A New Era for Pharmacists

Author: Fred M. Eckel, RPh, MS, Pharmacy Times Editor-in-Chief


I was leading a discussion with a group of community pharmacy residents recently. We were talking about the health care transformation and how the community pharmacist will have a new and exciting role to play. As I closed the discussion, I offered this observation: “What an exciting time to begin a career in pharmacy!” It is the same message I offer to the readers of Pharmacy Careers. You are coming into pharmacy at the beginning of a new era for pharmacists.

It is obvious that our current health care system cannot be sustained. Change is needed. That change will focus on increasing access and quality, while containing or reducing costs. That is exactly what pharmacists do. Numerous studies and demonstration projects have shown that when pharmacists get involved, costs go down while quality and patient satisfaction go up. These are the very things needed to improve our current health care system.

The fact that pharmacists are the most accessible and underutilized health care professionals is becoming well recognized. New programs to utilize the pharmacist are being proposed. Your pharmacy school curriculum is preparing you for these new roles. You are comfortable working as part of an interdisciplinary team. You will graduate with a strong knowledge base on the appropriate use of drugs. Since drugs, when used correctly, are one of the most cost-effective treatment modalities, you are well positioned to make immediate contributions.

Patients need to focus more attention on prevention and wellness. The health care system is recognizing this and is paying for preventive services. Immunizations are one area of preventive services where pharmacists will be playing a much larger role in the future—and you will be, too. The community pharmacy is becoming positioned as the neighborhood health center, in part because of immunization administration in pharmacies. Your role will become more consultative as the patient’s coach as well as the health educator for the community. Most of us went into pharmacy to give back to our communities, and now you will be able to do that in new ways.

Chronic disease is growing as people live longer. Pharmacists have demonstrated through the Asheville Project and the Ten City Challenge that we have an important role to play in helping to manage these conditions. Again, you are well prepared to undertake this role. It is for all of these reasons that I see exciting opportunities for our profession ahead.

Of course, these new opportunities are still limited, so not everyone will find an ideal job immediately. That means you will need to find a way to differentiate yourself. Some of you will do this by pursuing a residency. Others will use volunteer activity to gain new skills or improve your experiences. It really is who you know that is key to creating opportunities for yourself. Make yourself known to those who are doing the job you would like to have. Find out what they did to achieve their position. Ask them to mentor you.

Yes, I believe your future is bright, but you will have to create that future. You must realize that graduation does not mean that a great job is waiting for you. Instead, graduation means that you can now start to create that ideal job. Look at any position in terms of “How can I use this experience to help me advance in my career?”

Thinking of pharmacy as a career—and not just a job—is the place to begin. Careers evolve as we grow personally and professionally.

Sometimes we have to take risks to achieve what we want. We learn from our successes but we really learn more from our failures, so don’t be afraid to fail. For those willing to work hard, continue to grow, and take risks, the future is bright. Pharmacy has been a great career choice for me. I hope you find it is that way for yourself, too.


Mr. Eckel is a professor emeritus at the Eshelman School of Pharmacy, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is interim executive director of the North Carolina Association of Pharmacists.