clinical pharmacist vs pharmacist what's the difference


In the ever-evolving landscape of healthcare, the roles and responsibilities of professionals within the field are becoming increasingly specialized. One such distinction that often leads to confusion among the general public is the difference between a clinical pharmacist and a pharmacist. While both play pivotal roles in ensuring the safe and effective use of medications, their scopes of practice, education, and daily duties differ significantly. In this article, we will explore the nuances that set clinical pharmacists apart from their counterparts and shed light on the importance of each role in the healthcare ecosystem.

Understanding the Basics

Before delving into the specifics, it’s essential to establish a foundational understanding of the roles of pharmacists and clinical pharmacists.

  1. Pharmacist:

Pharmacists, often referred to as retail or community pharmacists, are healthcare professionals responsible for dispensing prescription medications to patients. They work in various settings, including community pharmacies, hospitals, and clinics. Pharmacists play a crucial role in ensuring that patients receive the correct medications and understand how to use them safely.

Their responsibilities include:

  • Dispensing prescription medications
  • Providing advice on over-the-counter medications
  • Offering counseling on medication usage, potential side effects, and interactions
  • Collaborating with healthcare providers to optimize medication regimens

Pharmacists are commonly found behind the counter in community pharmacies, where they interact directly with patients, answering questions and addressing concerns related to their medications.

  1. Clinical Pharmacist:

Clinical pharmacists, on the other hand, have a more specialized role within the healthcare system. They work in clinical settings, such as hospitals or healthcare institutions, and collaborate closely with other healthcare professionals, including physicians and nurses. Clinical pharmacists are involved in direct patient care and contribute to the management of complex medical conditions through their expertise in medications.

Key responsibilities of clinical pharmacists include:

  • Participating in multidisciplinary healthcare teams
  • Conducting medication reviews and assessments
  • Adjusting medication regimens based on patient needs and clinical guidelines
  • Monitoring patients for medication-related problems and adverse effects
  • Educating healthcare providers and patients on optimal medication use

Clinical pharmacists often work alongside physicians in hospitals, contributing to patient care rounds, and they may specialize in areas such as cardiology, infectious diseases, or critical care.

Education and Training

One of the primary factors that differentiate clinical pharmacists from pharmacists is the level of education and training required for each role.

  1. Pharmacist:

To become a pharmacist, individuals typically pursue a Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) degree, which involves completing a four-year professional program after obtaining a bachelor’s degree. The PharmD program covers a broad range of pharmaceutical and clinical topics, including pharmacology, medicinal chemistry, and patient care.

Upon graduation, aspiring pharmacists must pass the North American Pharmacist Licensure Examination (NAPLEX) and, in some states, the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Examination (MPJE) to obtain a license to practice.

  1. Clinical Pharmacist:

Clinical pharmacists undergo additional training beyond the standard PharmD program, often completing postgraduate residency programs or fellowships. These programs, which typically last one to two years, provide specialized training in clinical pharmacy practice and expose pharmacists to various patient care settings.

During their residencies, clinical pharmacists gain hands-on experience in areas such as internal medicine, pediatrics, or ambulatory care. They work closely with other healthcare professionals and develop skills in patient assessment, therapeutic decision-making, and medication management.

It’s important to note that while clinical pharmacists have a more extensive education and training background, both roles require ongoing professional development to stay abreast of the latest advancements in pharmacotherapy and healthcare practices.

Scope of Practice

The scope of practice for pharmacists and clinical pharmacists is shaped by their education, training, and the healthcare settings in which they work.

  1. Pharmacist:

Pharmacists primarily operate in community or retail settings, where their interactions with patients are often transactional and focused on dispensing medications. While they provide valuable information about medication use and potential side effects, their involvement in direct patient care is limited compared to clinical pharmacists.

Pharmacists may also engage in collaborative practices with other healthcare providers, especially in settings like hospitals, but their primary responsibility is to ensure the accuracy and safety of medication dispensing.

  1. Clinical Pharmacist:

Clinical pharmacists have a broader scope of practice, involving direct patient care and active participation in healthcare teams. Their role extends beyond dispensing medications to encompass a comprehensive approach to medication management. Clinical pharmacists are integral members of interdisciplinary teams, contributing their expertise to enhance patient outcomes.

In hospitals, clinical pharmacists are often involved in activities such as:

  • Conducting medication reconciliations to ensure accurate and up-to-date medication lists for patients
  • Collaborating with physicians to develop and adjust medication regimens
  • Monitoring patients for adverse drug reactions and therapeutic effectiveness
  • Providing drug information and education to healthcare providers and patients
  • Participating in clinical rounds and patient care conferences

Clinical pharmacists may also specialize in specific areas, such as oncology, psychiatry, or critical care, allowing them to focus on the unique medication-related challenges within those fields.

Patient Interaction

The level and nature of patient interaction differ significantly between pharmacists and clinical pharmacists.

  1. Pharmacist:

Pharmacists in community or retail settings have direct and frequent interactions with patients. Patients visit pharmacies to pick up their prescriptions, seek advice on over-the-counter medications, or inquire about potential drug interactions. Pharmacists play a crucial role in ensuring that patients understand how to take their medications safely and effectively.

These interactions are often brief and transactional, with pharmacists providing information at the point of dispensing. While pharmacists contribute to patient education and counseling, their involvement in ongoing patient care is generally limited.

  1. Clinical Pharmacist:

Clinical pharmacists engage in more in-depth and ongoing interactions with patients, particularly in hospital or ambulatory care settings. They actively participate in patient care rounds, where they collaborate with physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to make informed decisions about medication therapy.

Clinical pharmacists may:

  • Conduct thorough medication reviews with patients to assess medication adherence and address concerns
  • Educate patients about their medications, potential side effects, and the importance of adherence
  • Assess and monitor patients for drug-related problems, adjusting therapy as needed
  • Collaborate with patients and healthcare providers to optimize medication regimens based on individual needs and clinical guidelines

These interactions allow clinical pharmacists to contribute significantly to patient outcomes by addressing medication-related issues in real-time.

Collaboration with Healthcare Teams

Both pharmacists and clinical pharmacists engage in collaborative practices within healthcare teams, but the depth and nature of their collaboration differ.

  1. Pharmacist:

Pharmacists collaborate with healthcare providers, including physicians, nurses, and other allied health professionals, to ensure the safe and effective use of medications. In community pharmacies, this collaboration may involve communication with prescribers to clarify prescriptions, address potential drug interactions, or recommend alternative therapies.

In hospitals, pharmacists work closely with healthcare teams to provide drug information, contribute to medication management decisions, and participate in quality improvement initiatives. However, their role is often more supportive, with a focus on medication dispensing and safety.

  1. Clinical Pharmacist:

Clinical pharmacists are integral members of healthcare teams, actively participating in patient care rounds and contributing their expertise to the decision-making process. They collaborate with physicians, nurses, and other healthcare professionals to develop and implement individualized medication regimens.

Clinical pharmacists also play a vital role in:

  • Identifying and resolving medication-related problems
  • Providing evidence-based recommendations on drug therapy
  • Offering therapeutic monitoring and dose adjustments as needed
  • Educating healthcare providers about new medications and best practices in pharmacotherapy

The depth of collaboration with healthcare teams positions clinical pharmacists as essential contributors to comprehensive patient care.

Specialization and Subspecialties

While both pharmacists and clinical pharmacists may choose to specialize in specific areas, clinical pharmacists often pursue subspecialties that align with their interests and expertise.

  1. Pharmacist:

Pharmacists working in community or retail settings may develop expertise in certain areas, such as compounding medications, managing medication therapy for chronic conditions, or providing specialized services like immunizations. However, their scope of practice is generally broad, and they cater to a diverse range of patient needs.

  1. Clinical Pharmacist:

Clinical pharmacists have the opportunity to specialize in various fields, such as:

  • Infectious diseases
  • Cardiology
  • Critical care
  • Oncology
  • Pediatrics
  • Psychiatry
  • Ambulatory care

These subspecialties allow clinical pharmacists to focus their skills and knowledge on specific patient populations or disease states, contributing to more specialized and targeted care.

Impact on Patient Outcomes

The distinct roles of pharmacists and clinical pharmacists have different but complementary impacts on patient outcomes.

  1. Pharmacist:

Pharmacists in community or retail settings contribute to patient outcomes by ensuring the accurate dispensing of medications, providing education on proper medication use, and addressing immediate concerns. Their role is crucial in preventing medication errors, promoting adherence, and enhancing patient safety.

While the impact of community pharmacists on overall patient outcomes may be less direct than that of clinical pharmacists, they play a vital role in the broader healthcare system by acting as the last line of defense in medication safety before a patient begins their prescribed therapy.

  1. Clinical Pharmacist:

Clinical pharmacists have a more direct impact on patient outcomes due to their involvement in patient care rounds and comprehensive medication management. By actively participating in treatment decisions, monitoring for adverse effects, and optimizing medication regimens, clinical pharmacists contribute to improved therapeutic outcomes and reduced medication-related complications.

The specialized knowledge and skills of clinical pharmacists are particularly valuable in managing complex medical conditions, where medication therapy requires close monitoring and adjustments to achieve optimal results. Their contributions to patient care extend beyond medication dispensing to actively shaping treatment plans and enhancing overall healthcare quality.


In conclusion, while both pharmacists and clinical pharmacists share a commitment to ensuring the safe and effective use of medications, their roles, education, training, and scopes of practice differ significantly. Pharmacists, often found in community or retail settings, focus on dispensing medications, providing patient education, and collaborating with healthcare providers to promote medication safety. On the other hand, clinical pharmacists, working in clinical settings like hospitals, actively participate in patient care rounds, conduct medication reviews, and contribute to the management of complex medical conditions.

Understanding the distinctions between these two roles is essential for healthcare professionals, policymakers, and the general public. Both pharmacists and clinical pharmacists play indispensable roles in the healthcare ecosystem, each contributing to the well-being of patients in unique and valuable ways. By appreciating and recognizing these differences, we can foster a more comprehensive and collaborative approach to medication management, ultimately improving patient outcomes and advancing the quality of healthcare delivery.