Where do modern pharmacists work?

2 mins

A career as a pharmacist can be greatly varied. No two pharmacy roles are the same, and acro...

A career as a pharmacist can be greatly varied. No two pharmacy roles are the same, and across all the pharmaceutical settings you could possibly work in, pharmacists take in a huge range of experiences, and face all kinds of challenges. For example, the average day of a pharmacist working in a drugstore will look very different to someone working in a hospital pharmacy, or a nuclear pharmacist working in a lab with potentially hazardous materials.

That’s the great thing about a career as a pharmacist. You can choose to work in many different settings and workplaces, and gain a wide variety of experience with different people. But where can pharmacists work? This post explores some of the most common environments in which pharmacists work.

Where can pharmacists work? Common workplaces and settings

Community pharmacies and drug stores

The most common setting where pharmacists work is in community pharmacies and drug stores, like CVS and Walgreens. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, around 42% of all pharmacists in the US work in this setting.

As pharmacists working in community pharmacies and drug stores spend a lot of time directly dealing with patients, this setting is great for people who enjoy interacting with public. In some cases, it can require a lot of flexibility, as some community pharmacies will open 24 hours, or at least later in the evening.

While community pharmacists tend to get a good broad knowledge of oral medication and general patient care, they get less exposure to IV medication and fewer clinical interactions.

Community pharmacist in a larger store

A smaller number of community pharmacists work in pharmacies within a larger store, like a grocery store or big box store. Approximately 8% of pharmacists in the US work in an in-store pharmacy.

The role, and therefore the pros and cons, are very similar to working in a community pharmacy or drugstore. However pharmacists working in instore pharmacies are usually les likely to be required to do unsociable hours.

Hospital pharmacist

After community pharmacies, the setting where most pharmacists work is in a hospital. 27% of pharmacists work in hospitals according to the USBLS.

Hospital pharmacists’ responsibilities include making patient rounds to ensure patients are receiving correct medication and advising doctors on the best course of pharmaceutical treatment for patients. Many hospital pharmacists go in to a speciality after a few years, for example critical care, pediatrics, cardiology or nuclear pharmacy.

Hospitals can often be chaotic, pressurized environments, so working as a pharmacist in a hospital requires a cool, calm head. Therefore, hospital pharmacy roles are great for people who enjoy working under pressure. Exemplary attention to detail is also a must – it’s essential patients receive the correct medication, in the correct dosage, as mis-prescribing can cause adverse reactions in patients.

Ambulatory care pharmacy

According to the USBLS, around 5% of pharmacists work in ambulatory care. Ambulatory care pharmacists typically work in doctors’ offices or outpatient clinics. They work closely with doctors to treat patients with chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Ambulatory care pharmacists often get a lot of face to face time in the community, providing long term care to patients, or support to their at-home caregivers. To work in ambulatory care pharmacy, you need to have a strong knowledge of managing the healthcare needs of patients who have multiple concurrent, chronic illnesses and need to take multiple medications to treat them as a result. Ambulatory care pharmacy is a good setting for people who want a role where they will get lots of face time with patients, but want something with more medical and clinical challenges than they may get working in a drugstore or in-store pharmacy.

Lab-based pharmacy roles

While most people might picture a hospital or a drugstore as the typical setting where pharmacists work, some pharmaceutical specialities can also lead to lab-based work. For example nuclear pharmacists in a commercial setting typically work in a lab, working on radiopharmaceuticals that are sent to hospitals to be administered to patients. Or clinical research pharmacists – these are the pharmacists who are involved in clinical trials and research in to new medications in order to develop, improve and produce medication.

As lab based pharmacists tend to get a lot less patient contact compared to the other settings described above, these roles would be best suited to people for whom patient contact isn’t so important.

These are just a few of the most common places where pharmacists can work. But it’s by no means an exhaustive list. There are other community settings like hospices and care homes. Some pharmacists go into desk based roles (so called pharmacy informatics), ensuring, for example, that the administrative side of things is in order, or reviewing pharmaceutical incidents and errors to find out what went wrong and put in place processes to prevent it happening again. There’s also some more niche locations that pharmacists can work, for example prisons, military bases or even navy ships!

Where do pharmacists work and which setting is right for me?

As you can probably see from the above, as a pharmacist, the world is your oyster. There’s plenty of different settings in which you can work and be exposed to all kinds of different situations, patients and challenges.

If you love interacting with people, then community pharmacy may be your best bet. This could be working in a community pharmacy or drugstore, or working in ambulatory care. If you enjoy getting your head down and working with data, a lab based or research and development role would be ideal. If you want a fast paced, high-pressure environment where your decisions can directly contribute to saving lives, a hospital pharmacy job may be the right route.

The great thing about being a pharmacist is you can try different pharmaceutical settings at different stages in your career, and figure out your preferred setting by actually doing each one. If you're already a pharmacist and perhaps looking to switch to a new setting, get in touch with us. As dedicated pharmacy recruitment specialists, we're sure to have positions that interest you.

Just remember that wherever pharmacists work, they are making a big difference, improving patients care and quality of life. So wherever you choose to work as a pharmacist, you can expect a fulfilling and impactful career!