Whether an individual’s interest in the field is piqued by the lucrative pharmacist salary or perhaps the gratifying community interactions when working directly with patients, pharmacy job opportunities are waiting for qualified applicants willing to undergo doctoral level studies within the allied health field. This overview explains the history of the profession, roles and responsibilities of pharmacists in a range of health care environments, educational and clinical requirements, and also a look at the career prospects and pay levels.
This infographic helps to visually illustrate some of the essential facts relating to pay levels and employment prospects for the pharmacy profession.
History of the Profession
While texts relating to the formulation of medicinal substances have been dated to as early as the 6th century, the modern pharmaceutical industry began to take shape around the 13th century in ancient Europe. Many of these old pharmacies, or apothecaries, still exist and operate to this day and these dispensaries were the first examples of establishments in which medicines were prepared and dispensed according to specific formulas with records of dosages and patient usage being employed for the first time.
In the United States, historical records indicate that the first licensed modern “drugstore” was opened in the year 1823 in New Orleans, Louisiana. In these early pharmacies, the pharmacist filled a health care role with wide-ranging authorities to consult with patients and prescribe appropriate pharmaceutical therapies without the intervention of a medical doctor. Obviously, this differs greatly from the modern day environment in which the physician is responsible for determining the most appropriate course of treatment or therapy, while the pharmacist primarily oversees the proper dispensation of medications, correct dosages to meet the intended treatment result, as well as reviewing any adverse interactions with patients.
Roles and Responsibilities
More than 270,000 pharmacists currently work in the United States. At the most basic level, these professionals provide prescription medication to patients. They are responsible for monitoring the interaction of all disclosed drugs that a person is taking, including over-the-counter drugs and herbal remedies. They must also understand how much of each drug should be distributed and the potential side effects that can occur. According to their code of ethics, pharmacists are expected to share their professional advice with both patients and doctors to prevent complications, unnecessary risks, and, in extreme cases, even death. In various employment settings, some pharmacists also help with general wellness activities, such as vaccinations, blood pressure screenings, smoking cessation programs, and other healthy living and wellness programs.
The role that a pharmacist plays will depend greatly on the employment environment. In retail pharmacies (also commonly referred to as community pharmacies), the pharmacist will spend most of the work day preparing or supervising the preparation of medications which have been prescribed to a patient by a medical doctor. This role requires that the pharmacist oversee the preparation of all medications (tablets, liquid, powders, etc.) which will be used by patients. The pharmacist will ensure proper dosage levels according to the dispensing instructions provided by the physician as well as cross-checking the prescribed medication for possible drug interactions with other medications which a patient may be using.
In a hospital pharmacy, the attending pharmacist generally has training in a specific area of treatment. For example, in a hospital or treatment center which regularly treats cancer patients, an oncology pharmacist will be trained specifically in treatment approaches relating to chemotherapy or other oncological remedies. Hospital pharmacies are generally stocked with a larger range of medications and very often they will maintain an inventory of specialty products that are not found in retail pharmacies.
Other areas of specialization may include ambulatory care and emergency medicine, consultant pharmacists in which the pharmacist oversees and reviews holistic medication regimens such as in nursing homes, and compounding pharmacies in which drugs are prepared in new forms to make them suitable to patients who may have trouble using medications in their original forms.
In additioan to various areas of specialization, there are also many choices for pharmacists in relation to career trajectory. Qualified pharmacists may not only work for private or public pharmacies, but can find employment opportunities with community outreach programs, pharmaceutical companies, or in branches of the armed forces. Military branches such as the United States Air Force often offer educational training benefits which cannot be found in the private sector.
Due to the aging population and increased use of prescriptions to solve various health problems, career prospects for pharmacists are excellent. Job openings are expected to grow by 17% between 2008 and 2018, as reported by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Over half of all pharmacist jobs will continue to exist within hospitals, drugstores, and other retailers that dispense prescription medications. Another 25% of future positions will be filled by mail-order fulfillment companies, outpatient centers, and nursing facilities. Pharmaceutical company jobs make up only a small portion of all pharmacist employment opportunities.
As the medical industry evolves, treatment regimens and protocols become more complex. Physicians are now able to treat patients for a broader set of illnesses and diseases than in the past, and as such, pharmacists are becoming more specialized and finding more new opportunities for stable employment than at any point in the modern history of the profession. These specializations also provide the opportunity to develop specific skills sets that can be in high demand in certain areas of the country.
Education and Training
Before starting work as a pharmacist and earning a pharmacist salary, a person must pass one or more examinations for licensure. in the United States, graduates of an accredited graduate-level pharmacy program are expected to sit for the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination, or NAPLEX.
To qualify for the exams, an applicant must possess a Doctor of Pharmacy, Pharm.D., degree. During this four-year program, students learn about drug interactions, patient communication, public health, biology, chemistry, physiology, legal and ethical issues, and professional standards. Most Pharm.D. programs, whether on-campus or online, require a clinical rotation or practicum. On-the-job training educates new pharmacists about employer-specific policies and procedures.
Upon graduation from a doctoral program, many pharmacists choose to go into residency to obtain specific training in one of the aforementioned areas of practice, such as nuclear or oncology pharmacy. While not required for all specializations, some areas of practice, such as oncology, do require a two-year residency.
Pharmacist Salary Levels
According to statistics compiled by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, recent pharmacy graduates typically find a starting pharmacist salary of around $77,000 annually. Salaries can climb quickly, with experienced professionals, supervisors, and administrators earning $130,000 or more. On average pharmacists make $106,000 per year. Annual earnings can vary for pharmacists who specialize in a particular drug therapy field, such as oncology, nuclear pharmacy, geriatrics, psychiatric pharmacy, or intravenous nutrition.
The employment environment can also greatly affect salary levels. Even among the most common employers in the field, retail pharmacies, pay levels can range a great deal. As an illustration, Glassdoor.com reports that the average income for a full-time pharmacist at the CVS Caremark retail pharmacy chain was $113,918 as of 2012, while another large pharmacy chain, RiteAid, currently pays an average annual salary of $81,858. These variances may be attributed to hiring practices, such as standards to hire more experienced pharmacists as opposed to recent graduates, however, it does illustrate the wide range of salaries which can be found depending on the employer with which a candidate chooses to work.
One final factor which seems to have a major impact across most professions within the health care industry is geographic location. Generally, states with a higher cost of living, such as California, New York, and Illinois, experience higher median pay levels for pharmacists than other states. However, a shortage of qualified applicant for openings can also impact salary levels. In states such as Alaska and Arizona, the demand for pharmacists currently exceeds the number of qualified applicants and as such, employers in these states tend to offer more attractive overall compensation packages to entice candidates to relocate. In addition, local economic factors can influence pay within certain areas. One of the states that has been noticeably impacted through and after the recent economic recession in the United States is Michigan, where pay levels for pharmacists have stagnated throughout the last four years.
Employment Environments and Opportunities
Pharmacists are fortunate to have a vast array of employers from which to choose. While most individuals tend to think of the pharmacist as being confined to the counter of a walk-up pharmacy, there are many other health care settings in which they can be employed.
A large number of pharmacists are employed within various health care facilities such as hospitals and specialized clinics. These can range from a local community hospital where the role involves dispensing medications and intravenous treatments to patients to specialized facilities such as cancer treatment centers where they may focus on chemotherapy treatment formulations.
There are a growing number of openings in elder care facilities as well. The vast majority of these locations will require a full-time pharmacist on staff to dispense a wide range of medications to residents. Due to the growing elderly population within the United States, these facilities are expected to add a significant percentage of the approximately 50,000 additional pharmacist openings through 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Additionally, a number of practicing pharmacists work in various positions within pharmaceutical companies. There are several roles in which they are employed for these organizations directly. These roles include research and development of new products and existing lines, as well as various marketing positions and community outreach programs which are managed by pharmaceutical companies.
Regardless of the employment environment within the field, opportunities for employment for qualified pharmacists continues to grow. With a high number of new job openings anticipated over the coming decade as well as job security and attractive salary levels, becoming a pharmacist is a sound consideration for anyone who is committed to obtaining an advanced degree within the health care industry. While the training is considered rigorous due to the high level of scientific reasoning skills required, most pharmacists enjoy their work and find the position rewarding. Dispensing prescriptions to help people live healthier lives, stimulating and challenging advanced professional opportunities, and the attractive compensation packages which factor in the median pharmacist salary and benefits all come together to make this profession a suitable choice for motivated individuals with a strong background in scientific reasoning.
This video from the publication U.S. News and World Report give an interesting and helpful insight into the pharmacy profession from the perspective of a recent graduate who entered the work force a few years ago: