While a variety of specialty practice areas exist for pharmacists, community and hospital are the two main settings these professionals work in. If you’re considering employment in a hospital or community pharmacy, learn more about each environment in this brief guide to determine which best aligns with your qualifications, skills, preferences, and career goals.
Community pharmacists are employed by retail chain or independently owned pharmacies and work extensively with the public on a daily basis. Their main duties include verifying, preparing, and dispensing medications and educating patients on both prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) drugs. Additionally, these professionals lead teams of technicians and support staff, manage inventory levels, handle billing and insurance matters, consult with prescribers, and ensure adherence to internal and external regulations. They may also administer immunizations, provide medication therapy management (MTM) services, and participate in health promotion activities such as health fairs. Depending on the size of the organization, community pharmacists may be the only pharmacist on staff during their assigned shifts.
If you enjoy extensive patient interaction and a fast-paced setting, consider working in a community pharmacy. Forming lasting relationships with repeat customers is another positive trait. On the flip side, community pharmacist roles often come with the pressures of running a successful business and long hours are not uncommon during busy periods.
Hospital pharmacists are core members of an interdisciplinary medical team, contributing to patient care alongside physicians, nurses, nutritionists, therapists, and other professionals. They may specialize in a number of areas such as oncology, pain management, emergency medicine, infectious disease, and critical care. Preparing and dispensing medications (including complex formulations) are essential tasks, though hospital pharmacists also have the opportunity to contribute to policy development, quality improvement, compliance, research, and other efforts through committee participation and/or leadership. Hospital pharmacists may or may not work directly with patients.
Functioning as a member of a larger team as a hospital pharmacist has its pros and cons. You are able to collaborate with numerous fellow care providers every day, but lose some of the leadership and autonomy that a retail role affords. Some hospitals have a pharmacist on staff 24/7, which may be a positive or negative trait based on your specific situation.
In May 2014, the median annual wage for all pharmacists was $120,950 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Of the top 4 industries investigated (department stores, grocery stores, pharmacies and drug stores, and private general and medical hospitals), department store pharmacists earned the most ($126,310) while private general medical and surgical hospital pharmacists earned the least ($118,980).
Pharmacist jobs are expected to grow 3% from 2014 to 2024 as the large population of baby boomers continues to age and require ongoing care, new drugs are developed with scientific research, and the access to health insurance expands. One note of caution to retail pharmacists: The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of pharmacists in this setting to decrease slightly as mail order and online pharmacy sales increase, making it especially important to maintain your transferrable skills.
Mai Nguyen, Pharm.D. – Pharmacy Careers & Pharmacist Practice Settings
Amita Biswas – Pharmacy Practice Fields
Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook – Pharmacists