A More Competitive Pharmacy Career

MAY 11, 2018
Pharmacy is a tough field, no doubt. Floods of new graduates contributing to declining demand, and decreased reimbursement that makes it tough for pharmacies to pay their bills, and it is no wonder that pharmacists often have high levels of stress. While pharmacy is a great job, it is best to expand your knowledge, and skills so that you can not only work in a traditional pharmacy role, but are also qualified for nontraditional roles, and roles where a company might want someone with a PharmD, an MD, or any other number of professional healthcare degrees. Those can be tough skills to acquire when you are working full-time, but it is possible.

Here are some ideas to get you moving in the right directions:
 
PRN Work
No, this isn’t just to work you on your day off. A PRN job can be a great way to get a taste of a different area of pharmacy that is not like your current practice area without having to commit to it. Furthermore, many employers would have tougher requirements, and more competition for a full-time position in that area than a PRN position, since most people are interested in a more stable job. For example, you might work in hospital pharmacy but want to get more experience in community pharmacy so you can be more competitive for those jobs, if needed.

If you don’t really ‘need’ the PRN position, you can be more picky about the type of community job you take. You can be sure you are working for a good company, and an even better one that is doing innovative work in the community realm. Because you also need time off to recharge your batteries, I wouldn’t recommend working at a PRN job anymore than once or twice a month if you are also working full-time.
 
Advanced Degrees
A graduate degree can be a great way to make yourself more competitive for nontraditional jobs, and even many within the realm of hospital or community pharmacy. With online programs, you can complete 1 or 2 courses per semester, on your own time, and so can easily continue working full-time while you do so. Here are some ideas:
  1. Master of Business Administration or Master of Healthcare Administration: This degree is almost a necessity for upper-level management jobs, and can be transferable to many other jobs too. For example, the drug industry often hires PharmD/MBA graduates as medical science liaisons. If you get creative, you might be able to land a job at a company that might not often hire pharmacists, like a management consulting company. If you are looking for a program, be sure to look for a) AACSB accreditation, to ensure it is a quality school, b) the flexibility to continue working, and c) affordability. Taking 1 course per semester, and considering my current employer reimburses about half of it, I end up spending roughly $3,000 per year on an MBA program—an excellent return on investment.
  2. Master of Public Health: There don’t seem to be nearly as many PharmD/MPH jobs out there, but these 2 degrees would put you in a great position to work in a variety of fields. HEOR (health economics and outcomes research), government agencies (FDA, CDC, etc), and global health groups (WHO, GAVI) all value this unique skill set. 
  3. Master of Science: Master of Science programs can open the door to different careers. For example, the online Clinical Toxicology program at the University of Florida could help you land a job in a hospital drug information center, a poison control center, or even the CDC or FDA.
Lean/Six Sigma
Healthcare is extremely inefficient and costly, and Lean/Six Sigma was initially adopted from other industries to try to address the reasons why, and to reduce cost while improving quality and outcomes. There are levels of certification called ‘belts’ (similar to karate belts—yellow, green, black) that are intended to prepare you for different levels of involvement in a quality improvement project. This is such a highly sought-after skill that many health systems hire individuals full-time to do nothing but practice these techniques within the organization. There are many online programs, and overall the costs are minimal (a few hundred dollars for even a black belt). Universities often offer the courses, but companies such as MSI offer them as well.
 
Specialty Certifications
One thing that can be tough about obtaining a certification through the Board of Pharmacy Specialties is that you either have to have a residency or several years of experience in the field before you can sit for the exam. However, there are other certifications out there that will give you more options, and while they have an experience requirement, you might be able to fulfill it through a PRN job or your current role. Examples include Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE), HIV credentialing (AAHIVP), and Asthma Educator Certified (AE-C). These specialty certifications can make you more competitive for a job in that specific field ,and might help you move into other roles within your current organization.
 

With all the career options available now, there is no reason why you need to feel stuck. In fact, most pharmacists I’ve met have switched either jobs, careers (to a different area of pharmacy) or both, numerous times. It makes for a lot more interesting work when you don’t have to do the exact same thing for years, and years. If you want to find a different area of pharmacy (or another career), find someone that is already where you want to be, and get their secrets to success too.

Alex Evans, PharmD, BCGP
Alex Evans, PharmD, BCGP
Alex Evans, PharmD, CGP, works in community pharmacy in Jacksonville, Florida, and is preceptor at the University of Florida and Florida AM University. He graduated from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro with a BS in Biology and graduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree. He has worked in both the community and long-term care settings. He can be reached at alex.evans.pharmd@gmail.com
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