Given that the public’s exposure to pharmacists is often limited to retail outlets that house various pharmaceutical drugs, the complexity of the pharmaceutical industry is generally overlooked. There are an extraordinary number of specialties for potential pharmacy students to consider, including: military pharmacy, hospital pharmacy, nuclear pharmacy, clinical pharmacy, ambulatory care pharmacy, veterinary pharmacy, consultant pharmacy, and community pharmacy. While pharmacy students may be overwhelmed at the prospect of choosing a specialty so early in their course of study, there are two primary distinctions that may help them come to a decision. Retail pharmacy focuses on providing assistance to local retail pharmacies and involves a tremendous amount of interpersonal skill. Retail pharmacists help educate the public about the pharmaceutical drugs they have been prescribed, as well as gathering information about potential harmful interactions caused by the patient’s lifestyle or other medications.
A research pharmacy focuses more on pharmaceutical drug development. Research pharmacists also assist hospitals and clinics with making adjustments to hospital pharmacy software, which controls dosages and dispensation methods for all hospital patients. As one might imagine, such a system must be flawless in detecting potential harmful drug interactions due to the immense legal implications involved. Research pharmacists help refine the software for future designs, and at many hospitals serve on hospital pharmacy staff to provide further safety checks for mistakes the hospital software may miss.
The Research pharmacy is primarily concerned with bringing new pharmaceutical drugs to market. This means that research pharmacists are continually evaluating potential new alternatives to existing drugs, as well as completely new pharmaceutical drugs that may involve many complex natural and synthetic compounds. Research pharmacists help establish a working prototype of the drug, which is then moved into trials. Should the pharmaceutical companies backing the research decide the drug in question could be brought to market with significant profit and low risk to patients, it may undergo further testing by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). If the FDA certifies the drug, it can be brought to market for consumption by the public.
Pharmacy students should give thought to which broad division they might like to pursue. Research pharmacy, with its intense laboratory environment and competitive market, represents the cutting edge in drug development. Retail pharmacy, however, may involve significant amounts of interaction with members of the public who do not typically possess much pharmaceutical knowledge. Fortunately for pharmacy students who are ultimately dissatisfied with their choice, many hospitals and pharmaceutical research facilities maintain relationships that allow for personnel transfers.
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