Pharmacy Times

Nontraditional Pharmacy Practices

Author: Dan Steiber, RPh, and Quintin Jessee, RPh, BSPharm


The pathway to a career in pharmacy can also include nontraditional roles in fast growing areas such as specialty pharmacy, as well as in industry, managed care, and management opportunities.


Pharmacists can be found in virtually every aspect of health care. While the vast majority of pharmacists work behind the counter in retrail, there are other great options for students to consider, such as managing an in-patient hospital pharmacy or servicing a long-term care facility. 

Many of today’s students are looking for careers with a pure clinical focus or those leading to management. Here are some excellent pathways to those goals.

Industry Opportunities

Pharmaceutical manufacturers employ pharmacists in great numbers to lead the manufacturing of their products and conduct research and the development of new compounds. Many manufacturers have established critical positions for pharmacists with responsibilities including medical science liaison. These positions fill an important role in communicating specific information regarding technical and clinical aspects of a product to a variety of health care providers. Other pharmacists have started out “carrying a bag”—or as detail men or women—calling on physician offices to discuss the features and benefits of particular products.

DistributIon OptIons

Wholesalers play an important role in pharmacy beyond the distribution of products. All major wholesalers provide critical services to multiple classes of pharmacy. AmerisourceBergen, for example, has developed 2 voluntary groups called “Family Pharmacy” and “Good Neighbor Pharmacy.” Under these banners, customers are offered a myriad of services including pharmacy systems, central fill, advertising, signage, private label, generics, auto-shipping, price management, and planograms. Pharmacists who are employed at the wholesaler’s headquarters play a key role in managing these programs.

Managed Care Jobs

Another growing role for pharmacists is in managed care. With nearly 90% of all pharmaceuticals being managed by some third-party plan, pharmacists play a key role in determining the appropriate use of limited financial resources. A managed care pharmacist may work in mail order, reviewing drug utilization, counseling physicians on appropriate use of medications, or negotiating formulary placements. Pharmacists are also employed by health maintenance organizations, Prescription Benefits Managers, and insurance companies.

SpecIalty Pharmacy Growth

Specialty pharmacy is a great place to practice clinical pharmacy. The field continues to grow because so many of the new medications coming to market are biotech products. Specialty pharmacy is a great practice setting for biotech medications to be launched by pharmaceutical manufacturers. Biotech products typically require clinical management due to more stringent FDA regulations. The FDA and Biotech Pharmaceutical Manufacturers mandate clinical programs such as Medication Therapy Management (MTM) and Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS).

Pharmacists who practice specialty pharmacy become specialists in disease state management and cutting-edge biotech products. It’s a unique opportunity for pharmacists to play a huge role in the launch of new therapies and medications. Pharmacists can also build strong relationships with patients as well as provide critical clinical outcome data directly to the pharmaceutical manufacturers. This feedback and information has been used to improve adherence and compliance.

Pharmacy margins continue to decline year after year. One solution to the problem is getting reimbursement for clinical services. Specialty pharmacies are now getting paid for their clinical services because of the improvement in patient outcomes. In fact, it is safe to say that specialty pharmacies are molding the future practice of pharmacy. Additionally, pharmacist surveys are seeing an increase in job satisfaction for pharmacists who practice specialty pharmacy. This career option lets students put their knowledge and skills to use in improving patient outcomes, while being on the cutting edge of pharmacy practice.

Management Roles

With the consolidation in the drugstore industry, chains and other institutional pharmacies have risen in prominence. Pharmacists can be found in all levels of management including operations, marketing, managed care, purchasing, information systems, and administration. Rounding out opportunities in pharmacy are the very rewarding positions of management roles in government, public health services, military academia, and professional associations.

For students looking forward to a career in pharmacy, it is still necessary to fight the public’s impression of pharmacist as that person behind the counter at the corner drugstore, preparing one prescription after the other. While retail practice dominates by sheer numbers, the reality is that pharmacists play critical roles in many other areas related to health care.

Do not hesitate to reach out and ask pharmacists outside of traditional retail for a few hours of their time, and gather firsthand accounts of nontraditional career paths. Most pharmacists in these settings are very proud of their contributions to the profession—and you’ll find them very willing to mentor the future leaders of pharmacy. 


Mr. Steiber is the editor-in-chief of Specialty Pharmacy Times, published by Pharmacy Times, and a Principal of D2 Pharma Consulting LLC. Quintin Jessee, RPh, BSPharm, of D2 Pharma Consulting LLC, is director of specialty pharmacy consulting with more than 10 years of senior management experience in specialty pharmacy operations.