Pharmacy school is notoriously tough. The challenging sciences of (pharmacodynamics, pharmacokinetics, and pharmacotherapy) require enormous amounts of memorization and retention. In addition, required participatory activities (workshops, guest panels, field work, and community service) further increase the workload considerably.
But if you make it through pharmacy school, the pharmacist job market, while tight (the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts a 2 percent pharmacist job growth over the next decade, which translates to approximately 13,600 pharmacist openings each year), offers many opportunities leading to satisfying and well-paying careers.
In this article, we examine several of the highest-paying jobs for pharmacists and cover the following:
According to the BLS, the average pharmacist earns about $129,000 per year. What do the highest-paid pharmacists earn and what do they do to earn it? Read on to find out.
Ambulatory care pharmacists work in numerous settings. Their primary function is attending to outpatients with chronic conditions, most especially diabetes, hyperlipidemia, and hypertension. They also interact with other healthcare professionals to develop medication regimens for their patients and meet with the patients between doctor’s appointments to discuss any necessary adjustments. Ambulatory pharmacists often cultivate long-term relationships with patients, much like community pharmacists, only with an even greater degree of intimacy. The average annual salary for an ambulatory pharmacist is $139,000.
Clinical pharmacists work primarily in healthcare settings (hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and managed-care facilities), advising doctors on appropriate medication therapies for their patients and monitoring the efficacy and side effects of courses of treatment. In some instances, clinical pharmacists are granted patient care privileges, allowing them to make more direct decisions about a patient’s medications. The average annual salary for clinical pharmacists in the US is around $137,000.
Clinical pharmacologists work in the pharmaceutical industry. They conduct research studying, observing, and recording the effects of substances on physical bodies and the diseases that affect them. They are invaluable to the development and testing of new pharmaceuticals since the data they collect and analyze through clinical trials is crucial when the new medication is evaluated for safety and efficacy by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Clinical pharmacologists are highly knowledgeable in such areas as drug therapy, molecular pharmacology, and toxicology. The average salary for a clinical pharmacologist is $149,000.
A compounding pharmacist plays a unique role within the larger field of pharmaceutical dispensation; they concoct specialized medications as needed. They create special forms of medication (creams, gels, liquids), combine medications, alter medications to remove counterproductive ingredients (e.g., for allergies), or even add flavor to make medication easier to ingest. While all pharmacy students are trained in compounding, only a small percentage go on to the advanced level of training that enables them to become actual compounding pharmacists (and only roughly 12 percent of community pharmacies in the US engage in compounding). The average salary for a compounding pharmacist in the US is $150,000.
Hospital pharmacists must accurately dispense medications to patients in emergency rooms, intensive care units, and inpatient wards. They operate as part of the larger healthcare team and are actively involved in the diagnostic process. Hospital pharmacists examine patient charts and assess the patients themselves to ensure they recommend the safest and most appropriate medications. The average salary for a hospital pharmacist in the US is $148,000.
Whether at independent, mom-and-pop drug stores or retail chain pharmacies like CVS and Walgreens, the in-store pharmacist (also known as a retail or community pharmacist) is the type of pharmacist most familiar to the general public. Aside from dispensing medications, in-store pharmacists also conduct health screenings, advise patients on wellness (diet, exercise), and administer vaccinations (as of this writing, the CDC estimates that over 263.3 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered to the public by retail pharmacists). The national average salary for an in-store pharmacist is around $156,000.
In a way, pharmacometricians are the product managers of the pharmaceutical business, since they are responsible for overseeing the entire lifecycle of the development of a new drug. They must remain current on all drug treatments (and the conditions that they address), not only to create new drugs but improve existing ones. Pharmacometricians design and implement clinical trials, engage in population and disease modeling, supervise both internal and external design teams, and interact with public officials regarding the regulatory landscape. The average annual salary for a pharmacometrician is $142,000.
It should be noted that location often impacts salary, with factors like the local cost of living significantly impacting your paycheck. High cost-of-living states like California, New York, Alaska and Oregon pay pharmacists quite well (the average pharmacist salary in San Francisco: $181,000; New York City: $174,000; Anchorage: $161,000; Portland (OR): $150,000).
To work a pharmacist, you need either a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) or a Doctor of Pharmacology degree. The former is necessary for a job in healthcare or a retail setting, while the latter is for pharmacists seeking work in research and development, most often for pharmaceutical companies. If you intend to specialize within the field (ambulatory, geriatric, oncology, pediatric, etc.), you’ll need to complete a two-year residency program for specialized clinical training.
If you are just entering college, you should pursue an undergraduate degree in chemistry, organic chemistry, biology, biochemistry, or health sciences (pre-med is another option). Undergraduates certain of their career goals have the option to enroll in a six-year BS to Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) program. There also are pharmacy tracks you can apply to right out of high school, where you attend a pre-pharmacy program for two to three years and then earn your PharmD over an additional four years.
Most students enter pharmacy school after obtaining their bachelor’s degree in a relevant science. It is recommended that you choose a program that has been accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE), like the online PharmD offered at Butler University. In order to be accepted, you need to take the Pharmacy College Admission Test (PCAT) and, after completing your degree, pass three additional exams in order to practice: the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX), the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE), and a test on prescription compounding and pharmacy practice specific to the state where you plan to work. Scholarships and loans are available to help ease the cost of earning your degree.
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