In this weekly feature, the editors of SpringBoard highlight one career in the health care professions–including a basic description, educational requirements, core competencies/key skills needed, and related web sites and professional organizations where you can find more information!
Although “public health pharmacist” isn’t a widely used term here in the United States, there are plenty of pharmacists helping to promote the health of our population. Some pharmacists combine their pharmacy training with work in policy making, epidemiology, or other areas of public health. They can be involved in analyzing reports about drug side effects and deciding if extra warnings should be added or if the drug should be recalled. They may contribute their specialized knowledge to decisions about new drug regulations or laws. There are public health pharmacists involved in evaluating proposals for new medications, as well. There are also public health pharmacists performing traditional tasks such as compounding and dispensing drugs. The Indian Health Service (IHS) includes pharmacists in its efforts to protect and improve the health of Native Americans. Some pharmacists are involved in disaster planning. Other roles include managing drugs for rare diseases, studying the safety of dietary supplements, and helping to manage programs that provide medicine for people with HIV/AIDS.
Education and Certification
A pharmacist just finishing training needs a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree in order to be licensed. This is a relatively new requirement, so older pharmacists often hold different degrees. Licensure also requires examinations covering drug information and state and federal regulations and laws. Pharmacists who are interested in public health often pursue MPHs, and some pharmacy schools offer combined PharmD/MPH programs. Experience in research and data analysis can be especially helpful. Residency rotations are available at government agencies including the FDA.
Core Competencies and Skills
- Tendency to be detail-oriented
- Aptitude for science and for research
- Ability to break down complex problems into manageable steps
- Ability to see how research and data apply to real-world problems
- Good interpersonal skills, including the ability to communicate with people from other disciplines
- Understanding of statistics and epidemiology (necessary level of knowledge varies)
- Broad knowledge of drugs, how they work, and drug interactions
- Understanding of community dynamics (for pharmacists who will be working in community-level programs)
Most pharmacists earn between $77,000 and $130,000 per year. Pharmacists who work for the federal government may earn a little less than those in hospital or retail pharmacies, although government jobs with high levels of responsibility can pay well over $100,000 per year. Pharmacists who work in public health often find that the lifestyle and job satisfaction tend to offset any difference in salary.
In the federal government, the departments within HHS—such as FDA, CDC, and HRSA—employ many pharmacists to work on public health matters. Many public health pharmacists get their start at IHS. There are many opportunities through the USPHS Commissioned Corps. Pharmacists also fill public health-oriented roles at state and local health departments and in the military.
The overall outlook for pharmacist jobs is expected to be excellent, with more jobs available than there are pharmacists looking for work. In public health, there will likely be a continued need for pharmacists in drug safety, disaster planning, and public programs. Given the recent interest in quality assurance, medication effectiveness, and cost control, there may be an increasing demand for pharmacists in public health; however, this depends on how the health system evolves.
For Further Information
- APHA may add a specialty section for public health pharmacists.
- Visit university PharmD/MPH programs and government agencies’ Web sites including www.fda.gov
- American Pharmacists’ Association www.pharmacist.com