While their career options have broadened over the years, most pharmacists still work in either retail establishments or hospitals. In which environment would you thrive? Here's a look at pharmacy work in each setting.
Retail pharmacists prepare and dispense medications, advise customers about how to use medications and warn them about possible drug interactions. Retail pharmacists also consult with customers about over-the-counter medicines and general healthcare issues.
Retail pharmacists should prefer heavy contact with the public, says Phil Woodward, PharmD, executive director of the Oklahoma Pharmacists Association.
"Pharmacy is making a transition into true medication therapy management services with the new Medicare Part D drug benefit," he says. "That will bring retail pharmacists into more of a consultative role that allows them to get paid for both the product and the service they are providing."
Similarly, hospital pharmacists provide, prepare and dispense medicines, special feeding solutions and diagnostic agents. They may also consult with doctors about the correct dosage and appropriate form and time of administration, and make physicians aware of any possible adverse reactions. Some hospital pharmacists now make patient rounds.
"Hospital pharmacists work with different types of medications than retail pharmacists," says Tina Hatzopoulos, PharmD, administrator for the Department of Pharmacy at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "They use IV drugs that need a lot of preparation with a fair amount of calculation, mixing and checking that doesn't occur in the community setting."
While most hospital pharmacists don't have as much patient contact as their retail counterparts, these pharmacists have significant contact with other healthcare providers, such as nurses, doctors and radiologists. They may also be involved in deciding which drugs will be used in the pharmacy.
In both settings, most full-time salaried pharmacists work about 40 hours a week. It's common for pharmacists to work nights, weekends and holidays; however, some hospital pharmacies are staffed 24/7.
Regardless of setting, pharmacists have seen their earnings rise about 5.4 percent over the past year. Staff pharmacists' median pay now stands at $98,300, according to the "2006 Pharmacy Compensation Survey -- Spring Edition" from Mercer Human Resource Consulting.
Retail pharmacists promoted to pharmacy managers oversee staff and piles of paperwork, such as insurance, Medicaid and workers' compensation reimbursements. Hospital pharmacists can also rise to managerial positions.
Perspective from Both Worlds
Before Aliya Smith, PharmD, landed a position at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, a few years ago, she worked at a major chain drugstore. After experiencing both the retail and hospital environment, she prefers hospital pharmacy.
"I like working with other healthcare professionals," she explains. "Hospital pharmacy is generally more clinically based work, and I feel I am using my degree and education more."
The downside to hospital work includes inconsistent schedules and little patient interaction, Smith says. While she did enjoy the patient contact in retail, she still prefers working in a hospital.
"What I liked least about working in retail was feeling like a cashier," she says. "The work can be very monotonous, almost like factory work. But the salary and benefits are usually better in retail, and you have more patient interaction."
Would Smith ever consider trading her hospital scrubs for retail smocks again? For the right opportunity, perhaps. She did contemplate working in a grocery retail pharmacy, where prescription volumes are lower and opportunities to implement clinical ambulatory programs are greater. But for now, she's content in a hospital environment.
"I enjoy working in a teaching environment, because there are always learning opportunities," Smith says. "I think hospital pharmacy provides a better lifestyle, because it is less stressful than retail pharmacy."