Pharmacists are needed more now in the hospital than ever! How does a community pharmacist get their foot in the door?


​The need for hospital pharmacists is increasing more and more especially during these difficult and surreal times we're facing. The Society of Hospital Pharmacists of Australia (SHPA) announced on the 20th March 2020 the COVID-19 Hospital Pharmacy Relief Register to assist in the high demand of frontline pharmacy staff as the pressure on hospitals across the country persist. We hear about our doctors and nurses and other hospital staff but it gets forgotten about what our pharmacists have been getting up to in the Hospital sector. Pharmacists are needed more now in the hospital than ever!

Since joining the locum team at Raven’s Recruitment, I have had three hospital jobs come in requiring experienced pharmacists to locum at a hospital. Community pharmacists I deal with think it is too hard to secure a locum role in a hospital, and I have thought to myself, why is this?

How many Hospital Pharmacists are there in Australia?

According to the most recent data released by the Pharmaceutical Board of Australia, registration data for the period of the 1st January 2020 to 31st March 2020 shows that at this date, there were 32,777 registered pharmacists in Australia. Hospital pharmacists only comprise approximately 20% of the pharmacy workforce. It has now been brought to my attention that many pharmacists who are working within the hospitals have most likely completed their internship through a hospital and then been offered ongoing permanent work. This obviously isn’t always the case but it is a common one.

What do our current Locum Pharmacists say about Hospital Pharmacy?

I asked one of our wonderful dual community / hospital pharmacists to provide me some of his views on how hospital pharmacy differs from community and the pathway he took. Jimmy explains, “Hospital Pharmacy is rewarding in the fact that it uses more of the clinical knowledge you spend four (4) years studying in university and you get to keep up to date with the newest cutting-edge clinical knowledge / evidence and most hospitals have good ongoing departmental education programs.

“I have found in hospital pharmacy compared to community that you have way more pathways for career progression (i.e. have options to specialise in a huge variety of areas - clinical specialties such as renal, oncology, infectious diseases, manufacturing, sterile and non-sterile manufacturing, non-clinical specialties like drug trials, drug information phone services, leadership positions [team leaders, hospital committees, department leadership].

“Overall hospital pharmacy has given me great job satisfaction working in a multidisciplinary team environment and I have loved the involvement in the decision-making process and how it can really make a big difference to healthcare outcomes.  As a pharmacist working in a hospital there is more of a variety in the patients and typical patient complexity is higher than in community.

“You don’t have to worry about sales targets, upselling, retail margins, basket sizes. Hospital pharmacy also pays better especially for an Early Career Pharmacist (ECP). This does vary from state to state but hospital award wages are almost universally better than retail pharmacy award wages.

“Lastly having a community pharmacy background is actually really helpful for hospital pharmacy. The steep learning curve is challenging at first but you can provide really good continuity of care when you know what patients need on both sides,” said Jimmy.

How did they get their foot in the door?

Jimmy Wang’s pathway towards hospital pharmacy was a situation of being in the right place at the right time. “I applied for a job ad I saw for the SA Health candidate pool. The only thing I did to prepare was the NPS NIMC modules. They screened me by asking me to find issues on a medication chart and asked me some questions about why I wanted to work in hospital. They were satisfied so they put me in the candidate pool. That's it really, then the first hospital with a vacancy called me to offer me a short-term contract which I renewed until I left to study medicine,” admitted Jimmy.

Jimmy believes that the hospital wasn’t so concerned with his clinical knowledge beyond the basics because he would get training on the job. He does believe that the pharmacy’s main concern or interest was Jimmy’s own interest in clinical pharmacy and his ability to communicate and work in a team environment. Jimmy expressed that although it was a pretty hard first couple of months to catch up, and get up to speed with the hospital system, it was also a great challenge and it turned out to be “the best job I've had so far.”

For Daniel Burns, who is another one of our registered pharmacists through Raven’s, it was different, and a work in progress to get the doors open for himself. “I think it would be hard for anyone coming from community pharmacy who has not had experience in hospital to come in and locum for a hospital pharmacy as it is very different. I am currently getting work experience in a hospital in Dubbo whilst I am working in a community pharmacy and there is a lot to learn that you could only gain from experience,” advised Daniel.

What can you do to get into hospital pharmacy?

I asked Jimmy to comment on what he thinks about this affecting other pharmacist’s opportunities in hospital and if he could share any encouraging advice. Jimmy stated, “In the larger cities I understand it's not as easy to get into hospital pharmacy especially when you haven't done your internship in hospital. It can be done though; it might just take some, more persistence and / or a willingness to move to a smaller regional hospital until you get some job experience.”

After speaking with Aaron Fitzpatrick, the Director of Pharmacy at Ballarat Base Hospital (Ballarat Health Services), about the transition from community to hospital he confirmed that it is a “tricky one as it could be a bit involved. For a hospital pharmacist we do prefer previous hospital experience (an internship at a hospital counts as well).” Aaron has however expounded that community pharmacists who have had “experience / credentials in conducting HMRs, could be very useful to the hospital sector.

“We’ve had a couple of community pharmacist employed by us before. For these pharmacists - they’ve usually started with a role as a dispensary pharmacist.  The ward-based tasks / clinical pharmacy role, does take a fair amount of on-site training, so transitioning to these roles can be challenging,” explained Aaron. A great step in the door as Aaron stated is starting as a dispensary pharmacist, if you haven’t had previous experience or completed an internship in a hospital.

In conclusion, although it is preferred and easier to have previous hospital experience or to complete your internship through a hospital pharmacy, there are other ways to cross-skill from community to hospital and get that exciting opportunity you have been looking for!

Sometimes the hardest doors to get through can be the best and most fulfilling ones.

If you have questions about your career, we can help with answers - contact Eryn Chivers or Sheryll Dobson now!

At Raven's Recruitment, we’ve been specialising in Pharmacist recruitment for a long time, so we have expert knowledge in the space. If you’re looking for an exciting opportunity to work as a locum pharmacist or want a permanent job, then look no further - get in touch with our Recruitment Consultants now.