Career as a Pharmacist

The Ladder

How to Advance as a Pharmacist

Many pharmacists elect to scale back on their work once they've reached their personal pinnacle. But how does one get there in the first place?

Like in other healthcare careers, pharmacists can get ahead by narrowing their focus, continually educating themselves and seeking out relationships with their colleagues locally, regionally and nationally. Before we jump into how to jump ahead, let's check out where pharmacists stack up with their peers in similar medical professions.

Here are some other careers that pre-pharmacy students should consider. One fact off the top: Pharmacists, who earn a median salary of $120,950, supervise pharmacy technicians and work alongside, sometimes reporting to, physicians.


DegreeMedian Salary (2014)Notable
Biochemists, biophysicistsdoctoral/professional$81,480These highly-educated professionals look at (and beyond) the healthcare field from a cellular level... Many hone in on the chemistry involved in metabolism, reproduction, growth and heredity... There were only 31,350 in the country at the BLS' last count.
Medical scientistsdoctoral/professional$76,980Comprising physicians, dentists and other advanced healthcare professionals, medical scientists use their acumen in the "R and D" realm of human health... They be rooted in conducting clinical trials, gathering data on the effectiveness of a treatment, for example... Many work for colleges, universities and professional schools.
Pharmacy technicianshigh school diploma$29,320The pharmacists' subordinate, "pharm techs" learn the ins and outs of the industry, and many have designs on becoming full-fledged pharmacists themselves... The techs may prepare medications for their bosses to distribute to patients with prescriptions while also handling less glamorous work.
Physicians, surgeonsdoctoral/professional$187,200Doctors are typically the leader in the hospital setting, though the majority run their own, private offices... Their standing comes, in part, from their educational path: as little as seven (or as much as 14) years of schooling after college... More and more, medical school students are mixed in with pharmacy program students.
Registered nursesassociate’s$65,470Known commonly as RNs, these medical professionals are a level below their nurse practitioner (NP) peers... The majority work directly with patients in the hospital setting, and all need to be licensed and registered... Generally, a bulk of their time is spent managing a patient's care, maintaining records.

Three Steps to Advance

  • 1. Specialize.

    Choosing one area of pharmacy to master could be your route to separating yourself from the pack. Here are some professional societies to consider.

    • American Society of Consultant Pharmacists
    • Clinical Pharmacology
    • American Society for Pharmacy Law
    • Hematology/Oncology Pharmacy Association
    • National Community Pharmacists Association
    • American College of Clinical Pharmacy
    • FIP's Young Pharmacists Group
    • Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy
    • Industry Pharmacists Organization
    • National Association of Nuclear Pharmacies
    • Society of Veterinary Hospital Pharmacists

    And here are some special interest groups to consider.

    • Compounding
    • Nuclear Pharmacy Practice
    • Diabetes Management
    • Pain, Palliative Care and Addiction
    • Immunizing Pharmacists
    • Preceptor
    • Medical Home/ACO
    • Transitions of Care
    • Medication Management
  • 2. Certify.

    Short of pursuing a second professional or master's degree, gaining board certification can only help pharmacists move ahead, if only in a particular area of practice. Here are some national certification boards.

    • National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators
    • Commission for Certification in Geriatric Pharmacy
    • National Asthma Educator Board
    • Board of Pharmacy Specialties
    • National Certification Board for Anticoagulation Providers
    • The American Board of Applied Toxicology
    • The American Academy of Clinical Toxicology
  • 3. Network.

    Becoming an active participant in your home state or regional association can help build long-lasting connections within the field.

    Also consider joining your state's society of health-system pharmacists.

Poll: What Separates a Great Pharmacist from an Average One?

Just as no two pharmacists are identical, no two pharmacists are of the same caliber. What, then, is the difference between a great pharmacist and a so-so peer? Of course, there is no one correct answer. Here are four.

Sophia de Monte (LIU Brooklyn, 1981): "Knowing how to use the technology available to us to find the answers; taking the initiative to continue expanding one's knowledge base specific to their area of practice; and understanding our patients' needs and having patience."

Vincent A. Hartzell (Wilkes University, 2005): "A good pharmacist actively engages their patients. They ensure that their patients understand their health condition, how to utilize their medications, and are active members of their healthcare team."

Sally Rafie (University of California-San Francisco, 2008): "It really just comes down to caring. All pharmacists have the skills and knowledge. If they don’t, they will check their resources, talk to a colleague, or refer the patient. So it comes down to caring that makes one great. Going that extra mile for the patient can make a world of difference. Our healthcare system is so complex and challenging to navigate. Any help patients can get with navigating their medications means a lot."

Jack Korbutov (Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, 2011): "Always on the chase for new info, still feeling the energy and compassion for patients you felt the day that you graduated. Many pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals in general, get into a routine and don't want to offer the best. Healthcare is ever changing. If you don't change with it, you will be left in the dust."

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