What are the different areas of development that a pharmacist can follow?

Anyone finding their way in the pharmacy studies sphere is likely to be wondering what their ultimate plan for development might be. In the popular mindset, qualifying as a pharmacist involves lots of study followed by a career spent working on main streets all across the country, dispensing medication to people from a wide range of backgrounds in their local areas. But the truth is that this is just one possible pathway choice among many, and people who go into pharmacy end up doing a whole range of different things with their working days. This blog post will outline what the different specialisms are in the pharmacy world and how the choices you’re able to make could be affected by the way you enter the profession.

Possible specialisms 

Professional bodies in this sector devote some time to thinking about what a developing pharmacist should specialize in. It’s worth saying from the start that roadmaps for potential development as a pharmacist do not actually insist that you should specialize; on the contrary, they make important space for those who wish to practice generally. Generally speaking, those who choose not to specialize are often those who decide that they want to work within a general community, such as a town pharmacist helping people with their basic and non-urgent healthcare needs, or those who want to work in a non-narrow field of pharmaceutical research.

But people who have qualified in this sector also sometimes choose to go down a particular route and specialize for a whole host of reasons. One such reason is that specialist pharmaceutical fields, such as drugs that help a particular area of the body, such as the heart, or those aimed at mental health conditions, are often simply more interesting than general practice. Another reason is that specializing can, in some circumstances, allow a pharmacist to earn more cash. This is because specialties are less common and therefore in shorter supply.

Clinical or not? 

But perhaps the main thrust of the development trajectories for pharmacists is the question of whether or not to practice clinically. The difference between a clinical and non-clinical pharmacist is well known: a clinical pharmacist is someone who is involved in the dispensation of medication or patient care, while a non-clinical pharmacist is not.

Deciding which way to go in this regard can be tough. Those who study an online doctor of pharmacy program from a respected institution like the University of Findlay in Ohio will be aware that it’s entirely possible to qualify in one direction but then move to the other; whatever stage of your career you’re at, it’s worth knowing how these differences manifest. The University of Findlay prepares students for whatever pharmaceutical specialism they choose by blending online coursework with on-campus immersions and community practice work.

A clinical pharmacist is someone who works close to patients; this might be in a hospital, for example, where the pharmacist advises the physicians on what drugs to prescribe and how to do it safely. Or it may be in a pharmacy store or drugstore, perhaps in a supermarket or something similar, where patients come directly to make purchases or use prescriptions.

A non-clinical pharmacist, meanwhile, will use the knowledge they’ve picked up during their training—such as information on how the chemical makeup of a particular drug is likely to affect particular parts of the human body—and apply that in a context that isn’t directly patient-facing. They may, for example, go to work for a private business in the pharmaceutical sector as a way of developing new drugs that will eventually reach patients. Or they may go to work for an organization in the public sector, such as the Food and Drug Administration, which uses scientific knowledge to ensure that clinical trials and so on are carried out on new medicines. In this sense, this development path might be more suited to people who are more inclined towards scientific work in a lab than a community-focused application.

Routes for lead pharmacists

It’s also important to look at pharmacist progression routes not just in the context of the skills they use or the medical and pharmacological approaches they take. It’s also important to look at them in terms of leadership development. A lead pharmacist is likely to be thinking as much about which specific specialism they take as they are about what that will look like in terms of their leadership position, with associated remuneration, prestige, and more.

The routes for lead pharmacists tend to vary depending on which of the above paths you take. If you’re working in the public sector or a research institution like a university, for example, you may be able to become a lab lead and even have your own lab focusing on a particular niche area of pharmaceutical interest. If you go into the private sector, meanwhile, as a lead pharmacist, you could find yourself going for a position like marketing director or even a CEO role within a business; it’s not unheard of for people to enter such companies as pharmacists to use their scientific skills, only to then go on to rise through the business ranks.

Final thoughts

Overall, the good news for anyone who is considering joining this profession is that there are plenty of development opportunities available. Whether it’s a clinical or non-clinical pathway or a leadership opportunity like a senior role at a pharmaceutical business, trainee pharmacists entering the sector have plenty to look forward to once they qualify and start working. It’s simply down to each individual entrant to the sector to have an eye on where they might want to go in the future and to work with their mentors to create a bespoke development plan to get there.