Seeking Employment Outside Pharmacy: A Potential Path Forward in a Saturated Market

Pharmacy CareersFall 2021
Volume 15
Issue 02
Pages: 10

As the number of pharmacy schools and pharmacy graduates continues to grow,1 it becomes increasingly difficult for those with pharmaceutical education to find jobs in their chosen field, and many may feel they need to look elsewhere to utilize the skills they learned as students.

During a session at the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy 2021 Annual Meeting titled “Will My Students Have a Job After Graduation? Providing ‘Outside the Box’ Workforce Solutions,” Sharon Park, PharmD, MEd, BCPS, associate professor of clinical and administrative sciences and assistant dean of academic affairs at the Notre Dame of Maryland University School of Pharmacy, explained there are alternative employment opportunities for pharmacists outside the pharmacy.2

“Currently, there’s a saturation of the job market for community pharmacy positions, and we know that an employer-driven job market such as this will have pharmacists working more with static or stagnant salaries,” Park said. “We [now] have over 140 pharmacy schools in the country, which also increases competition for pharmacist positions.”2

The number of pharmacy graduates is quickly outpacing the demand for pharmacists; a 2007 projection forecasted a total of 304,986 pharmacists in the workforce by 2020.1 According to 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics occupational data, that number was hit 4 years early. Those same analysts found that pharmacists were remaining in the workforce longer and that pharmacy education continued to grow, with an increasing number of accredited pharmacy schools and pharmacy students.1

There is also the problem of pharmacists being trained for roles that are not yet available. Foreseeing a future where pharmacists will take on a considerable patient care focus, the pharmacy school curriculum has placed a focus on preparing students for that role. However, according to the Pharmacy Workforce Center in 2014, full-time pharmacists devoted only 21% of their time to patient care services.

Furthermore, the percentage of pharmacists working in either a retail trade position or a hospital position is not expected to shift considerably between 2016 and 2026. In 2016, retail trade positions represented 60.4% of the pharmacy workforce and hospital positions represented 24.8%. By 2026, these percentages are expected to be 59.5% and 25.0%, respectively. This could ultimately lead pharmacy students to look for employment outside the pharmacy sphere to fully utilize their skill set.2

“It is also, in part, personally driven,” Park said. “Graduates who may want to pursue a position that is more creative and unconventional than the typical community or hospital-based pharmacy positions—they may find their positions are not adequately allowing them to explore and use all of their skills learned in pharmacy school, such as providing pharmacotherapeutic consultations.”2

Although the available roles in pharmacy have remained largely static, this does not mean that the roles available to those who graduate from schools of pharmacy are limited.1 As Park explained, most of the skills taught to pharmacy students are broadly applicable to other fields, and graduates seeking employment can search outside the anticipated roles for a pharmaceutical student.2

“Based on our findings, there is a certain set of skills that all employers require or expect their employees to have, no matter the profession,” Park said. “These include communication skills, understanding economics, negotiation skills, leadership, emotional intelligence, networking, time management, problem solving, teamwork, adaptability, and the list goes on. These are what is considered, based on a Harvard Business Review...the key ingredients for how [employers] choose their employees, and these commonly sought-after skills by employers are also taught in pharmacy programs as part of their curriculum.”2

Although there are several potential avenues of employment outside pharmacy for individuals graduating from pharmacy school, Park provided a list of common alternative employment options for pharmacy graduates, including the following2:

  • Consulting
  • Medical writing or medical journalism
  • Pharmaceutical research
  • Online content creation
  • Drug development
  • Federal and local government positions
  • Nonprofit organizations
  • Informatics positions
  • Formulary management
  • Education
  • Public health and emergency preparedness
  • Pharmacogenomics
  • Veterinary pharmacy
  • Substance use or mental health–specific positions

Although there are many reasons to seek employment outside the field of pharmacy, there is also an expectation that change is coming soon. Congress could soon grant provider status to pharmacists under certain conditions, which could fundamentally change the role of a pharmacist and begin to develop a foundation for a future of patient-centered pharmacy practice. In turn, this could increase demand for employees in these roles.1

“The profession is really changing, not to mention the rise of the personalized medicine concept,” Park said. “The sky’s the limit in terms of how and what pharmacists can contribute to, and we have a certain population that is growing, and their needs are actually not met. We have to think a little more proactively for these patient populations and how to reach them.”2


  1. Lebovitz L, Eddington ND. Trends in the pharmacist workforce and pharmacy education. Am J Pharm Educ. 2019;83(1):7051. doi:10.5688/ajpe7051
  2. Alternative paths of employment for pharmacy graduates. Pharmacy Times®. August 11, 2021. Accessed August 11, 2021.
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