affairs at Husson University’s School of Pharmacy, noted that many hospitals and pharmacy chains have internal career development programs to help someone learn of other opportunities.
Ogurchak added that demonstrating an understanding of the profession, based on practice experience, carries a huge weight when looking to shift career opportunities.
“Often times, the ability to relate prior situations into more broad terms can highlight your ability to perform in new scenarios-especially if you're looking to move into a new setting for practice,” he said. “Demonstrating a desire to learn is also critical-either through highlighting continuing education that you’ve completed in a particular practice area, additional trainings, or certifications that you may have achieved as well.”
Challenges of Making a Switch
Lee believes a silo-thinking approach to different areas of pharmacy might make it more challenging, where people think that they are “stuck” in an area of pharmacy they started with. But the knowledge and skill sets are transferable.
For example, over a 20-year career in pharmacy, Lee has worked in community pharmacy (as a student); ambulatory care clinics in internal medicine/primary care, cardiology and geriatrics; home-based primary care and interprofessional home visits; hospital work in pain management and rehab, adult acute care and critical care; and academia, research, and administration.
Those wanting a similar career path can achieve it.
“I think engagement is key-seek out pharmacists in different areas of pharmacy to receive mentorship and guidance. Pharmacists are by and large kind and generous people, and you can benefit from their experiences and wisdom,” Lee said. “Also, advocate for the pharmacy profession so that our paths continue to enlarge and not become stagnant or narrow.”
Kelley D. Carlstrom, PharmD, BCOP, a clinical oncology pharmacist, is contacted often by pharmacists who want to pivot into oncology.
“It is rare to be handed an opportunity in oncology with no prior experience, although I’ve talked to a few pharmacists that were in the right place at the right time and recognized the opportunity,” she said. “So, keep your eyes/ears open for any opportunity to get exposure to oncology drugs, patients, or systems in any capacity.”
For example, if your site has a cancer center, she recommended volunteering to cross-train.
“Most pharmacists shy away from chemotherapy so that provides an opportunity for you,” Carlstrom said. “If you work in retail, spend extra time with patients that are filling supportive care medications; you may even dispense some oral chemotherapy.”
Furthermore, if your site doesn’t have a cancer or infusion center, Carlstrom suggested looking for one local to you that does and follow them on LinkedIn, and connect with others that work there.
“Build and grow your professional network-this is said a lot these days but can’t be overstated,” she said. “Don’t blindly grow your network, but be proactive by interacting with people regularly. I highly recommend LinkedIn but networking in person at local events is very impactful. There is also a great online community at the Pharmacist’s Slack."
For students or current pharmacists looking to learn about the many opportunities, there are plenty of easy ways to discover these on the web. Thankfully, students can learn about pharmacy career choices through the American Pharmacist Association (APhA) and many pharmacy programs encourage students to explore all options.
Pharmacyforme is geared toward students thinking about pharmacy as a career; the APhA site is for students and professionals exploring different areas of pharmacy. Pharmacists can also review the APhA career center information.
“A career as a pharmacist is so much more than 1 job-it’s a combination of all of one’s experiences from the time they enter school through the time they retire,” Ogurchak said. “Finding ways to utilize each one of those experiences across the course of a career helps one to practice as a better, well-rounded practitioner.”
It’s also important to keep in mind that pharmacy is a very small world.
“It is like ‘6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon.’ Someone is bound to know someone, who knows someone, who you’ve worked with,” Dhing said.“Being an engaged, professional employee who helps your organization reach its goals is always valued. When you help your organization reach their goals, you’re more likely to develop a positive reputation and reach your own personal goals.”