Understanding The World Of The Pharmacy: A Primer

A pharmacist plays a key role in helping people feel better and stay healthy. It’s truly a profession with meaning and value for helping society. But before you train to become a pharmacist, you might want to consider your potential work environments.

You’re probably thinking a pharmacy is a pharmacy, right? The truth is that there are several types of pharmacies out there. While many of the duties of a pharmacist remain the same in these different settings, there are still some important differences to be aware of.

1. Retail pharmacy

Pharmacies in retail stores are the most common and visible places of employment for pharmacy technicians. Opportunities exist in traditional drugstores such as Walgreens or CVS to pharmacy departments in big box retailers such as Walmart. Many grocery stores also have pharmacies nowadays.

Working in a retail pharmacy means working a retail lifestyle, which includes being scheduled to work evenings and weekends. Retail work involves significant customer service contact, so you need to be a genuine people person. Besides assisting pharmacists in preparing prescriptions, you can expect to be asked questions about over-the-counter medications, vitamins and supplements.

A great thing about working in the retail sector is that jobs exist almost everywhere, so you’ll have a lot of flexibility in finding employment near where you live. Retail pharmacies are found in every region of the country and in both big cities and small towns.

2. Hospital pharmacy

A hospital pharmacy is the place where the management of medications occurs in a hospital, medical clinic or nursing home. A hospital pharmacist often works in close collaboration with other health professionals to ensure that the medication regimen for each patient is optimized to achieve the best outcomes. They may also be involved with clinical trials, as well as compounding medications for individualized dosing or sterile medications. 

Teaching, administrative functions in the selection, proper storage, distribution and prescription protocols of drugs, education of medical staff in the aspects of selection, administration and monitoring of drug safety, as well as assessing drug levels and drug safety may all be part of their work. Hospital pharmacists may be inpatient or outpatient pharmacists and may also specialize in one or other area of pharmacotherapy.

3. Clinic pharmacy

Working in a clinic or doctor’s office puts you in the center of a healthcare environment. You’ll be working closely with doctors, nurses and medical assistants. Similar to working in a hospital, you can expect a variety of duties from preparing prescriptions to handling administrative tasks.

Clinical work allows you to specialize in serving a specific type of patient or medical need. While some clinics, such as general practice or internal medicine, serve a wide spectrum of patients, clinics serving a medical specialty allow you to work with a certain type of patient, which provides greater expertise in a specific area of healthcare. People with a targeted passion may find this to be an appealing opportunity.

4. Home care pharmacy

Home care pharmacy primarily involves the preparation and delivery of injectables to critically ill patients in the home environment. This is also sometimes referred to as infusion pharmacy, as only injectable medications are dispensed, and not medication administered in other forms, such as oral or topical. They may major in one or the other area of illness, such as infusions for nutritional support, chemotherapy, mental illness or oncology.

5. Mail order pharmacy

An increasing number of patients are choosing to have prescriptions filled through mail order pharmacies. When working in this environment, you’ll have little contact with patients, or people in general. Your job will mainly consist of preparing prescriptions for shipment.

When working for a company serving patients through mail order delivery, you can expect a fairly predictable schedule with regular shifts. Unlike retail, you probably won’t have to work “surprise” shifts when the next worker calls in sick.

6. Assisted living and long-term care pharmacy

Some homes serving senior citizens will have in-house pharmacy operations. When working in these settings, you’ll need to develop an understanding and empathy with geriatric health issues. You will interact with patients themselves in independent-living buildings for seniors and with families and caregivers when patients require more assistance.

An example of a long-term care (LTC) pharmacy is Grane Rx. They are the leading provider of senior care pharmacy and medication management services for nursing care, Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) centers and senior communities. The organization’s end-to-end services include clinical consulting, staff training, on-going staff support, pharmacy transition facilitation, precision medication prescribing, and state-of-the-art pharmacy automation.

7. Compounding pharmacy

For some patients, one-size-does-not-fit-all when it comes to medications. Some people require medications that are formulated to specific needs. Preparing these customized medications is the practice known as compounding. As a pharmacy technician, you would assist a pharmacist in the preparation of these medications. Compounding could involve changing the strength, altering the delivery form, adding a flavor or removing an ingredient—just to name a few possibilities.

When searching for a career with abundant opportunities, you’ll find many open doors to jobs as a pharmacy technician. If it seems right for you, your career can move forward in multiple directions with the types of pharmacies that exist in the healthcare industry.