Pharmacists are considered to be the drug expert in the health care field and are a valuable resource for patients, physicians, and other health care providers in a variety of settings. The most common settings for pharmacists to practice are retail and hospital pharmacy. The roles of these pharmacists vary significantly and we will provide information on the similarities and differences below.


Retail Pharmacy

Retail pharmacists, also known as community pharmacists, work in the outpatient setting to provide safe dispensing of medications to patients pursuant to a prescription from a physician or other prescribers. Retail pharmacists spend much of their time directly interacting with patients and are considered to be one of the most accessible members of the health care team. Retail pharmacists often provide immunizations and Medication Therapy Management (MTM) services to their patients.


Hospital Pharmacy

Hospital pharmacists work on the inpatient, or acute care, side of the health care environment. Hospital pharmacists work directly with physicians and other health care providers in the hospital to provide safe and effective drug treatment to their patients. These pharmacists typically have a scope of practice built into hospital policies that allow them to complete pharmacokinetic dosing, IV-PO conversion, renal dosing, and other clinical tasks. Additionally, hospital operations or staff pharmacists focus on ensuring patients throughout the hospital are provided their medication in a safe, timely manner.


How To Become A Pharmacist

In order to become a pharmacist, you must complete undergraduate pre-requisites in sciences including biology, chemistry, and physics that usually takes at least 2 years. This can be associated with a bachelor’s degree, but is not generally required. Pharmacists must then complete 4 years of graduate level school that includes thousands of hours of experiential training, as well as, didactic course work. Once complete, the student is considered a Doctor of Pharmacy or Pharm.D. and once state licensing exams are passed, can practice in the field of pharmacy. There are also opportunities for residency training after pharmacy school in the hospital setting that provides the needed skills to become a hospital pharmacist or even specialized in a field of interest. Residency programs are typically available for 1-2 years and are paid less than half the salary of a pharmacist (~$45,000).

All in all, pharmacists play an essential role in the health care field and focus on managing the use of drugs in a variety of settings in both inpatient and outpatient roles. While becoming a pharmacist requires strenuous training, the skills and knowledge learned can provide opportunities for a rewarding career.