According to 2012 figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most pharmacists work in the retail sector. This includes independent neighborhood drug stores, major pharmacy chains, and in-store pharmacies in department stores and supermarkets. Pharmacists in those outlets primarily fill prescriptions and counsel customers on their use, with the assistance of pharmacy technicians and other staff. Pharmacists in clinical settings enjoy a more challenging career, working directly with patients and with other health care providers.
A pharmacist's physical work environment is largely consistent from one workplace to another. It is air-conditioned, well lit, and kept scrupulously clean. The dispensary's work areas are lined with a similar selection of medications, equipment and computers, in either a hospital or a retail store. However, hospital pharmacies are much less likely to feature canned music, rampaging children, and constant reminders of the sale in aisle 3.
Use of Skills
Retail pharmacists usually fill prescriptions for patients to take on their own responsibility, only occasionally compounding medications to order. In the clinical environment of hospitals, you'll make much more use of your skills to compound custom medications and dosages. Patients often need carefully calculated quantities of medication, rather than the standardized doses of off-the-shelf tablets. Many are prepared for injection or intravenous use, rather than in pill form. When pills are called for, they're usually issued one dose at a time for the use of nurses or other caregivers. All in all, it means more intellectual challenge and variety in your work.
Retail pharmacists are largely confined to their dispensaries, but in the hospital you play an active role in patient care. Your specialized knowledge of medications and their effects is often greater than a physician's, so in the clinical setting you become a partner in the delivery of care. Doctors will call on you to observe patients, recommend medications, identify adverse reactions, and screen their choice of medications for potential conflicts. That level of involvement and professional respect goes a long way toward job satisfaction.
Allocation of Time
A 2007 study of hospital pharmacists reviewed their job duties as a percentage of time at work. It found that three quarters of a hospital pharmacist's time was spent on just a handful of activities. An average of 25 percent of the hospital pharmacist's time was spent in patient care and another 25 percent in dispensing duties, which included counseling patients on the use of their medications. Another 11 percent went to compounding custom medications, 8 percent was spent consulting with physicians and other professionals, and another 8 percent managing patient and drug data.
- Jupiterimages/Photos.com/Getty Images