Are Public or Private hospital pharmacy jobs better?

hospital pharmacy Apr 22, 2022

Ever wondered what the difference is between Public and Private hospital pharmacies, and what is the best option is if you are looking to transition into hospital? 

Private hospital work can vary greatly depending on the company, type of hospital facility, level of clinical involvement of the pharmacist, and pressures to chase revenue - with some likening it to a community pharmacy structure. However private hospitals can provide greater job security than public hospitals, and anecdotally many pharmacists move into public after dipping their toes into private hospital first. But this isn’t always the case. 

So what are the real differences between private and public hospital? If you are choosing between them, what should you consider? Read on!



Public hospitals have clear and transparent pay scales for pharmacists. Pay rates increase annually with years of experience (to a certain point). If you have a relevant post-graduate qualification or enter into a hospital position with years of previous pharmacist experience, this is usually recognised and reflected in a pay scale increase (but you’ll have to ask for it!) 

Public hospitals also offer other benefits such as salary sacrifice, leave loading, penalty rates, increased super contributions, ADOs / RDOs, and excellent maternity leave. 

While you may have access to some of these benefits in a private hospital, it is unlikely they will be as lucrative.  

Private hospital jobs often reflect the community pharmacy pay scale. However, this also depends on whether they have an enterprise bargaining agreement in place. Although the tiers exist for the pay scales, they aren’t as transparent and it is more difficult to progress through them, with manager reviews playing a part. 


Job security 

If job security is high on your list (new mortgage anyone?) and you are keen to move into hospital pharmacy, then read this section carefully.   Permanent, full-time, public hospital positions are few and far between. These positions are highly competitive and usually filled by pharmacists already working within the hospital setting, often in the same department. This is because they have the experience and know what to expect in the application and interview process. Pharmacists who’ve never worked in a public hospital, even if they actually get an interview, are likely to be underprepared for the process. This is not to say you shouldn’t try. But I talk more about this in my e-book, and provide guidance and strategies for greater success.  

There is one exception to this.  if you are applying to a rural or remote hospital, where recruitment is often difficult, permanent positions are offered to retain staff. They will forego a lack of experience for the trade-off that you will stay longer. This will provide stability for the department and therefore the training they give to you will be worth it. I’m a huge advocate of rural and remote pharmacy and if you are serious about career progression and have the means to do it - then DO IT!  

Most pharmacist roles in public hospitals will be a contract (usually 3 or 6 months),  or a casual (pool) position. This is pretty well how most get their foot in the door and progress from there into permanent positions when the opportunity arises. 

Private hospitals are much more likely to offer permanent positions, similar to community pharmacies. So this is important to factor in if your circumstances don’t support temporary positions. Keep in mind that even if you transfer at a later time from private to public, the competition for permanent jobs will still be the same. 


Career Progression

Public hospitals are usually large departments with different clinical areas in which you can have an opportunity to rotate. As other pharmacists move in and out of different positions, there are usually plenty of opportunities to be seconded or “act up” in a higher role. This provides an opportunity to learn and develop new skills, which in turn allows you to progress into higher roles.  

Both Public and Private hospitals will provide opportunities to be involved in committees and review groups, such as medicines advisory committees, antimicrobial stewardship, medication safety, auditing, etc. In Public hospitals there may be more competition for these positions, but more of them are available. Whereas in private hospitals, the pharmacist numbers may be less, however, there may not be as much time or value allocated to the participation of pharmacists in these groups.   

Public hospital roles often provide paid professional development leave and encourage pharmacists to regularly review their career plan with their team leaders. They actively encourage upskilling and allow time to participate in education. Many public hospital pharmacy departments run regular education sessions. 

There may also be opportunities to be involved in funding and research. For example, in my hospital role, I was granted an allied health rural generalist scholarship to undertake postgraduate training and complete a research project in renal pharmacy. 


Final thoughts

If you are planning a hospital career pathway, private hospital jobs have been a great stepping stone for many pharmacists moving into a public hospital role, and they generally provide greater job security but possibly less pay and less opportunity for career progression. However, it could be an excellent learning experience, one in which your skills can be transferable to the public hospital environment. Especially when it comes to medication charts, medication reconciliation, admission and discharge processes, medication safety, and multidisciplinary care. 

Although I’d always do my best to learn about the culture inside the hospital, as this will be one of the most important factors in your overall job satisfaction. For example, do you really want to work in an environment where people are stepping over one another to get to the top? No thankyou. 

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