Choosing between Retail and Hospital Pharmacy Careers


Choosing between Retail and Hospital Pharmacy Careers

When I graduated pharmacy school back in 1993 there were virtually just 2 career paths that pharmacists could follow: a hospital staff pharmacist or a retail pharmacist. Sure, there were a few that found their way into managed care, industry or academia, but these were a small percentage of the total pharmacy jobs available. Today things are different. With the explosion of clinical pharmacy opportunities the number of career paths available to pharmacists have skyrocketed.

But in spite of the job diversity, new certifications and highly specialized pharmacy career paths…most pharmacists today still work in either a retail or hospital-based setting. According to USDL statistics about 58% of all employed pharmacists are currently working in some sort of retail position, including major chains, small chains, independent pharmacy and grocery. Another 31% of pharmacists are working in a “hospital” or long-term care setting. Together that means that 89% of working pharmacists are still left with basically 2 options: hospital or retail.

So which should you choose?

There was a time that all you had to consider was your personal preference and maybe personality. Do you like working with patients and customers face to face in a fast-paced and high pressure setting? The retail would be the obvious choice. Do you prefer to utilize more of your clinical skills and enjoy an academically challenging atmosphere, and a more consistent pace with less patient contact? Then choose hospital.

But today’s pharmacists need to also consider the career implications of their choice. This may be especially true for recent graduates who have large loans to repay. And most pharmacists would agree we need to think very hard about job security and future career growth opportunities. With these thoughts in mind, some recently released information may be useful.

First, according to the latest data from the Pharmacy Manpower Project the surplus of jobs in the hospital environment is slightly worse than in retail. The 2017 Q3 data assigns a demand index of 2.58 to hospital and 2.76 for retail. The lower the number the lower the demand for pharmacists. This is based on a 1 to 5 scale in which 3 is considered to be a relative balance between available jobs and available pharmacists.

That being said, the prediction is that available retail pharmacy jobs will be stagnant over the next decade, while new jobs in the hospital setting will increase by 10% to 15%.

Second, it is interesting to compare the financial stability and success of the two career paths. Which type of business is doing better?

A 2017 Advisory Board article indicated that hospital operating margins have fallen recently, from 3.4% in 2015 to 2.7% in 2016. If that trend continues, hospitals will be under even more pressure to cut expenses, and there is always the chance that could mean fewer jobs.

On the retail side we have seen a lot of consolidation, but the remaining big players appear to be doing well.  According to Chain Drug Review, Walgreens “reported its fiscal 2018 first quarter sales totaled $30.74 billion, up 7.9% from $28.5 billion a year earlier.” CVS is cautiously optimistic as well, as reported in , stating that “it expects its operating profit rise between 1% and 4%.”

So it appears that these 2 career paths offer more than just different working atmospheres and job descriptions. They have different outlooks, and pharmacists need to think about these things when considering their choice of a job. Hospital has a better long-term growth potential, but retail seems currently more financially stable.

Don’t make the decision alone. Talk to others who are working in these various settings. And consider connecting with the pharmacy career experts at Pharmaceutical Strategies if you looking to make a change or just launch your career.

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