Giving Back Through Teaching, Patient Care: Pursuing a Career as a Clinical Faculty Member
Deciding on a career path after completing pharmacy training can be one of the most difficult decisions of a professional’s career. Students who seek advanced training through a residency or fellowship position are often enticed to do so to either practice in a clinical setting or conduct research. While completing this training, it is common to develop or realize an affinity for teaching or mentoring younger generations of pharmacy students and learners.1 For those who realize this, a career in academia may be a fruitful venture.
Clinical faculty positions in academia can vary widely, but all generally consist of the primary responsibilities of teaching, service, and scholarship, also known as the academic triad. Teaching involves mentoring or fostering the future generation of pharmacy students in both the classroom (didactic) and clinical precepting (experiential) settings, whereas service involves clinical practice responsibilities and committee and organization involvement, and scholarship involves research, grants, writing, and review activities.1
Although most of the time in most clinical faculty positions is spent teaching, time spent in other areas may vary based on individual interests and experience.1 Although challenging, a career in clinical pharmacy academia can be a rewarding experience, with some unique aspects and considerations.
Mentoring and teaching pharmacy students is generally the most appealing factor for individuals pursuing a career in academia. New faculty starting out will usually receive teaching assignments in the core curriculum that match with their practice specialty. At most colleges or schools of pharmacy, clinical faculty with doctor of pharmacy degrees will teach therapeutics topics, skills labs, recitations, or other courses that match the needs of the college with the expertise and interests of the faculty member. There may also be opportunities to create or teach elective courses.
A large portion of teaching responsibilities for clinical faculty is in the experiential setting, which involves precepting students at their clinical practice site. Depending on the faculty member’s specialty, this includes precepting for Introductory Pharmacy Practice Experiences (IPPEs) and Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences (APPEs). Core APPE rotations that faculty may precept include inpatient general medicine, ambulatory patient care, hospital or health system APPEs, and community pharmacy APPEs.2 Faculty may also precept elective rotations in their area of expertise, such as infectious diseases, pediatrics, academia, and drug information.
As practicing pharmacists, clinical faculty members are generally assigned a practice site in their specialty area as a clinical service. Because colleges of pharmacy rely on faculty of various specialties to have a well-balanced delivery of their curriculum, those specializing in nearly any practice area—including ambulatory care, internal medicine, infectious diseases, oncology, and more—can enter academia.
Notably, ambulatory care and internal medicine clinical specialists are well positioned for academia roles because of their versatility and wide range of knowledge of many topics in the curriculum. They are also typically assigned to precept core APPE rotations.
Responsibilities in the area of clinical service typically involve spending a set percentage of time in the hospital or clinic setting, depending on the specialty. The time spent at their practice site may vary by institution or the faculty member’s goals and interests, but it is generally only part-time to allow for additional time to be spent in other areas of academia. These faculty participate in multidisciplinary patient care depending on the site’s practice model. This may include rounding with an inpatient team, seeing patients in a clinic, or other responsibilities similar to a clinical pharmacist.
Service may also involve responsibilities to their academic institution, such as participating on school or college committees. Additionally, service to the profession, such as advocacy or involvement in professional organizations, is also highly encouraged.3
Finally, research and scholarly activities round out the academic triad and responsibilities of a clinical faculty member. Research has a broad definition but typically includes activities, such as retrospective and prospective research studies, grants and contracts, posters or meeting abstracts, publishing scholarly manuscripts (review articles, research studies, etc), and book chapters.
Although research activities in the clinical practice realm may seem more commonplace, clinical faculty members often engage in the systematic study of teaching and learning processes, and their work is made public after peer review.4 This type of research helps advance best teaching practices, which are at the core of a clinical faculty member’s role. Depending on their interests, they may engage in many different types of research over the course of their career.
There are many pathways for those looking to pursue a career in academic pharmacy as a clinical faculty member. One of the most straightforward methods is to enter academia following completion of residency or fellowship training. Most clinical faculty enter their positions following their postgraduate year 1 and postgraduate year 2 residencies.4 Some may complete academic or other types of fellowships in lieu of or in addition to residency.
Regardless of the pathway, identifying opportunities for exposure to the academic setting throughout a professional’s learning career through elective coursework, academia APPEs, residency teaching certificate programs, and teaching opportunities will provide beneficial experiences.1 Clinical faculty are able to teach, care for patients, research, and work to advance the profession of pharmacy. With this variety, no day is the same, and a career in academic pharmacy is rewarding, given its varied nature and the ability to educate and mentor future generations of pharmacists.
Taylor D. Steuber, PHARMD, BCPS, is an associate clinical professor of pharmacy practice at the Auburn University Harrison School of Pharmacy in Huntsville, Alabama.
Meredith L. Howard, PHARMD, BCPS, is the director for hospital practice and an associate professor of pharmacotherapy at the University of North Texas Health Science.
1. Brooks, AD. Considering academic pharmacy as a career: opportunities and resources for students, residents, and fellows. Curr Pharm Teach Learn. 2009;1(1):2-9. doi:10.1016/j.cptl.2009.05.001
2. Accreditation standards and key elements for the professional program in pharmacy leading to the doctor of pharmacy degree: standards 2016. Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education. Accessed August 30, 2021. https://www.acpe-accredit.org/pdf/Standards2016FINAL.pdf
3. Draugalis JR, DiPiro JT, Zeolla MM, Schwinghammer TL. A career in academic pharmacy: opportunities, challenges, and rewards. Am J Pharm Educ. 2006;70(1):17. doi:10.5688aj700117
4. Franks AM, Payakachat N. Positioning the scholarship of teaching and learning squarely on the center of the desk. Am J Pharm Educ. 2020;84(9):ajpe8046. doi:10.5688/ajpe8046