Oncology Pharmacists’ Roles Continue to Expand Outside Traditional Scope

Pharmacy Practice in Focus: OncologyApril 2023
Volume 5
Issue 3

A panel of experts discuss how to define traditional vs nontraditional careers in oncology pharmacy.

Although the pharmacy landscape has been changing for more than 40 years, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the shift, offering practitioners more diverse and expansive roles. Many options—in academia, compounding, consulting, regulation, and pharmacogenomics—have long existed in the field, however. It’s simply that they were not commonly discussed as potential career paths with PharmD candidates. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019 there were 311,200 pharmacists working inthe United States. But that figure did not include the approximately 46,000 employed in nontraditional roles.1

Pharmacy Times: Call for Papers

Pharmacy Times Oncology EditionTM and Pharmacy Times Health-System EditionTM are seeking to expand our current coverage offerings to include peer reviewed research on clinical topics and treatment of different disease states.

The publications are seeking to focus on a wide range of therapeutic categories in the oncology and health-system pharmacy space to educate readers and translate innovative clinical discoveries into improved health outcomes for patients. This new focus on clinical research seeks to accelerate adaptation of new therapeutics, techniques, and technologies from the publication’s pages to the clinical setting.

The clinical manuscripts sought will examine different treatments for and management of the different disease states and pharmacologic interventions. Of particular interest are papers that highlight the role of the pharmacist within the overall health care team and provide insight into the impact pharmacists have on patient outcomes. These submissions will be peer-reviewed and published in upcoming editions of Pharmacy Times Oncology Edition and Pharmacy Times Health-System Edition.

Some clinical topics of interest include:

  • Transitions of Care
  • Immuno-oncology
  • Hematology
  • Breast Cancer
  • Lung Cancer
  • Leukemia/Lymphoma
  • Ovarian Cancer
  • Melanoma
  • Head and Neck Cancer
  • Antimicrobial Stewardship
  • Cardiovascular Disease
  • Renal Disease
  • Metabolic Disease
  • 340B
  • Biosimilar Adoption
  • Immunizations
  • HIV and Pre-exposure Prophylaxis

To send in research paper submissions or if you have any questions, please email Davy James (djames@pharmacytimes.com) or Alana Hippensteele (ahippensteele@mjhlifesciences.com).

Because there are questions about what is traditional and nontraditional in the profession, a panel of oncology pharmacists met to define the terms during a discussion moderated by Alana Hippensteele, managing editor of Pharmacy Times Oncology Edition. The panelists were Judith Alberto, MHA, RPh, BCOP, director of clinical initiatives at the Community Oncology Alliance; Kirollos S. Hanna, PharmD, BCPS, BCOP, FACCC, director of pharmacy at Minnesota Oncology and assistant professor of pharmacy at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota; Kevin Pang, PharmD, associate oncology scientist and medical writer at the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN); and Scott A. Soefje, PharmD, MBA, BCOP, FCCP, FHOPA, director of pharmacy cancer care at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

“In my mind, I see the traditional...[choices] as inpatient or outpatient. So when I graduated pharmacy school, I felt like they were my options,” Alberto said. “I could go to retail, work for CVS, work for a smaller outpatient pharmacy, or I could go inpatient. Now we have so much more [available], even in very traditional roles.”2 She also noted that the reach of pharmacy as a profession is expanding and now lends itself to a range of definitions about what is and is not traditional.

According to Hanna, the role of pharmacist has become more “unconventional, and pharmacy school students have begun to subspecialize.” This represents a change from the structure present in PharmD programs as recently as a decade ago.

Another nontraditional opportunity not usually mentioned is medical writing, Pang said. These positions can be fully virtual or hybrid. Other benefits of being a medical writer, at NCCN for instance, include being up to date with industry standards and constant learning. Among its drawbacks, though, may be the need to use a different skill set than the one taught at most pharmacy schools and the solitary nature of the work.3

For his part, Hanna said, he has begun to reach out to PharmD students at a nearby university when he needs research and writing assistance. The opportunity to coauthor an article for publication in a reputable journal or magazine helps students gain further professional exposure.

“We always say pharmacy [is] small. Oncology pharmacy [is] even smaller, so networking is critical,” Hanna pointed out. “Developing strong relationships with known thought leaders throughout the field is key, and [there are] numerous opportunities for students to get involved.”3

It is also good practice to learn to fill the needs that present themselves in health care or in health systems, Alberto said. As roles that pharmacists are uniquely qualified for become available, it is good to learn to adapt and fill those gaps because that helps providers better meet the needs of patients.

On the subject of burnout and the mass exodus of oncology pharmacists from the field, the panelists said that some of the underlying causes are unclear.

"The question I’m asking myself is, ‘Was I burned out 20 years ago and just didn’t know it?’ Or has something fundamentally changed over the last 5 or 6 or 10 years that’s changed the way employees and pharmacists want to do their work?” Soefje said. The answer? Pharmacists have always been pushed into new roles based on the needs of their health care system and patients. But those roles have continued to expand regardless of professionals’ capacity.

“You look at pharmacists who are traveling to conferences, who are maintaining their clinics and their clinical practice, who are publishing articles, who are precepting students and residents, who are doing these different and unique and great, unconventional things, but [they get] pulled into things that may not be related to their specific role, and...that is what I think is a key driver [of]...burnout or the exodus,” Soefje said.2

To retain pharmacists who may be affected by this extra, nontraditional work, the panelists suggested allocating some administrative tasks to pharmacy technicians. Additionally, such advances as artificial intelligence may alleviate the problem that keeps oncology pharmacists from expanding further.

Finally, Pang and Alberto noted that pharmacy schools would benefit from incorporating information about nontraditional roles into the curricula or providing shadowing opportunities in these roles. The full, 2-part conversation may be viewed at pharmacytimes.com.2,3


1. Hirsch J. Pharmacists in nontraditional roles are not included in Bureau of Labor Statistics count of working pharmacists. Pharmacy Times. February 14, 2023. Accessed March 15, 2023. https://www.pharmacytimes.com/view/pharmacists-in-nontraditional-roles-are-not-included-in-bureau-of-labor-statistics-count-of-working-pharmacists

2. Experts discuss advantages, disadvantages of switching to industry from oncology pharmacy practice. Pharmacy Times. March 10, 2023. Accessed March 15, 2023. https://www.pharmacytimes.com/view/experts-discuss-advantages-disadvantages-of-switching-to-industry-from-oncology-pharmacy-practice

3. Experts discuss their unconventional oncology pharmacy roles, other nontraditional career paths in the field. Pharmacy Times. March 3, 2023. Accessed March 15, 2023. https://www.pharmacytimes.com/view/experts-discuss-their-unconventional-oncology-pharmacy-roles-other-nontraditional-career-paths-in-the-field

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