Industry Professionals Highlight Pharmacy Specialties as Career Options

Pharmacy CareersPharmacy Careers Spring 2020
Volume 14
Issue 1

Pharmacy students have more career options than they may realize, according to pharmacy professionals at a presentation held at the ASHP 54th Midyear Clinical Meeting and Exhibition.

Pharmacy students have more career options than they may realize, according to pharmacy professionals at a presentation held at the ASHP (American Society of Health-System Pharmacists) 54th Midyear Clinical Meeting and Exhibition in Las Vegas, Nevada, last December.

Nine speakers discussed their pharmacy careers and options for students pursuing the field, including specialties from pharmacy informatics to rural pharmacy practice, medication safety pharmacy, and other areas of expertise, during a “Career Pearls for Students” session.


Barry McClain, PharmD, MS, director of pharmacy information systems at Aurora Health Center-Brookfield in Wisconsin, opened the session with an explanation of pharmacy informatics. According to McClain, he uses computers to manage data at the intersection of information, technology, and people.

Most pharmacy informatics is driven by the main pharmacy system, McClain said, but it can also interact with clinical and nonclinical applications, medical records, automation technology, and technical infrastructure and hardware. There are many opportunities within the informatics field, concluded McClain, including rotations, and residencies; database management; electronic health records in nearly all medical facilities; consulting and professional organizations; and academia.


Next, Wesley D. Kufel, PharmD, BCIDP, BCPS, AAHIVP, clinical assistant professor at Binghamton University School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences in Johnson City, New York, took the stage to discuss infectious disease (ID) pharmacy. “I thought it was so interesting to learn about the different types of bacteria,” said Kufel when asked how he became interested in the field.

As with informatics, Kufel said there are many opportunities for pharmacists interested in ID pharmacy, including antimicrobial stewardship, ID consultations, and ID clinic pharmacies. He advised students to participate in an elective course on IDs if possible, as well as to build a network with practicing ID pharmacists.


For students interested in taking on a challenging range of responsibilities, Brandon R. Shank, PharmD, MPH, BCOP, recommended hematology and oncology pharmacy. Shank is a clinical pharmacy specialist at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Roles and responsibilities for pharmacists in this field can be broad, Shank said, including treatment decisions, medication management, symptom management, supportive care, and survivorship. Although the responsibilities are wide-ranging, Shank said he spends up to 95% of his time on patient care.

Finally, Shank said, “I think professional organization involvement is essential to progress our profession, both on the lobbying front and as a professional.”


In the midst of the opioid crisis, Lindsay Wells, PharmD, BCPS, said pain management pharmacy is increasingly important. Wells, a clinical pharmacy specialist in pain management in the Lexington Veterans Affairs Health Care System in Kentucky, said she works under a scope of practice to prescribe, optimize, and monitor pharmacotherapy. The national focus, diverse practice settings, variety of disease states, and direct patient care all make it an exciting field, she added.

Wells advised students to take a pain management, mental health, or palliative care course elective; shadow pain management pharmacists; and identify a mentor to help achieve professional goals.


Amber Martirosov, PharmD, BCACP, BCPS, focused on the critical skills of an ambulatory care pharmacist, which she said includes critical thinking, problem solving, teamwork, communication, and health literacy.

Martirosov, an assistant clinical professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, said the disease states for ambulatory care pharmacists can be broad and include internal medicine, cardiology, infectious disease, oncology, pulmonary, and solid organ transplant. That diversity, she added, is part of what drew her to the specialty.

Martirosov encouraged students to gain experience while still in school by participating in rotations, shadowing, and taking advantage of educational opportunities. In addition, she said, they should focus on skills development, get involved with pharmacy organizations, and pursue residency training.


Despite her nontraditional path to the pharmacy field, Amy Holmes, PharmD, BCPPS, said she finds pediatric pharmacy extremely rewarding. Although Holmes is a neonatal intensive care unit staff pharmacist at Brenner Children’s Hospital in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, she said pediatric pharmacy opportunities exist in both ambulatory clinics and hospital settings.

Handling pediatric patients presents unique challenges, Holmes said, including answering drug information questions from parents and caregivers; developing medication

regimens; providing education and mentorship; and ensuring evidence-based practice.

Holmes’ key advice for students included finding their passion, seeking out mentors, and continuing to learn, even after graduation.


For pharmacy students with a high tolerance for chaos and a calm demeanor, David Zimmerman, PharmD, BCPS, BCCCP, recommended emergency medicine. In emergency situations, pharmacists can direct clinical activities, including resuscitation, antimicrobial stewardship, and toxicology; dispensing medications; and overseeing medication safety.

Although many future pharmacists might think first and foremost of hospital emergency departments, Zimmerman emphasized that not all emergency pharmacists are the same. Some may focus on trauma or nontrauma situations, as well as adult patients, pediatric patients, or both. Zimmerman recommended that interested students delve into blogs for more information on the daily activities of emergency pharmacists.


Although all pharmacists have a role to play in medication safety, Michael C. Dejos, PharmD, BCPS, DPLA, said medication safety pharmacists play a vital role in advocating for patients, educating patients, and strategizing with patients for their medication use.

In his role as system medication safety officer at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare in Memphis, Tennessee, Dejos said his responsibilities include attending safety rounds, precepting, writing policies, implementing prevention strategies, and much more. Working with practitioners is an important skill, he added, to resolve acute events.

Dejos’ advice for students included assuming positive intentions, listening to patients to understand their needs, and finding things to be grateful for each day.


Although rural pharmacy practice presents with unique challenges, Todd Lemke, PharmD, CDE, said it can be particularly rewarding, given the great need for practitioners in medically underserved communities.

Opportunities for pharmacists in these environments include interdisciplinary practice, the ability to practice at the top of their licensure, and excellent prospects for leadership, Lemke said. He also added, with a laugh, that rural pharmacy practice is a great chance to own a cow and get more comfortable with nature.

Lemke concluded that in his practices at 2 critical access hospitals in central Minnesota, he has had the chance to truly get to know his community, as well as start much-needed new programs.


In one of the most expensive and needed roles for pharmacists, Megan Johnson, PharmD, RPh, said specialty pharmacy is complicated, high-touch, and costly. Specialty pharmacists engage with patients with complex, chronic, or rare conditions, the treatment of which can cost between $10,000 and $100,000 annually.

In her role as a clinical oncology pharmacist for the Summa Health system in Ohio, Johnson said she counsels patients, conducts medication reviews, answers questions, performs data collections, collaborates across treatment teams, works with patients who need financial assistance, and completes many other tasks.

Board certification may be a good option for students interested in specialty pharmacy, Johnson said. She also echoed advice from other speakers, including that students should seek out educational opportunities and pursue further postgraduate training.

Finally, Johnson concluded, regardless of which area of pharmacy students are interested in, they should have fun. There are many options in the pharmacy field, she said, and it’s important to explore all of them to find the best fit.


McClain B, Kufel W, Shank B, Wells L, et al. Career pearls for students. Presented at: American Society of Health-System Pharmacists 54th Midyear Clinical Meeting and Exhibition; Las Vegas, NV; December 8, 2019.

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