When we think of pharmacists, most of us envision someone in a white coat standing behind the counter at the drugstore. However, fewer than half of licensed pharmacists work in community pharmacies. There is a full spectrum of career pathways for Doctor of Pharmacy program graduates—clinical and non-clinical paths.
Professor and pharmacist Nicole Slater makes the case that pharmacists are the “overlooked essential healthcare provider,” because they often provide essential health information to communities where healthcare providers and physicians are scarce. Pharmacists administer vaccines—many risked their health to do so during the recent pandemic. According to the White House, more than two in three COVID-19 vaccines were given in pharmacies. Pharmacists can prescribe medications such as tobacco cessation products, birth control, and preventative HIV medicine in some states. And pharmacists in all 50 states can prescribe naloxone, a lifesaving tool in the opioid epidemic.
But pharmacists also work in medical and scientific research, drug development, academia, and law and business environments. Earning a Doctor of Pharmacy grants a surprising degree of career versatility. You can contribute to your community’s well-being as a clinical pharmacist, train the next generation of practicing pharmacists, support discoveries in the pharmaceutical industry, or make your mark on public health.
Your first step will be enrolling in a Doctor of Pharmacy program. The Butler University College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (COPHS) online Doctor of Pharmacy program is an immersive educational experience that provides the skills and credentials you will need to serve. Where you choose to take your pharmaceutical career is up to you.
WHAT IS A PHARMD DEGREE?
The Doctor of Pharmacy, or PharmD, is the only degree in the U.S. that supports pharmacist licensure. It’s the credential that sets pharmacists apart from pharmacy technicians, pharmaceutical sales representatives, and other pharmacy-adjacent professionals.
Most Doctor of Pharmacy programs last about four years, though some last six years because they let pre-pharmacy students combine the necessary bachelor’s and doctoral education into a single program. PharmD programs tend to have rigorous admission requirements, including prerequisite courses in anatomy and physiology, biology, calculus, general chemistry, microbiology, organic chemistry, physics, and statistics.
The traditional PharmD curriculum includes coursework in biological and pharmaceutical sciences, including clinical biochemistry, pathophysiology, and immunology. Butler University’s degree program also includes coursework focused on diversity and inclusivity in healthcare, evidence-based medicine, policy and law, entrepreneurship, leadership, and management. The PharmD online pathway is taught by experienced faculty who emphasize holistic pharmacy education as a part of an interdisciplinary curriculum.
All pharmacy school programs build Advanced Practice Pharmacy Experiences into PharmD curriculum. At Butler, these rotations happen in the fourth year of study and occur at community pharmacies, hospitals, ambulatory clinic practices, and nontraditional pharmacy settings. Some students complete only these rotations required for graduation. Others complete optional postgraduate fellowships or pharmacy residencies in ambulatory care pharmacy, inpatient pharmacy, oncology pharmacy, pediatric pharmacy, nutrition support pharmacy, or veterinary pharmacy.
After graduating, students must pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX) and the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE) to become licensed pharmacists. The Butler PharmD Class of 2021 reported a 97 percent first-time pass rate for the NAPLEX exam—nearly 10 percent higher than the average national first-time pass rate. Be aware that some states require aspiring pharmacists to take additional tests or meet additional licensure requirements.
WHAT PHARMACEUTICAL CAREER PATHS ARE OPEN TO DOCTOR OF PHARMACY HOLDERS?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts organizations will hire 11,300 pharmacists over the next decade. These pharmacists will have titles such as:
Clinical pharmacists work alongside physicians, specialists, and nurses to ensure that prescribed medicines have the best effect on patients. Unlike general pharmacists, clinical pharmacists monitor patients’ responses to medication therapy or confer with physicians on how patients respond. They adjust dosages and modify prescriptions accordingly. Clinical pharmacists also support healthcare teams in educating patients on exercise, diet, and immunization, according to the American College of Clinical Pharmacy (ACCP).
PharmD graduates who want to become clinical pharmacists usually complete one to two years of postgraduate residency training. The second year (PGY-2) is for clinical pharmacists who want to specialize in fields such as oncology, geriatrics, pediatrics, critical care, internal medicine, or surgery.
Clinical pharmacists work in medical practices, surgical centers, hospitals, and institutional and ambulatory settings, earning between $127,000 and $144,000. Butler University Associate Professor (Pharmacy Practice) Jessica Wilhoite is a researcher who also works as a clinical pharmacist in an ambulatory care setting. Her research focuses on evaluating new and ongoing pharmacy services and improving patient education. At Butler, she teaches an ambulatory care elective focusing on outpatient pharmacy service development.
Many people regard community pharmacists as a trusted source of healthcare information. Retail chains like CVS and family-owned pharmacies are community pharmacies, as are primary care facility pharmacies, Federally Qualified Health Centers, and the pharmacies found in some group medical practices. Community pharmacists may also work in specialty and compounding pharmacies for patients who require more complex medication therapies, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).
Pharmacies often function as community health touchpoints and earn about $114,000 annually. Community pharmacists can administer vaccines nationwide—though laws governing pharmacist-administered vaccinations vary by state. According to the CDC, more people received the influenza vaccine at pharmacies in the last two years than at doctor’s offices. Community pharmacists may also perform health screenings, work directly with healthcare providers, provide generalist or specialist ambulatory care services, and test for diseases. Many community pharmacists help consumers figure out ways to reduce prescription costs by coordinating with insurance companies and keeping tabs on discounts and coupons.
Pharmacologists help develop, analyze, and test drugs in governmental agencies, research laboratories, and pharmaceutical companies. In addition to analyzing and documenting test results, they also research the bodily effects of chemical compounds and study how medications interact. To become a clinical pharmacologist, you may need to complete a fellowship or PhD program after earning a PharmD. Pharmacologists earn an average of $90,000 annually but can earn as much as $138,000.
Butler University Assistant Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences Chioniso Patience Masamha studies the development of targeted anti-cancer RNA-based therapeutics and the mechanisms that drive oncogenesis. Students and postdoctoral research associates interested in pharmacology can get hands-on experience using bioinformatics and second and third-generation sequencing technology to identify novel cancer-causing gene transcripts at the Masamha Lab.
RESEARCH PHARMACIST/MEDICAL SCIENTIST
Research pharmacists conduct pharmaceutical research in various settings, identifying relationships between ingredients, finding new uses for the components of existing medications, improving safety and efficacy, and studying drug interactions. Most earn about $137,000, though some earn more. Patients have research pharmacists to thank for warnings about which medications should not be taken together and information about how specific pharmaceutical components work in the body. Some advanced research pharmacist positions require researchers to hold a PhD in Pharmacology or other degrees.
Toxicology and pharmacy share foundational similarities, according to Pharmacy Times. Both “require individuals to have a deep understanding of the basic properties and mechanism of action of various chemicals. Both professions explore a mixture of therapeutic and adverse effects (AEs) of chemicals and drugs.” Toxicology pharmacists study the harmful effects of medications and compounds on people and earn about $100,000 annually. Toxicologists work for drug companies, laboratories, environmental groups, government agencies, and in clinical settings. One of the more common career pathways in the field is forensics, and most job opportunities in toxicology require advanced education beyond the PharmD.
According to the Society of Veterinary Hospital Pharmacists (SVHP), veterinary pharmacy is an increasingly popular career path. The field is highly competitive due to there being only a few veterinary pharmacy residencies for post-graduate training, but there is ample opportunity for those who choose this career path. After earning a PharmD degree, you can train in veterinary pharmacy in Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experiences (APPEs) or via continuing education programs offered by groups such as the American College of Veterinary Pharmacists.
According to the SVHP, most veterinary-exclusive pharmacy jobs are available at compounding pharmacies (where pharmacists create species-specific dosages and help make medicines more appealing to animals), in mail-order pharmacies that cater to pet owners, and at veterinary teaching hospitals.
ARE PHARMACEUTICAL SKILLS TRANSFERABLE TO OTHER CAREERS?
A deep understanding of biopharmaceutics and a Doctor of Pharmacy can take you down non-traditional career paths for pharmacists, including:
MEDICAL SALES EXECUTIVE
Medical sales executives sell pharmaceuticals to medical and healthcare facilities and educate providers about their uses. Their responsibilities include meeting with doctors and healthcare teams, advertising and pitching products, and strategizing new marketing efforts. Sales reps may earn a base salary of roughly $72,000 to $77,000 annually but often earn commissions and cash bonuses that bring the average yearly earnings well above $100,000.
Thanks to the increasing availability of data, informatics is becoming integral to nearly every branch of medicine. Every healthcare system utilizes Healthcare Information Technology (HIT) to store patient information—including prescription information—in electronic recordkeeping systems. Informatics pharmacists use data to improve medication compliance and patient outcomes.
Pharmacy informatics is a growing field that now encompasses several roles. For example, pharmacy informatics technicians input patient data, keep the data clean, increase or organize data storage, and maintain computer systems to help pharmacists and pharmacy technicians dispense medications efficiently and effectively. Informatics pharmacists are the data scientists of the healthcare world and work in pharmacies, hospital systems, and outpatient or inpatient centers. Informatics is also useful in drug research and in efforts to improve evidence-based care. There are certificates and certifications specifically for pharmacy informaticists that can increase salaries beyond the $106,000 average.
PROFESSOR OF PHARMACY
Many Doctor of Pharmacy graduates go on to teach within the many colleges of pharmacy within the U.S. There are 141 colleges and schools of pharmacy in the U.S. with accredited professional degree programs, according to the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE). In these institutions, academic pharmacists help mold the next generation of healthcare professionals. Some pharmacy professors work full-time, while others hold part-time adjunct or visiting professor positions. Academic pharmacists may also serve as college deans or teach in non-university settings, earning an average annual salary between $113,000 and $180,000.
In addition to teaching courses, professors often participate in research. They may do work that supports the discovery of new drugs, the fine-tuning of medications, improvements in the pharmacy profession, or improvements in patient care. Butler University Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences Dr. Nandita G. Das, PhD, RPh, researches the targeted delivery of siRNA against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s. Dr. Das has also written extensively about academia and how approaches to pharmaceutical education have shifted to include more experiential learning.
REGULATORY AFFAIRS SPECIALIST
Regulatory affairs specialists assist in the federal drug vetting and approval process. They may also participate in the vetting and approval process for medical devices, like blood glucose readers, or nutritional products, like vitamins or supplements. They typically work for pharmaceutical or medical device companies, biotechnology firms, government agencies, or legal organizations. Because there are public and private positions in regulatory affairs, salaries in this field vary widely. Some regulatory affairs professionals earn $56,000 annually, while others earn more than $300,000.
PHARMACEUTICAL LAW SPECIALIST
PharmD degree holders interested in the legal side of healthcare and regulatory affairs specialize in law after graduation. Some go to law school to become pharmaceutical lawyers but many more work as legal advisors to doctors, healthcare systems, or pharmaceutical companies. Butler PharmD students get an introduction to pharmacy law and the regulations and policy measures that affect the industry in their third year in “Pharmacy, Policy, and the Law.” Doctor of Pharmacy students at Butler can also complete an Advanced Pharmacy Practice Experience in Administration, Law, and Management.
HOW WILL ENROLLING IN A SCHOOL OF PHARMACY PROGRAM PREPARE ME FOR THESE CAREERS?
The short answer is that a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from a top-tier program will give you the knowledge, skills, and tools to serve people and improve healthcare in many settings. In the 2021 American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy Graduating Student Survey, more than 98 percent of students who graduated from PharmD programs agreed that their education prepared them to provide medication expertise as part of patient-centered care.
The robust curriculum is only one facet of the program. Butler University’s PharmD online pathway students reap the benefits of experiential education through role play and simulations. Butler’s online PharmD students apply classroom concepts in real-world professional settings in acute care, ambulatory care, community practice, elective inpatient and outpatient rotations, and general medicine. One of the perks of experiential education is that students have the opportunity to try, fail, and try again.
Some Butler graduates enter the workforce immediately after graduation, prepared to meet rapidly evolving industry demands in consumer-facing roles, academia, pharmaceutical development, and research. Others transition into postgraduate programs to prepare for specialized clinical work—about 40 percent of Butler’s 2020 Doctor of Pharmacy graduates entered post-graduate fellowships or residencies. Their peers took full-time positions in chain pharmacies, long-term care facilities, hospital pharmacies, and elsewhere in the industry, showcasing just how versatile this degree can be.
If you’re ready to improve the health of your community and society, connect with an enrollment advisor or start the application process for Butler’s PharmD program today.