Pharmacists: Which Specialty Is Right for You?

March 3, 2021 •

Whether you’re deep in school pursuing your PharmD, recently graduated, or currently employed as a pharmacist, it’s never too early—or too late—to pursue the job you want.

Nearly 60% of pharmacists work in retail. Some find immense job satisfaction in serving the public. They love providing on-the-spot counsel, navigating insurance companies to get the best price for their patients, and following up to manage refills. They value their position as gatekeeper for controlled substances and feel a bit victorious when they catch a fraudulent prescription.

If retail is the path for you, it’s a noble and difficult job that impacts your entire community. You should be proud of your choice.

But some pharmacists find retail doesn’t meet their need for personal fulfillment. That’s when they start looking at specialties. And there are lots of options!

This guide will explore some of the most common jobs for pharmacists. You’ll consider questions like:

  • Where should I work to practice my favorite aspects of pharmacy?
  • Which jobs are the best fit for my personality?
  • How do I pursue a specialty?

There’s something out there to fit you perfectly and give you job satisfaction. Let’s find out what it is.

What Are My Options?

Before we dive into the list, let’s talk about managed care.

Most managed care pharmacists work for health insurance companies. They are advocates and researchers, ensuring patients’ medications are covered by the plan so everyone can afford to receive the drugs they need.

But as the American Pharmacists Association puts it, “Pharmacists in managed care perform a variety of functions, including drug distribution and dispensing, patient safety monitoring, clinical program development, business operations, analysis of therapeutic outcomes, and cost management.” With this definition, the term is so broad that it could encompass nearly any job or facility!

For our purposes, we’ll avoid trying to decide whether the following jobs fall under managed care. You’re more interested in the job, after all—not the title.

Refill Center Pharmacists

Don’t be fooled by the name: pharmacists who work in these facilities do much more than fill bottles with pills. Refill centers operate remotely, communicating with patients by phone and dispensing prescriptions by mail. They also juggle some—or all—of the following tasks:

  • Manage large inventories of high-end drugs
  • Catch duplicate prescriptions and contraindications
  • Communicate with the healthcare team on behalf of the patient
  • Bill copays and coordinate with discount cards, medication benefits companies, and insurance companies on behalf of the patient
  • Review medication compliance and symptoms
  • Provide counseling

While retail pharmacies typically serve the local community with standard drugs, refill centers have some additional characteristics:

  • They usually work with people requiring long-term care
  • Their remote services allow them to be located virtually anywhere in the U.S.
  • Their large inventory of on-hand stock lets them fill most prescriptions quickly and mail them out without delay

Specialty pharmacies, a type of refill center, provide medication and support for patients with serious illnesses (e.g. cancer, autoimmune disease, HIV/AIDS). Insurance companies will often only work with a particular specialty pharmacy for a high-end drug.

Ambulatory Pharmacists

Ambulatory pharmacists specialize in monitoring and treating patients with specific long-term conditions, usually at an outpatient clinic. While pharmacists in most positions need a physician’s order to prescribe a drug, some ambulatory pharmacists have the training and authority to write prescriptions for certain medications.

For example, an anticoagulation pharmacist might monitor patients on warfarin. A particular patient needs to be monitored every two weeks. The pharmacist tests the patient’s blood with a finger prick, makes diet and health recommendations, may adjust the medication or send in an order for labs.

These pharmacists might specialize in tobacco cessation, diabetes management, and even pain management. Ambulatory pharmacists are becoming important assets to physicians, allowing them to focus on other tasks while being comforted with the knowledge that their patients are receiving specialized medication management from an expert.

Consultant Pharmacists

Also known as senior care pharmacists, these professionals focus on medication safety for the geriatric population.

While they don’t directly dispense medication, they are a crucial point of contact. These pharmacists visit seniors in their homes to monitor compliance, go over medication lists, and help them with any difficulties. They go to nursing homes and advise nurses and physicians on medication plans, and even visit patients in their rooms.

Compound Pharmacists

With over 20,000 prescriptions drugs available, rarely will a patient require a custom concoction. But you can’t deny you love chemistry, and a compounding pharmacist will pounce on the opportunity to mix or alter drugs to create something new. Compounding pharmacists alter drugs in these four ways:

  1. Strength: the prescribing physician needs a higher or lower concentration than what is available
  2. Form: for example, fixing oral and intravenous medications
  3. Ingredients: for example, removing inactive fillers that a patient is allergic to
  4. Formulation: for example, mixing two dermatological treatments for more effective application

(Autry, Jill. 4 reasons to use a compounding pharmacy: some clinical conditions or patients require mixing it up. Optometry Times Vol.8 Iss.10 2016)

Other types of pharmacists

While we can’t list all of the pharmacist jobs out there, here are a few more that deserve to be mentioned:

  • Pharmacy benefit manager pharmacists (PBMs): Dive into the business side of drugs by negotiating deals and managing formularies and benefit plans. You’ll be the one who turns $150,000 chemotherapy drugs into a $100 copay.
  • Specialized pharmacists: Focus on medication management for a specific field or population. For example:
  • Home health care pharmacists : Prepare and dispense medications in patients’ homes or in nursing facilities, and provide individual counseling.
  • Infusion pharmacists: Whether working with intravenous iron, chemotherapy, or immunosuppressants, infusion pharmacists work with drugs that may cost over $100,000 with high toxicity levels, to be delivered directly into the veins of the most seriously-ill patients. Services may be provided at a patient’s place of residence or at a medical facility. This job requires precision and close communication with infusion nurses and other healthcare team members.

The Best Path for You

You deserve a job that fits your life and your personality. So, what are some things to consider?

The Multitasker

You love a fast-moving environment. You thrive on stress. A long to-do list makes the day fly by! You might want to pursue:

  • Retail pharmacy
  • Emergency medicine

The Routine Addict

Work should be from 9-5, Monday-Friday, with a 1-hour lunch at noon. No overtime, no coming in on the weekends, no surprises. If this is your motto, look into:

  • Managed care (at a medical insurance company)
  • Refill center
  • Outpatient ambulatory clinic

The Socialite

People are drawn to your friendly smile and gregarious personality. Build relationships in your community with one of these jobs:

  • Retail pharmacy
  • Ambulatory pharmacy
  • Consultant pharmacy
  • Home health care

The Recluse

It’s not that you don’t like people. It’s just that they make you tired and you’d like to work with as few people as possible. Maybe these would be a good fit for you:

  • Refill center
  • Infusion center
  • Managed care (at a medical insurance company)
  • Compound pharmacy

The Altruist

You know it’s a cliché, but you became a pharmacist “to help people.” You’re looking for a high-impact job to make a difference in your community. Here are a few ideas:

  • Consultant pharmacy
  • Ambulatory pharmacy
  • Infusion center
  • Really, any pharmacy job!

There’s more:

  • Do you love business and negotiating? A Pharmacy Benefit Manager might be right for you.
  • If you’re always looking for new adventures, you might look into home health services, where you’ll enjoy an unpredictable schedule and make lots of new friends.
  • You may experience life events that trigger interest in a particular specialty—a friend being diagnosed with cancer, for example. That may be the time to pursue more training and a new job.

Employed, Self-Employed, or Contract

It’s worth mentioning that many of the jobs above can be pursued through multiple avenues.

For example, pharmacists might go into business for themselves (self-employed) or contract with an agency (contract employment) instead of working for a company or organization.

If you go these routes, make sure you get professional liability insurance for pharmacists. Even the best pharmacist can be accused of malpractice, and without insurance, their assets are at risk.

If you’re employed by a hospital or another facility, you’re probably covered by your employer’s professional liability insurance policy—at least partially. This might give you some peace of mind. But when asked the question, “Why do I need more than my employer’s coverage?” Pharmacy Times answered:

“Most professional liability policies provided by employers do not offer sufficient coverage in the event of malpractice…A malpractice claim could lead to a lawsuit, which could cost you thousands of dollars in legal fees out of pocket if you do not have enough protection.”

It’s important to note that regardless of your innocence in a malpractice lawsuit—even if the court finds you in the right—you may still incur costs in the tens of thousands. Pharmacist insurance can cover these costs, as in the following story:

A prescribing physician wrote an order for a .1% solution of methoxsalen. Not seeing the decimal point, the pharmacist filled it for 1%, and the patient, a woman, was subsequently hospitalized. The pharmacy filed for bankruptcy before the woman could sue them, so she sued the physician instead—for nearly half a million dollars. While the physician won the lawsuit, it was a five-year headache that cost his insurance company $82,000 (Haserick, John. The case of the overlooked decimal point. Medical Economics. Vol.70 Iss.7 1993).

As a pharmacist, you are known for being detail-oriented. But everyone makes mistakes. And simply being accused of a mistake can devastate your career and your personal assets. Prepare for anything by getting a quote for pharmacist insurance now with our quick and easy application. NOW Insurance has 20 years of experience covering health industry professionals, and we’re dedicated to tailoring your policy to your specialty: you shouldn’t pay for what you don’t need.

You’re Not Generic

Whether you want to work in a hospital, a grocery store, a nursing home, or a residence…

Whether you want to help the sickest people, the elderly, a particular population, or the general community…

Whether you want to be a behind-the-scenes advocate for lower drug prices or the retailer who helps the patient get the lower-priced generic…

There’s a place for you.

Learn more about medical professional liability for pharmacists. NOW Insurance provides simple, fast and affordable insurance.

Get a quick quote NOW.

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