How New Graduates Can Break into Specialty Pharmacy

A discussion at NASP 2020 looked at how pharmacy graduates can get a start in the specialty pharmacy field.

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, during a session at the 2020 National Association of Specialty Pharmacy (NASP) Annual Meeting and Expo Virtual Experience.

The panel included Amy Nash, PharmD, MDA, 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 Pittsburg School of Pharmacy; and Nicholas Cashman, PharmD/MBA candidate, 2022, student president NASP-SASP National Executive Committee.

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

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, according to the panel. In addition, residencies can provide a bridge for recent graduates into the specialty pharmacy world and can provide a competitive advantage over other applicants vying for the same position.

“Specialty as an industry continues to evolve,” Ogurchak said in an interview with Pharmacy Times. “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. Fellowships are another opportunity for graduates, according to Regan. These fellowships are usually academic and/or industry.

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, according to the panel. 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.

Breaking into the world of specialty pharmacy is still possible if a recent graduate decides not to do a residency or fellowship. If a student wishes to break right into the workforce after graduation, they should seek out available internships, independent study opportunities, and consider an advanced degree, according to the panel.

“We all know there are not enough residency and fellowships in existence to provide for every graduate upon graduation,” Regan said 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,” Cashman said.

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,” Ogurchak said. “How to engage, how to interact with other professionals make sure that you’re able to present yourself in a way that’s conducive from a career perspective. More importantly though, 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.”