Pharmacist Job Description:
Most people think of pharmacists as the professionals who fill prescriptions at their local pharmacy. However, there are different sorts of jobs for pharmacists in different settings—hospitals, research institutions, government health offices, health insurance companies, pharmacy and medical schools, advertising agencies, big financial firms, and of course, pharmaceutical companies. I happen to work in a medical school as an Associate Professor of health policy. My work is focused on evaluating the cost effectiveness of pharmaceuticals and the impact of technology on medication use and safety.
For those seeking pharmacist career information, can you recall your career steps?
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I first became familiar with the pharmacy as a high school student, when I took a job as a pharmacy technician for a major retail chain. I liked the opportunity to interact with patients. People really do trust pharmacists and have better access to them in their community. At that time, I knew that I liked the profession, but in recognizing how expensive new drugs are, came to realize that I could have a bigger impact on patient care by learning how to evaluate which drugs were most cost effective.
So, after pharmacy school, I went on to become a fellow in pharmaceutical economics (or “pharmaco-economics” as we call it). I then took a full time job as a consultant in pharmaceutical research, and pursued a Masters of Public Health degree simultaneously with that. This Master's degree gave me the skills I needed to design and analyze data related to pharmaceutical economics. I could not function with a researcher unless I learned how to conduct pharmaco-economic studies.
I have found my pharmacist training to be invaluable, because I understand how medications work and what their advantages and disadvantages are. I would encourage those considering pharmacy to think “outside of the box” in terms of your career path. Just look around and you will find lots of non-traditional job opportunities. Keep in mind that you may need to do a residency, fellowship and/or obtain a masters degree in order to get your dream job in the pharmacy industry.
On the lighter side of being a pharmacist, do you recall any funny moments?
I remember a few patients who had names that made us laugh because they were so embarrassing. I also remember when a woman came into the pharmacy asking for “canine jelly” instead of KY jelly—you can imagine what kinds of jokes that prompted. And then there was the woman who put her child’s antibiotic suspension in the kid’s ear instead of giving it to her by mouth; what a sticky mess.
What advice can you share on how to become a pharmacist?
It is a great career option for anyone who is bright, able to handle heavy duty science classes, and likes to deal with patients and physicians. This is also a good career path for working mothers (or women who plan to be mothers some day), because you can make a good salary working part-time, and/or condense your full-time hours into three 12 hour shifts.
Be prepared for a serious academic commitment with the coursework—you will need to hunker down and study for at least 4 years. Also be open to doing a residency or fellowship. These are entry level positions which pay much less than staff pharmacy jobs, but enable pharmacists to specialize in a particular medical area (e.g., pediatrics, oncology, etc) or job type (e.g., research, health plan administration, or clinical practice).
You may be tempted to pay off student loans by taking a high-paying job at a pharmacy chain when you graduate, but you could get bored with the routine of filling prescriptions. Don’t be short-sighted when in comes to deciding which career path you want to take as a pharmacist.
As a pharmacist, what do you think about people buying prescription drugs online?
Be careful about purchasing meds from online pharmacies. Many of these sites are operated outside of the US where there is little oversight of pharmaceuticals. When people think of “counterfeiting,” a knock-off handbag or pair of jeans comes to mind—but this is also a big problem with pharmaceuticals.
You just don’t know what you are getting. If you must purchase online, do so from an established US site, like Drugstore.com. Legitimate sites will require a prescription and should be based in the US.
Do you have any suggestions for people looking to buy prescriptions at low prices?
Shop around. Drug prices differ from store to store just like any other product. Don’t be afraid to call the pharmacy and ask for a price check on the medication you need. Also, see if your medication comes in generic form. That will save you lots of money. In fact, many major retailers now offer generics for $4 or $5 for a one month supply—including Wal-Mart and Target.
In some cases, these “deals” are limited to a short list of drugs—but it’s worth asking. One final tip is to see if there is an over-the-counter alternative to your prescription medication. There is a good selection of over-the-counter products for some medical problems, like acid reflux and seasonal allergies.
What can you tell us about pharmacist average salaries?
Retail pharmacist jobs pay an annual salary anywhere from $80-100K—depending on whether the job is with a large retail chain or a small independent store, which hours are worked (night shift pays more) and the cost of living in the regional marketplace.
Hospital pharmacist jobs pay a smaller annual salary—probably in the neighborhood of $65-85K, depending primarily on experience level, when the hours are worked, and cost of living in the regional marketplace. Pharmacists who work for the pharmaceutical industry get paid very well, though the exact pharmacist salary depends on the job. Entry level jobs in the industry pay about a $100K annual salary, sometimes with a nice annual bonus.
Then there are those pharmacists like me who work in other settings. The salary is really varied, but I would say that pharmacists get paid a minimum annual salary of 65K, in many cases, much more than that. Pharmacy residents and fellows get paid an annual salary between $30-45K. Usually these programs are 1 or 2 years long and the resident/fellow gets a graduation certificate upon completion.
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