During a session at the 2020 National Association of Specialty Pharmacy (NASP) Annual Meeting and Expo Virtual Experience, specialty pharmacy professionals and students discussed changes in the specialty pharmacy field and how new and recently graduated pharmacy students can break into the field.

The panel included Amy Nash, PharmD, MBA, CSP, president of Reliance Rx Specialty Pharmacy; Scott Guisinger, PharmD, CSP, director of specialty pharmacy Price Chopper & Market 32 Supermarkets; Bridget Regan, MBA, RPh, director of pharmacy business programs, assistant professor of the University of Pittsburgh School of Pharmacy; and Nicholas Cashman, PharmD/MBA candidate, 2022, student president of the NASPSASP National Executive Committee.

The session, titled “Careers in Specialty Pharmacy: How do I get started?” was monitored by Jonathan Ogurchak, PharmD, CSP, cofounder and CEO of STACK and educational consultant for NASP.

According to this panel, specialty pharmacy is a growing field with diverse job offerings at every level. Postgraduate opportunities can be an effective way for students to familiarize themselves with the field. In addition, residencies can provide a bridge for recent graduates into the specialty pharmacy world and offer a competitive advantage over other applicants vying for the same position.

“Specialty as an industry continues to evolve,” said Ogurchak. “If you look at the FDA’s pipeline, I know that they’re talking a little bit more about that over the next couple days of the [NASP] sessions here, but the majority of new pipeline drugs coming to the market are likely going to be fitting into a specialty category.”

Residency is not the only opportunity for recent pharmacy school graduates to break into the specialty pharmacy space. According to Regan, fellowships are another opportunity for graduates. These fellowships are usually academic and/or industry.

According to the panel, academic fellowships are typically research-focused in a specific clinical area. Usually, some level of teaching responsibilities is involved, and often, previous training, such as a residency, is required. Industry fellowships are frequently offered to new pharmacists upon graduation and explore many different aspects of the specialty pharmacy field, such as drug development, regulatory affairs, and marketing.

However, breaking into the specialty pharmacy world is still possible if a recent graduate decides not to do a residency or fellowship. According to the panel, if a student wishes to break right into the workforce after graduation, they should seek out available internships, independent study opportunities, or consider an advanced degree.
“We all know there are not enough residency and fellowships in existence to provide for every graduate upon graduation,” said Regan during the presentation. “So now is the time you can look at what are the opportunities in the workforce.”

Regardless of whether a graduate decides to pursue a residency, fellowship, or go straight into the workforce, they should also make an effort to network and have an endpoint in mind. Even first-year pharmacy students should seek out opportunities that may interest them.

“Networking is one of the most important things you can do right now to prepare for post-graduation and what that shorter-term schedule looks like for you in terms of next steps for yourself,” said Cashman.

Ogurchak further emphasized the intangible importance of networking and making connections in the field.

“It’s one of those things that you’re not going to focus on in the classroom, but it’s something that you can definitely learn from this type of experience [NASP] even in a virtual type of format,” he said. “How to engage, how to interact with other professionals, and make sure that you’re able to present yourself in a way that’s conducive from a career perspective. I think that it’s important when you’re looking at specialty as a career choice, for student pharmacists in particular. They’re not necessarily going to be learning about every single drug that might be dispensed in a specialty setting, but the important thing is to be able to learn how to adapt and translate information.”