Is a Pharmacy Degree Worth It?

Industry Advice Pharmaceutical Science

Many people pursuing a career in healthcare today are wondering “is it really worth it?” Most paths to a medical profession aren’t cheap, and pursuing a degree in pharmacy is no exception. Therefore, it makes sense that you have questions about the return on this investment. The good news is that pharmacy is a highly rewarding career path that comes with several benefits. Below are seven reasons that a pharmacy degree is worth the expense.

Benefits of a Pharmacy Degree

1. Offers Versatility

When you think of a pharmacist, you may picture an employee in a white coat working behind the counter of your local community pharmacy. While community pharmacists account for a large number of individuals who work in the field, your options are certainly not limited to this practice environment. The job market for pharmacists is full of traditional and non-traditional roles alike. Some of the career opportunities for pharmacists include:

  • Working in health and personal care stores: Community pharmacists are typically found in health and personal care stores such CVS or Walgreens. Approximately 42.6% of pharmacists operate in this realm and typically handle over-the-counter medication distribution.
  • General medical and surgical hospitals: Demand for pharmacists is high in hospitals. In fact, 21.1% of pharmacists work in a medical or surgical hospital setting. Furthermore, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that although the overall job outlook for pharmacists is declining, demand for them in hospitals is expected to increase by 7.4% over the next ten years. These pharmacists have the opportunity to interact with and treat patients, while working directly with a variety of healthcare providers to administer and prescribe medication.
  • Grocery stores: An estimated 7.2% of pharmacists will find themselves working in grocery store pharmacies such as Wegmans or Winn-Dixie.
  • General merchandise stores: Merchandise stores such as Walmart or SamsClub offer plenty of job opportunities for community pharmacists and account for 3.5% of the total industry occupation.
  • Ambulatory care: Ambulatory care pharmacists typically work at a primary care office. These pharmacists generally deal with chronic conditions and work with different healthcare specialists to provide patient care. Approximately 5% of pharmacists work in an ambulatory care setting.
  • Independent community pharmacies: Some of the most accessible pharmacists can be found in independent community pharmacies. These pharmacists have the opportunity to put their passion for pharmacy into practice and connect with patients on a more personal level. They also ensure the medications they provide are well-suited for the patient’s physical and financial needs.
  • Pharmaceutical industry: Careers in the pharmaceutical industry vary, but are generally involved with the business side of pharmacy. Positions in the pharmaceutical industry can include the development and discovery of new medications, design of clinical trials, and even sales and marketing of new drugs.
  • Pharmaceutical communications: Pharmaceutical communications deals with the advertising of the risks and benefits of new medications or therapies. Individuals who work in this field may find themselves in an agency setting or business in the pharmaceutical industry.
  • Regulatory careers: One of the more non-traditional careers in pharmacy is a regulatory pharmacist. These pharmacists work to ensure that standards for patient care and protection are set and maintained.
  • Academia: There are several academic opportunities that pharmacists who don’t necessarily want to work in a clinical setting can pursue. This includes academic research, or even a position as a professor teaching aspiring pharmacy students.

A pharmacy degree can result in job offers from a wide range of companies. The businesses that commonly look to hire pharmacists are personal health care stores, hospitals, or pharmaceutical companies. In the state of Massachusetts, for instance, the majority of job postings for pharmacists come from the following companies:

  1. CVS Health
  2. Walgreens
  3. Mass General Brigham
  4. Takeda Pharmaceutical Company
  5. Biogen
  6. Sanofi
  7. Massachusetts General Hospital
  8. Dana-Farber Cancer Institute
  9. Pfizer
  10. Vertex Pharmaceuticals

It’s important to remember that your first job in pharmacy will likely not be your last. Pharmacists frequently move into higher paying or more specialized roles as they gain more connections and experience. Pursuing a pharmacy degree can also provide you with additional opportunities outside of pharmacy itself. In the state of Massachusetts, for example, some of the top jobs that pharmacy graduates list on their profile include roles like Medical Science Liaisons and Pharmacy Managers.

Top Pharmacist Job Titles

This list only scratches the surface of the professions available to pharmacy graduates, but it’s an excellent place to start. From insurance companies to community pharmacies, the job market for pharmacists is incredibly extensive.

2. Offers a Competitive Salary

Pharmacists typically enjoy a comfortable annual salary. This can be very important in your decision to pursue a degree in pharmacy, especially if you need to apply for student loans. The average salary across the board for pharmacists is $128,710, although this amount can vary based on specialization or state. According to the BLS, the top paid settings for licensed pharmacists are:

  1. Ambulatory healthcare services: $137,820
  2. Hospitals: $131,290
  3. Food and beverage stores: $131,200
  4. Pharmacies and drug stores: $125,740

Pharmacist median salary

From a financial perspective, attending a pharmacy school can yield a high return on investment.

3. Teaches Important Skills

While most professions require certain skills for entry, it’s important to understand the different kinds of skills needed when pursuing a career in pharmacy.
Companies hiring pharmacists have common hard skills included in their job postings. Your pharmacy degree curriculum will provide many opportunities to obtain these competencies while enrolled in the program.

Some of the top hard skills companies are looking for include:

  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Clinical trials
  • Biology
  • Pre-clinical development

Top Pharmacist Skills

Having the right mix of soft skills—or common skills—is just as important when seeking a role as a pharmacist. Highlighting skills such as communication, management, and research on your resume act as an excellent supplement alongside your more technical skills. In the end, most applicants who have received a degree in pharmacy share the same hard skills from their respective programs. Soft skills could be the thing that sets you apart in the application crowd!

Pharmacist Top soft skills

Finding a program that teaches these skills and offers experiential learning will help you acquire the blend of experience you need to be distinctive and desirable to potential employers.

4. Provides an Alternative Path Into Healthcare

Careers in the healthcare field are highly competitive and come with intense educational requirements. On top of that, many of these positions are high-stress environments.

As someone interested in nursing or medicine, but are unsure of what path to take, pharmacy is an excellent option for you to consider. Similar to other healthcare professions, pharmacists have the opportunity to interact directly with patients and help them obtain a higher quality of life. Plus, a pharmacy degree does not require years of supplementary education that will only add to your student loan debt.

5. Maintains Greater Work-life Balance

Medical professionals such as doctors and nurses experience a large amount of stress that can lead to burnout, especially since the emergence of COVID-19. A recent survey estimated that approximately 76% of U.S. nurses have experienced symptoms of burnout since the start of the pandemic.

While nursing can be a rewarding and fulfilling field, pharmacy may be a better option for those who desire a greater work-life balance. Although some pharmacists may have to work nights and weekends, they typically have more flexibility and free time compared to doctors and other medical professionals.

6. Puts a Passion for Science Into Practice

If you are interested in chemistry, biology, or other science-related fields, pharmacy school is a great place to help you put these passions toward a career. Even if you are not involved with the manufacturing of pharmaceutical medications, pharmacy careers require an in-depth understanding of the effects that different prescriptions have on patients and how different medications interact with one another.

7. Enables You To Make a Difference

One of the most appealing elements of the healthcare industry is the fact that healthcare workers are able to make a positive difference in the lives of their patients. If you want to have a career in which you have the chance to make a difference in people’s lives on a daily basis, pharmacy certainly provides that opportunity.

How To Become a Pharmacist

In order to become a pharmacist, you must obtain a doctorate of pharmacy (PharmD) degree. To start you must have at least a high school diploma or have already completed an undergraduate degree. From there you have multiple options available for you to complete your doctorate in 4–6 years.

Once you have obtained your PharmD degree, the next step is to pass two additional exams. These are the NAPLEX and a state-specific law exam. After you have completed these steps and any additional training requirements, such as internships and field work, you can obtain your licensure and begin applying for jobs.

If you’re ready to take the next steps in your pharmacy career, take a look at Northeastern University’s School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences to discover how you can go about obtaining your graduate degree and licensure.