Ambulatory Care Pharmacist: Education and Career Information
Ambulatory care pharmacy is a healthcare profession. Ambulatory care pharmacists are pharmacists who specialize in working in outpatient settings. It is a strong career choice if you are scientifically minded, you enjoy working with doctors and patients, and if you want to work in healthcare outside of hospital settings.
What is Ambulatory Care Pharmacy?
Ambulatory care pharmacy is an in-demand profession. General pharmacists specialize in managing medications and prescriptions. Pharmacists are experts in drug interactions and medication dosage. They are responsible for making sure that their patients:
•Receive the proper dose of every medication
•Do not have medications that have problematic interactions with each other
•Understand side effects
•Know how to take their medications correctly
Pharmacists work closely with physicians to ensure that patients receive the exact prescriptions they need for any medical condition. For this reason, pharmacists have a high level of responsibility in their day-to-day work. It is a detail-oriented professional that involves frequent communication with doctors and with patients.
Ambulatory care pharmacists have all of these responsibilities. “Ambulatory” refers to “outpatient” – a term that means they work with patients who receive services outside of the hospital. They typically do not work in hospitals or other inpatient facilities. Ambulatory care pharmacists work in a wide variety of settings, including:
•Community pharmacies (like your neighborhood drug store)
Salary for Ambulatory Care Pharmacist
Ambulatory care pharmacy is a very well-paying field. Entry level pay is typically above $100,000 annually. After a few years of experience, pay increases to about $115,000 per year. Some ambulatory care pharmacists make as much as $130,000 per year.
This salary is in line with other pharmacists. The most important factor in determining salary is geographic location and experience. Because cost of living is higher, pharmacists in big cities tend to make more than pharmacists in suburban or rural communities. More experienced pharmacists make more than entry-level pharmacists, but the difference is not as large as it is in many other fields.
Skills needed to become an Ambulatory Care Pharmacist
Ambulatory care pharmacists are highly-trained professionals. They are at the forefront of scientific and medical knowledge, but must also work closely with patients. The most important skills for ambulatory care pharmacists include:
•Scientific Knowledge: Pharmacists specialize in medication, which means they are constantly using their knowledge of chemistry and biology.
•Attention to Detail: Small medication mistakes can cause serious health problems for patients. Pharmacists must carefully evaluate prescriptions written by doctors to make sure that it is appropriate for the patient, is the correct dose, and will go well with all other medications being taken. Every detail is very important.
•Computer Skills: More and more, healthcare information relies on electronic medical records, which are complex computer systems. Pharmacists should be skilled with computers so that they can navigate these systems efficiently.
•Memory: Pharmacists are fountains of knowledge about thousands of medications, each with a unique way of impacting the body.
•Collaboration: Pharmacists rarely work alone. Ambulatory care pharmacists in particular frequently partner with physicians in outpatient treatment facilities. The ability to work with others is one of the most important skills in their repertoire.
•Bedside manner: Ambulatory care pharmacists do not work in hospitals. However, they do spend a lot of time talking with patients. It is very important that patients feel comfortable with their pharmacist so that they can be sure they understand their medication. Pharmacists who can explain complex medications in simple terms are particularly valuable.
•Research: New medications are constantly being introduced. Ambulatory care pharmacists must stay up to date on new drugs for hundreds of medical conditions. Accordingly, the ability to research new drugs and their interactions with other medications.
Becoming an ambulatory care pharmacist requires many internship and practicum hours. Specific requirements vary from state to state and from program to program. However, expect to complete at least 1500 hours of supervised practice before becoming licensed. These hours are typically completed during the course of advanced graduate study in pharmacy school, or immediately after graduating under the supervision of experienced pharmacists.
Ambulatory care pharmacists are highly-trained professionals with a substantial amount of scientific knowledge. Because of this, becoming an ambulatory care pharmacist requires many years of education after high school. The path to becoming an ambulatory care pharmacist follows these steps:
Good Grades in Scientific Coursework
All pharmacists require particular coursework during high school and during their undergraduate degree. Courses in science are especially important. Classes in general chemistry, organic chemistry, anatomy, biology, microbiology fit this bill. Additionally, coursework in English, statistics, and calculus is often required. A GPA greater than 3.0 (or even higher) in these classes is very important.
Obtain a PharmD
There are two paths to receive a Doctorate of Pharmacy (also known as a PharmD). The first is to complete your undergraduate degree and then apply for a graduate degree in a pharmacy school. This usually requires four years in undergraduate school and four years in pharmacy school, for a total of eight years. The pharmacy school should be accredited by the Accrediting Counsel for Pharmacy Education (ACPE).
The second option is to complete a combined program that is accredited by the ACPE. These programs combine undergraduate and graduate education into a single program, which results in less total years to complete the degree. Often, students can receive their bachelors and PharmD in six to eight years in these programs. They are a good fit for students who are absolutely sure of their career path before they begin college.
Both of these choices require entrance exams before beginning graduate coursework. The Pharmacy College Admissions Test (PCAT) is a computer-based test that is completed before applying to pharmacy school. It measures academic ability and scientific knowledge that is important for success in graduate school.
After completing an accredited PharmD program, prospective ambulatory care pharmacists must become licensed in the state in which they intend to practice. Every state has slightly different licensing requirements, but in general, applicants will need to pass three additional examinations:
•The NAPLEX, which assesses pharmacy knowledge
•The Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam, which assesses legal issues related to pharmacy
•A written and practical examination, which differs from state to state
Post Doctoral Residency
Ambulatory care pharmacy is a specialty. After becoming a licensed pharmacist, additional training is needed to work in ambulatory settings. A one- to two-year post-doctoral residency is the final step in this journey.
During the residency, the pharmacist will receive supervision and training in working in outpatient settings. Finally, after successful completion, the pharmacist can sit for the Ambulatory Care Specialty Certification Exam. Ultimately, this results in accreditation as a Board Certified Ambulatory Care Pharmacist (BCACP).
Ambulatory care pharmacy is an in-demand field. Ambulatory care pharmacists play a critical role in health care, particularly with medication management outside of hospital settings. They work with patients of all ages and with many different medical conditions, and assist them in using medication to overcome their illnesses. While the training is very long and very demanding, the result is a high-paying job with strong job security.