Op-Ed: Nontraditional Pharmacy Career Paths Continue to Gain Traction

Pharmacy CareersSpring 2023
Volume 17
Issue 1

Pharmacy benefit managers offer mentorship, training opportunities, and professional advancement beyond what's available in traditional pharmacy careers.

Ask ChatGPT why a pharmacy student should consider working at a pharmacy benefit manager (PBM), and the generative chatbot will swiftly weave an argument explaining why the career path is gaining popularity among PharmD graduates. The reasons for this include diverse career options, having an impact on patient care, exposure to the broader health care industry, competitive compensation, and flexibility.

Career paths illustration | Image credit: Sergey Nivens - stock.adobe.com

Career paths illustration | Image credit: Sergey Nivens - stock.adobe.com

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook, more than 320,000 pharmacists are employed in the United States. Pharmacies and hospitals employ two-thirds of pharmacists in the workforce, and the outlook for job growth is “below average,” at just 2% from 2021 to 2031.1

Although you cannot pinpoint the percentage of pharmacists employed by PBMs in the US Bureau of Labor Statistics data, I assure you that the momentum seen through 2021, when ChatGPT’s training stopped, has continued. Significant capital investment in independent PBMs is driving the industry forward, and opportunities for professional development and making a positive societal impact are clear and present.

PBMs Offer A Diverse Range of Career Paths From Clinical to Sales

In my experience, the career path for a pharmacist in a PBM is defined by the type of work an individual wants and is willing to do. After 6 years of study to earn my PharmD degree, I did a fellowship, which was rare at the time. I was trained in a pharmaceutical manufacturing setting for sales, medical communications, and marketing. Although I loved the business side, I didn’t want to work in the pharmaceutical industry. Joining a PBM was a great alternative.

By entering a PBM, you’ll be exposed to formulary design and management, review processes for expensive medications used for complex conditions, and other drug therapy and utilization management programs. You’ll put your academic skills to use while improving drug coverage and quality of care through adherence.

Compensation Is Performance Based

In a PBM, whether you manage clinical programs or advise clients on effective and safe use of prescription drugs, there is no glass ceiling limiting you from moving into a management role or the executive level. It wasn’t long ago that I wrote an article about how pharmacists spending less time with patients is hurting the retail industry. The situation has only deteriorated in the retail setting over the past year, which is why pharmacists have increasingly looked to hospitals, consulting, or PBMs as alternative careers.

With a PBM, your compensation is driven by your performance and the overall performance of your company. Your workday and compensation will not be influenced by factors outside of your control, such as difficulty hiring, retail foot traffic, and store sales.2

PBMs Offer Broad Exposure and Professional Growth to a Health Care

PBMs play a critical role in claims administration, ensuring health plan members have access to the right medications at the right time and at a manageable cost. Pharmacists working inside PBMs directly affect member care and have exposure to new technology and systems that are being developed to deliver the next generation of benefit design, including long-term care, population health, and pharmacogenomics programs.

If you do a fellowship at a PBM today, you’ll likely have a flexible, hybrid work environment that provides exposure to commercial, Medicare, and Medicaid lines of business. Various stakeholders in the pharmaceutical supply chain connect with one another, share data, and deliver medications from the pharmaceutical manufacturers to the patient.

In summary, if you’re a student with a keen interest in either the clinical side or the sales, marketing, and account management sides of the pharmacy business, a PBM can offer you a challenging and rewarding career path. PBMs offer mentorship and training opportunities in addition to professional advancement beyond what’s available in the settings pharmacists commonly work in.

About the Author

Matthew Gibbs, PharmD, is responsible for several of the core operations at Capital Rx. He has direct oversight for client services, client operations, benefit administration, customer contact and clinical call centers, and clinical operations and services. He is also involved in commercial activities to support the sales organization and the growth of the pharmacy benefit administration segment. Before joining Capital Rx, he worked in executive positions at Walgreens, Medco, and Anthem. He also served as president of EnvisionRx for 5 years and most recently led the pharmacy consulting practice at Aon.


1. Pharmacists. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed February 15, 2023. https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/pharmacists.htm#tab-1

2. Antrim A. Walmart, CVS announce changes to pharmacy hours due to staffing struggles. Pharmacy Times. January 30, 2023. Accessed February 15, 2023. https://www.pharmacytimes.com/view/walmart-cvs-announce-changes-to-pharmacy-hours-due-to-staffing-struggles

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