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These 3 skills will open the doors to non-traditional pharmacy

OK, so this post isn't exactly in the world of pharmacy compliance, but I thought many of my readers would be interested in hearing more about non-traditional paths in pharmacy. I've gradually moved more and more into the non-traditional world, and in this post we'll look at just a few things that can help you get there!


When many pharmacists talk about developing their skills or advancing careers, they often talk about it within the context of clinical knowledge and skills: pursuing board certifications, moving into a more ‘clinical’ role (though I think it’s time to stop using that word), or taking certificate courses to enhance clinical knowledge. While these are all excellent pathways, in this post we’ll look at other, nonclinical career-enhancing skills that are often overlooked.

Skill #1: Project Management

Project management skills are in high demand right now, and I have seen a lot of jobs either requiring or preferring both a pharmacy background and project management experience. According to the Project Management Institute, project managers are “change agents: they make project goals their own and use their skills and expertise to inspire a sense of shared purpose within the project team. They enjoy the organized adrenaline of new challenges and the responsibility of driving business results.”

Project managers ensure that any new initiative, like opening a new pharmacy or piloting and expanding a new service, meet the organization’s project goals. That has sometimes been defined as the “iron triangle” of time (i.e. deadline), scope, and cost, though other models have also been proposed.

How to get it:

The Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is the most widely recognized credential in the field of project management. However, it requires 36 months of experience leading projects and 35 hours project management education/training. For those that have already gotten into the field, though, PMP can help set them apart from the crowd.

Another approach to project management that has taken off is the Agile Model. Within this model, a method known as Scrum is becoming very popular within healthcare, and I’ve even seen large chain pharmacies hiring Scrum Masters for salaries equivalent to, or higher, than what could be made as a retail pharmacist. As a licensed pharmacist with experience and Professional Scrum Master Certification, you could be in very high demand to lead projects in healthcare.


Skill #2: Process Improvement

Medication safety is a widely talked-about field of pharmacy, but a lesser known component of medication safety initiatives is the wider field of process improvement. In addition to medication safety, healthcare systems can use process improvement tools to reduce waste and optimize utilization of resources. Examples include improving staff scheduling to reduce downtime and improving the process for scheduling hospital beds and operating rooms to be able to increase volumes without building new space.

Within the pharmacy, there could be numerous ways to improve the efficiency of operations, like using 5S to organize the space, making the most of your pharmacy computer system, or changing the dispensing workflow. These initiatives require both an in-depth knowledge of pharmacy as well as a foundation in process improvement.

How to get it:

Lean Six Sigma Certification is the most widely recognized certification in the field of process improvement. There are multiple levels to the certification that mimic belts in karate, with black being the highest level of certification. I have seen quite a few pharmacists that obtain at least a Green Belt certification, and some that will obtain a Black Belt or Master Black Belt certification, depending on their role and career aspirations.

If you’re interested in process improvement as it relates to medication safety, I highly recommend the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s Open School.

Skill #3: Business acumen

Every healthcare company, whether it’s a healthcare system, a large chain pharmacy, a drug distributor, or a pharmaceutical manufacturer, needs clinical professionals, including pharmacists, who also understand business. Without clinical knowledge the person could have a difficult time grasping concepts necessary to the operations of the business, but without business knowledge they could have a difficult time making financially-sound decisions.

How to get it:

There are many ways of developing business knowledge. Some people get it through work experience, but I decided that getting an MBA was the best way for me to get the skills I needed. Having a structured program ensured me that I was getting a solid foundation. If you’re interested in pursuing an MBA, AACSB Accreditation is often considered the gold standard for program quality.

The first course I took in the MBA program was financial accounting, and it felt like every week I was reading about a concept I had seen, and often misunderstood, at work. Within a year I was able to work with accounting to ensure the accuracy of the income statements. By the time I was close to completing the program, I was being asked to research possible sites for a pilot project and used skills I learned in finance to calculate Net Present Value based on raw data of those sites. In other words, business school gave me the ability to become actively involved in the decision making of the organization and to be able to support my recommendations with data. It’s no wonder that a survey of those with a PharmD and MBA found that 85% felt the MBA helped in career advancement and 90% felt it made them more competitive in the job market.

The Bottom Line

If you’re at a point in your career where you’d like to branch out and consider everything the world of pharmacy has to offer, then you might want to consider skills that are complementary to your clinical knowledge. These skills can help you move into non-traditional roles as well as roles in pharmacy administration and healthcare leadership or take on new and exciting initiatives within your current role.


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