Discover Nontraditional Pharmacy Practices from Industry to Specialty Pharmacy and More

Pharmacy CareersPharmacy Careers Spring 2011

Specialty pharmacies are molding the future of pharmacy and they offer the opportunity to practice clinical pharmacy. As you contemplate your next step, here are several nontraditional options available to you.

Pharmacists can be found in virtually every aspect of health care. In today's pharmacy practice, there are more and more students graduating from pharmacy school than ever before.

Pharmacy students are getting more clinical training earning their doctoral degrees. The days of “lick, stick, and pour”—with some counseling mixed in—are not satisfying for today’s students. They are looking for careers with a pure clinical focus to management.


Pharmaceutical manufacturers employ pharmacists in great numbers to lead the manufacturing of their products and to conduct research and aid in the development of new compounds. Many manufacturers have established critical positions for pharmacists whose responsibilities include acting as medical science liaisons. These positions fill a critical aspect of communicating specific information regarding technical and clinical aspects of a product to varied health care providers. Other pharmacists have started out “carrying a bag” or as detail men or women, calling on physician offices to discuss the features and benefits of particular products.


Wholesalers play an important role in pharmacy beyond the distribution of products. All major wholesalers provide critical services to the multiple classes of pharmacy they distribute to. AmerisourceBergen, for example, has developed 2 voluntary groups called Family Pharmacy and Good Neighbor Pharmacy. Under these banners, pharmacy customers are offered a myriad of services, including pharmacy systems, central fill, advertising, signage, private label, generics, auto-shipping, price management, and planograms. The list goes on and on. Pharmacists who are employed at the wholesaler’s headquarters play a key role in managing these programs.

Managed Care

Another growing role for pharmacists is in managed care. With nearly 90% of all pharmaceuticals being managed by some third-party plan, pharmacists play a key role in determining the appropriate use of limited financial resources. A managed care pharmacist may work in mail order, reviewing drug utilization, counseling physicians on appropriate use of medications, or negotiating formulary placement. Pharmacists are employed by health maintenance organizations, prescription benefits managers, or insurance companies.

Specialty Pharmacy

Specialty pharmacy is a great place to practice clinical pharmacy. Specialty pharmacy continues to grow because a lot of the new medications coming to market are biotech products. Specialty pharmacy is a great practice setting for biotech medications to be launched by pharmaceutical manufacturers. Biotech products typically require clinical management due to more stringent FDA regulations. The FDA and Biotech Pharmaceutical Manufacturers mandate clinical programs such as medication therapy management (MTM) and Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies (REMS). These new clinical programs make specialty pharmacy a perfect practice setting for today’s pharmacy graduates.

Pharmacists who practice specialty pharmacy become specialists in disease state management and cutting-edge biotech products. This creates a unique opportunity for pharmacists to play a huge role in the launch of new therapies and medications. Pharmacists can also build strong relationships with patients and help provide critical clinical outcome data directly to the pharmaceutical manufacturers. The feedback and information has been used to improve adherence and compliance. These results are directly related to MTM and REMS programs.

Pharmacy margins continue to decline year after year. One solution to the problem is getting reimbursement for clinical services. Specialty pharmacies are now getting paid for their clinical services because of the improvement in patient outcomes. In fact, it is safe to say that specialty pharmacies are molding the future practice of pharmacy. Pharmacist surveys are seeing an increase in job satisfaction for pharmacists who practice specialty pharmacy. New pharmacist graduates should take a long hard look at specialty pharmacy as a career option because they get to put their knowledge and skills to use in improving patient outcomes while being on the cutting edge of the practice of pharmacy.

There’s More

With the consolidation in the drugstore industry, chains and other institutional pharmacies have risen in prominence. Pharmacists can be found in all levels of management including operations, marketing, managed care, purchasing, information systems, and administration. Rounding out opportunities in pharmacy are the very rewarding positions available in government, public health services, military academia, and professional associations.

Many students who have studied pharmacy and are looking forward to a career in the field still have to fight the public’s impression of pharmacist as that man or woman standing behind the counter at the corner drugstore, silently preparing one prescription after the other. Although retail practice dominates by sheer numbers, the reality is that pharmacists play critical roles in many other areas related to health care.

Our best advice to students is to use your residencies and internships wisely and experience as much as you can while still in pharmacy school. Do not hesitate to reach out and ask pharmacists outside of traditional retail for a few hours of their time, and get exposed to as much as you can. Most pharmacists are very proud of their contributions to the profession—and you’ll find them very willing to coach and mentor the future leaders of their chosen profession. Sometimes you just have to ask. %u25CF

Dan Steiber is the editor-in-chief of Specialty Pharmacy Times, published by Pharmacy Times, and a principal of D2 Pharma Consulting LLC. Quintin Jessee is director specialty pharmacy consulting for D2 Pharma Consulting LLC and has more than 10 years of senior management experience in specialty pharmacy operations.

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