Pharmacy careers can take the adventurous far beyond the dispensary

May 1, 2009

Pharmacist have many career options. Whether they're interested in politics, teaching, or travel, they can find fulfillment on and off the beaten path.

Key Points

Pharmacists have a long history of taking their education and using it to build varied and satisfying careers. "Many pharmacists graduate and never even practice pharmacy, choosing instead to climb the corporate ladder, go into teaching, or even move on into medicine or law," according to Bruce Kneeland, a pharmacy industry consultant in Valley Forge, Pa. "I recently worked with a former counter pharmacist, helping him to build out his contract-vaccination business, where either he or contracted nurses administer immunizations at employee sites, retirement homes, and community pharmacies."

Indeed, there are numerous career paths for new and experienced pharmacists beyond dispensing medication and counseling patients from behind retail counters or in hospital settings. Many are employed by government agencies, while others teach. Some have ventured into politics. Still others are involved in sports, employed by pharmaceutical companies, or help to coordinate disaster-relief efforts.

His wife would see plenty of children during her first day in Thailand - though few were smiling or in pajamas. "On that first day, everyone was scrambling to treat the 6 to 12 children who lost limbs in land-mine explosions," Buckley, 49, recalled. "When things finally settled down, my wife looked around and asked, 'Where are all those children in pajamas?'"

When not dealing with land-mine victims, Buckley and the other healthcare professionals were inundated with patients suffering from malaria, respiratory diseases, infectious diseases such as HIV and TB, malnutrition, and renal disease. Each year, more than 130,000 patients visit the clinic.

When he and his colleagues dared to venture into Myanmar, Buckley said, they were always under the watchful eyes of agents associated with that country's military junta.

From pharmacy to politics

Legislating, which has been compared to sausage-making and even to the world's oldest profession, seems an unlikely arena for pharmacists trained to be scientific and precise. But pharmacists-turned-politicians across the country say their experience behind the counter helps them win elections and perform well once in office.

Exact figures on the number of pharmacists serving in elected office are unavailable, but it's estimated that there are dozens in statehouses across the country and hundreds more in local posts on city councils and school boards. Only one is in Congress: U.S. Rep. Marion Berry, a Democrat from Arkansas.

Pharmacists are not new to politics. A Massachusetts apothecary was elected to Congress in 1800. Since then, while thousands of pharmacists have served on city councils and school boards, a smaller number have become big-city mayors, state legislators, congressmen, and governors. Perhaps no state legislature has a higher concentration of pharmacists than Georgia, which has five.