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What Can You Do With a PharmD Degree?: The Common Roles and Workplace Settings

Published on: Nov 6, 2022
By: Jim Herbst, PharmD, BCPPS
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A Pharmacy Degree is Highly Versatile 

Upon graduation from a PharmD program, your doctorate of pharmacy degree can open many doors, both traditional and non-traditional.  The advantage that the pharmacy degree has over many other advanced health science degrees is that it can lead to career fluidity.  

A pharmacy program prepares you to succeed in a variety of settings.  You may start your career in one setting; realize it isn’t for you, then transition to a completely different practice area.  Medical residencies, however, typically follow a specific tract and lead to dermatology, surgery, or pediatrics.  There’s no easy pathway for a critical care physician who experienced a large degree of burnout to suddenly become a dermatologist.  

It’s far easier, however, for a critical care pharmacist to transition into informatics pharmacy or for a pharmacist working in an adult hospital to transition to working in a pediatric setting.  Certainly the learning curve can be steep, but the opportunity is there.  This variety and versatility is especially important in today’s employment climate where it’s common and professionally accepted for employees to change roles much more frequently than previous generations.  

Not only can a pharmacist move between or across positions easily, the variety of careers a pharmacist can pursue with a pharmacy education is quite robust as well.  While the typical student with a pharmacy degree will find himself or herself in one of two settings upon graduation, the student is certainly not limited to just these two arenas.

Upon completion of a PharmD program, many students will pursue the practice of pharmacy.  The profession of pharmacy is what the PharmD program prepares the student for.  To practice as a pharmacist, you need state licensure.  A pharmacy degree isn’t enough.  You will be required to pass the NAPLEX, the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam as well as the MJPE, the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination.  

Some states have other specific exams or requirements such as demonstrating additional competency in compounding medications, for instance.  Once you are licensed as a pharmacist in a state, you may practice pharmacy for an employer in that state.  Many pharmacists have licenses in multiple states.  Some states offer reciprocity, meaning a pharmacist can easily transfer a pharmacist license from one state to another.  A practicing pharmacist works in 2 main settings, the community and the hospital.

Common Workplaces for PharmD Graduates

Community Pharmacies

Currently, the most common workplace environment for pharmacists is the community pharmacy setting, with over 60% of all pharmacists practicing in this arena.  Most work for large chain retailers such as Walgreens, CVS Health, Walmart, and Rite Aid.  Other pharmacists work for large grocers such as the Kroger Company, Albertsons, Publix, Meijer, Costco, H E B, Giant Eagle, or Wegmans.  While many of these retailers are large chains with a significant geographic presence, many pharmacists are still employed by independent pharmacies, which represent over 30% of all retail pharmacies. 

These independent pharmacies traditionally provide more boutique or personalized services such as medication synchronization services (all of your medications are filled at once, so you make one trip to the pharmacy per month), medication therapy management, influenza immunizations (flu vaccines), non-flu vaccine services (such as COVID-19 vaccines or routine or international travel vaccinations), and blood pressure monitoring services.  

Additionally, many independent pharmacies specialize in durable medical equipment, blood glucose monitoring devices, and SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic testing.  These pharmacists typically pride themselves in taking the time to counsel patients and caregivers on medications, dietary supplements, vitamins, and minerals.  While the job growth for retail pharmacy positions will remain stagnant (or slightly decrease) over the next several years as large retailers close some stores near each other, the retail pharmacist will remain the predominant career path for most new graduates. 

Hospital Pharmacies

The second most common workplace environment for pharmacists is the hospital pharmacy setting, with over 30% of all pharmacists practicing in this location. This environment boasts a large variety, as some pharmacists practice in the inpatient setting (taking care of acutely sick patients) while others practice in the outpatient or ambulatory care setting (taking care of patients who come in for routine visits or check-ups). 

These positions can be further broken up into the traditional staff pharmacist role and the clinical pharmacist role.  

Staff Pharmacist

While both positions are highly clinical, the staff pharmacist typically practices behind the scenes.  A staff pharmacist is responsible for ensuring the dose is correct, and the pharmacy technician (pharmacy tech) prepares the medication appropriately and is typically responsible for the pharmacy's workflow.  This pharmacist is also sometimes responsible for going to codes or traumas (life and death emergencies within the hospital) to provide immediate medications for sedation, intubation, cardiac or respiratory arrest, or septic shock.  A staff pharmacist may work in a centralized location preparing IV medications or in a specialized satellite pharmacy that only cares for patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) or the hematology and oncology unit (blood disorders and cancer).  

Clinical Pharmacist

Clinical pharmacists typically work within multidisciplinary teams, which include physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, nurses, dieticians, respiratory therapists, and social workers. They can provide patient care in the inpatient or outpatient setting. They typically have a pharmacy education beyond the PharmD program and have usually completed a one—or two-year pharmacy residency

Some ambulatory patient care settings for these pharmacy practice sites include diabetes clinics, anticoagulation clinics, HIV clinics, Hepatitis C clinics, general primary care clinics, gastrointestinal (GI) clinics, rheumatology clinics, endocrinology clinics, pulmonary clinics, neurology clinics, and oncology clinics.  Some inpatient pharmacy practice settings include cardiology units, intensive care units, neonatal intensive care units, pediatric intensive care units, emergency medicine, hematology and oncology, psychiatric or behavioral health units, neurology units, pulmonary units, infectious disease services, surgery services, general hospital services, and transplant services. 

Some pharmacists may specialize in end-of-life care, care of geriatric patients, pediatric patients, or even infants.

The Business and Educational Path for a PharmD

Some pharmacists graduate from pharmacy school with plans to pursue management.  These pharmacists may enter into a dual degree program and receive an MBA (master of business administration) or MHA (master of health administration) while receiving their pharmacy degree.  These pharmacists can combine their pharmacy practice clinical expertise with their business acumen and leadership skills to shape the profession's future by introducing new and advanced pharmacy practice models within organizations and institutions.

Another significant component of what a pharmacist does relates to teaching and continuing education.  Pharmacists are lifelong learners but are also responsible for teaching the current pharmacy student in real-world settings.  Pharmacists provide pharmacy students with patient care experiences via experiential education.  These education opportunities occur early in pharmacy school through introductory pharmacy practice experience (IPPE) and advanced pharmacy practice experience (APPE).  The pharmacy students will often learn more from experience as they become exposed to various clinical pharmacy and community pharmacist practice sites.

Finally, 10% of pharmacists still pursue roles outside the traditional community or hospital pharmacist.  These unique roles include nuclear pharmacy, veterinary pharmacy, and roles in the pharmaceutical industry.  These pharmacists may have roles in research and drug development.  Some pharmacists engage in consulting work.  They may provide medication management services, analytics, or business intelligence. 

Some pharmacists specialize in pharmacoeconomics or pharmacogenomics. They may pursue careers in public health for the Indian Health Services, the NIH, or the CDC. They may work for organizations that specialize in health economics and research outcomes. Finally, some pharmacists may work in the technology sector or pursue entrepreneurial pursuits.

The question of ‘what can you do with a PharmD?’ is fascinating and often only limited by your imagination.

portrait of Jim Herbst PharmD

Jim Herbst, PharmD, BCPPS is an advanced patient care pharmacist at a nationally ranked pediatric acute care teaching hospital.  Dr Herbst received his Doctor of Pharmacy degree from the Ohio State University in 2012.  He started his clinical career as an inpatient patient care pharmacist covering the neurology and complex care services, before transitioning to a pediatric neurology ambulatory care clinic in 2019. 

Dr Herbst's areas of interest in pediatric neurology include treatment-resistant pediatric epilepsy, infantile spasms, the ketogenic diet, and neuroimmunology.  He has published numerous articles in peer-reviewed pharmacy and neurology journals, including Neurology, Epilepsia, and the Journal of the American Pharmacists Association.  Dr Herbst is board certified as a pediatric pharmacy specialist.

Opinions and information published by the author here on PharmDDegree.com are of my own and do not necessarily represent the views or opinions of my employer.

Education: Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD), The Ohio State University
Knowledge: Advanced Patient Care Pharmacy, Neurology, Epilepsia