5 Considerations When Selecting Your First Pharmacist Position

A message to sixth-year pharmacy interns
October 2015, Vol 3, No 10 - Inside Pharmacy
Liza Senic, BS, PHARMDc

As a sixth-year pharmacy intern, it is important to prioritize your values when selecting a position as a pharmacist. The perfect position may be out there, but it is unlikely that your first job as a pharmacist will meet 100% of your expectations.

Although it is only early autumn and graduation is several months away, retail pharmacy interviews often begin this time of year. Most pharmacy schools offer career fairs and the opportunity to interview with retail pharmacy employers on campus. Attending these events allows students to learn about various retail pharmacy employers and may result in an early job offer.

For those interested in pursuing a residency, the 50th American Society of Health-System Pharmacists (ASHP) Midyear Clinical Meeting and Exhibition is scheduled for December 6-10, 2015, in New Orleans, LA.1 The ASHP Midyear Clinical Meeting and Exhibition is the largest gathering of pharmacists in the world with >20,000 pharmacy professionals from 86 countries.1 The midyear exhibition allows students to network with representatives from the numerous pharmacy residency programs across the United States in hopes to successfully match during the selection process in March. Registration for the Match begins in November and the first phase of matching occurs in March.2

The job market for pharmacists has greatly expanded in the past few years, and new opportunities continue to develop as pharmacists prove to be essential contributors to the healthcare field. It is critical that you consider your personal values, goals, and preferences when selecting a position as a pharmacist. The following considerations will better prepare you when selecting a position as a pharmacist.

1 What Qualifications Are Needed for the Position?

Before researching prospective employers and pharmacy positions, it is important to understand the qualifications necessary to achieve your goal. If you want to specialize in a particular area of clinical pharmacy (eg, oncology or cardiology), a residency is the next necessary step to obtaining this position.

However, if you seek to pursue a career in academia, a fellowship is the next logical step after graduation. Although it is never too late to do a residency or fellowship after graduating and becoming a pharmacist, determining whether additional schooling is feasible and realistic is important to consider. If you are considering a career focused on clinical pharmacy or academia, your last year of pharmacy school should be directed toward the necessary steps to obtaining this goal.

For those ready to enter the workforce, the list of employment considerations may seem endless. However, making a few basic decisions about your professional goals and personal preferences can help get the process started. One of the first and easiest things to consider is the working environment.

2 What Kind of Environment Do You Want to Work in?

Pharmacy working environments vary greatly, and can range from an office setting with a sedentary lifestyle to a retail store or clinic that involves 14-hour shifts spent on your feet. Office-based positions tend to be more laid back, with limited face-to-face patient interactions, and traditional working hours each day (9 am-5 pm, Monday through Friday). Alternatively, a store or clinical setting is generally a fast-paced environment that involves interacting with patients and other healthcare professionals, and operating for extended days and hours (eg, weekends, holidays, evening/night shifts).

3 Are You Open to Relocation?

The type of work environment you prefer can also affect your geographic location. Although retail pharmacy stores are abundantly located in most areas of the United States, some cities are overpopulated with pharmacists, making the job market challenging and competitive for recent graduates. However, some areas across the country are experiencing a pharmacist shortage, and offer additional incentives to relocate. Aside from supply and demand, some pharmacist positions are only offered in certain locations. For example, the Indian Health Service offers many great benefits to pharmacists (eg, student loan repayment and early retirement), but these positions are generally located on Indian reservations in the Midwest.

Because the pharmacist job market can be extremely competitive in some areas and wide open in others, it is important to remember that a change in geographic location does not have to be a permanent relocation. Moving away for 1 or 2 years to gain professional experience can open the door to new opportunities and career advancements.

4 Where Do You See Yourself in 5 to 10 Years?

The potential for career growth and advancement is another area that should be considered when selecting a pharmacist position. Although all pharmacists start out at a high level of professionalism and expertise, the ability to grow within a company differs across all employers.

Your desire to obtain a management position or upper-level seniority may influence your decision to work for a particular company. Controversely, part-time opportunities are much more realistic at some facilities than at others. Although the idea of starting a family or the possibility of caring for an elderly family member may be several years down the road, these types of situations should be considered when selecting an employer because all companies have different options for full- and part-time employment.

Benefits are another important aspect to consider when evaluating a company for employment. Health insurance, vacation and sick days, family/medical leave, and 401(k) opportunities are all important benefits that vary among employers.

5 What Are Your Financial Goals?

Financial information should also be considered when choosing a pharmacist position. Generally speaking, it is safe to say that regardless of your pharmacy career decisions, 6 years of pharmacy school will pay off. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary for a pharmacist in the United States was $118,470 in 2014.3

When comparing salaries, it is important to consider the cost of living in the geographic area of the position being offered. Salaries are usually adjusted to compensate for cost of living, which may skew the numbers upon initial review. Researching the general cost of rent/mortgages, utilities, and groceries in the geographic areas of your preference should help address any salary gaps or questions.

Tools Available to Make Your Decision

Although you may become overwhelmed as you work your way down the list of considerations and preferences, there are tools available to assist with the decision-making process. The American Pharmacists Association offers a Career Pathway Evaluation Program for Pharmacy Professionals that helps identify pharmacy career options based on personal values and preferences.4 Aside from online resources, take advantage of your pharmacy rotations by asking relevant career questions, and learning about the various companies that now employ pharmacists. Furthermore, ask your preceptors about their previous work experiences, and the avenues they perused to advance their career. When you do find a company that you would like to work for, do not be afraid to ask whether they are hiring; as the old saying goes, “the worst they can say is no.”

Focus on Personal Priorities

For me, work schedule, various opportunities within a company (career advances and part-time options), benefits, and geographic location top my list of values when considering a pharmacist position. As someone who was in the professional workforce prior to entering pharmacy school, I can honestly say that my values are based on personal experiences. I enrolled in a weekend pharmacy school program that was developed for people with a prior bachelor’s degree. The program allowed me to keep my previous job and work throughout the week, and classes and examinations were strictly offered on weekends. Therefore, I signed away my weekends for 3 years and worked long hours throughout the week to maintain my current part-time position as a chemical label coordinator.

I also value a company that offers opportunities for career advancement, and part-time hours. Although I intend to advance my career, I also want to start a family one day. Therefore, a company that offers the ability to do both would be my ideal situation. In addition, my previous professional experience plays a role in my values regarding benefits. Although the Affordable Care Act has decreased the stress of not having health insurance, insurance offered through an employer makes the process much less laborious. Aside from insurance, paid vacation and sick days are benefits I value because I did not always have them with my previous employers. Lastly, geographic location is important to me. Although I am not opposed to moving, I want to ensure that a change in location is beneficial to both my professional and personal career.

The takeaway when looking for a job is that even though it might be quite a challenge to find the perfect pharmacist position that meets all of your values and criteria, knowing what is important to you should help make the decision-making process easier when sorting through pharmacy employers and offers during this exciting time.


  1. American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. The 50th ASHP Midyear Clinical Meeting and Exhibition. http://connect.ashp.org/midyear/home. Accessed September 4, 2015.
  2. American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. Schedule of dates. https://natmatch.com/ashprmp/aboutdates.html. Accessed September 13, 2015.
  3. US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational employment and wages, May 2014. www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291051.htm. Updated March 25, 2015. Accessed September 4, 2015.
  4. American Pharmacists Association. APhA Career Pathway Evaluation Program for Pharmacy Professionals. www.pharmacist.com/apha-career-pathway-evaluation-program-pharmacy-professionals. Updated 2015. Accessed August 19, 2015.
Stakeholder Perspective
Embrace Every Opportunity
Amy Woods, PharmD

Amy Woods, PharmD, Coordinator of Assessment for Experiential Education, Division of Clinical, Social and Administrative Sciences, Mylan School of Pharmacy, Duquesne University, Pittsburgh, PA, provides insight when selecting your first pharmacist position.

Selecting your first pharmacist position is a very exciting time in your life. All of your hard work and dedication to the profession has led you to this point. However, as you await the exciting career ahead of you, sorting through employers and job options can make this a very stressful time.

Before making the big decision, it is important to take advantage of the tools available to you. For me, the most helpful one was reaching out to preceptors and mentors for support and guidance. I took advantage of every opportunity to network with pharmacy professionals to determine whether their positions were a good fit for my personal interests and goals. Ms Senic’s guidance on prioritizing your list of interests and goals will help lead you through the impending difficult decisions.

My first pharmacist position was in a community chain pharmacy, which is quite different from what I am doing now. I participated in the career fair at Duquesne University and received an interview, which ultimately led to an early job offer as a floating pharmacist in the Pittsburgh, PA, area. At the time, my personal priorities—in order of importance—were geographic location, short-term financial goals, clinical work, and benefits; Pittsburgh had shifted to a very competitive market. Although I also had an interest in a residency or fellowship (to ultimately work in academia), the position in Pittsburgh fit my top priorities. My experience as a community pharmacist was extremely valuable, because it taught me important lessons that have shaped me into the pharmacist I am today. The experience presented challenges that ultimately brought forth personal strengths that I never knew existed. As a recent graduate, I quickly found my management niche after being challenged to lead new teams nearly every day through leading by example, stressing the importance of teamwork, and keeping the team positive.

You may not realize what your perfect position is right away; however, experiences, opportunities, and networking will help you to find your place in the profession. After practicing for some time, I was excited to give back to the profession and precept students of my own. This experience is what paved the way for my passion in experiential education. Although I still enjoyed patient care and clinical practice, the idea of working with students full-time helped me to realize my passion, and refocus my priorities on my work environment.

As you can see, my goals and aspirations have shifted, and yours may, too. It is important to understand that you may have to gain professional experience before you can realize your priorities and attain your perfect job. As the saying goes, “Pharmacy is a small world.” No matter what path you decide to take as your first step, remember to embrace every opportunity, and continue to learn and grow from every experience.

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Last modified: October 29, 2015
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