Supply Outpacing Demand as New Pharmacy School Graduates Struggle

It was predicted over the last decade that there would be a shortage of pharmacists along with a possibility that pharmacists’ role in medical care would be expanding, reports Katie Zavadski of New Republic — and this made a career in pharmacy look like a lucrative and smart choice for college-bound teenagers:

Nicholas Popovich, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy,says, “Some signing bonuses even involved a car, that type of thing.”

But the profession is now on the edge of a crisis. Pharmacy jobs have disappeared, while at the same time the number of pharmacy students is rising.  Jobs in big cities are already filled, while pharmacy graduates are leaving school with hundreds of thousands of dollars of loan debt, and still more students are signing up for the six-year commitment.

In 2000, almost 6,000 pharmacist jobs were available. The next year it was predicted that there would be a 157,000-pharmacist shortage within two decades. The country took notice, and in the last two decades the number of pharmacy schools have gone from 72 in 1987 to 130 today.  In 2009, the number of j0bs available was just about equal to the pharmacists looking for work. Now only about ten states have an even an average number of employment prospects with just about enough openings for the job seekers.

“My estimate [is] 20 percent unemployment of new grads by 2018,” Daniel Brown, a pharmacy professor at Palm Beach Atlantic University, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2013. “The job market is [stagnant], but we’re still pumping out graduates every year.”

Provider status, which results from having a PharmD degree, is the label for the new degree which enables pharmacist to take on client counseling roles to maximize patient outcomes, and the pharmacist, when doing so, might be able to bill for their services. Physicians are reluctant to abandon their share of the market. Some states have begun to include pharmacists as members of the care teams and will allow them to provide medication therapy management services. The expansion is not yet what had once been predicted.

There were calls for controlled academic growth in 2005 and 2010, but they went unnoticed, says Daniel L. Brown writing for the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education. The house of student delegates of the American Pharmacists Association-Academy of Student Pharmacists approved a resolution on the subject in 2012 by passing resolution 2012:2, “Creation, Expansion, or Reductions of Schools and Colleges of Pharmacy Relative to Pharmacist Demand. Still, nothing was done.

Erin L. Albert, MBA, PharmD, JD, on her Linkedin blog says things are not much better for law schools. Law school enrollments were down nationwide 40% last year and one law school is not even enrolling a 1L class this coming fall. Law students who are in school may graduate with a six figure debt, and, with luck, find a $50,000 per year job.

But since Albert’s first love is pharmacy, she gives a few pointers to those who are already in pharmacy school with the hope that pharmacy schools will not go down the same road that law schools have traveled.

Pharmacy students should find a unique specialty area, something extra that can be brought to the table. Some examples given by Albert are operational or business knowledge; a therapeutic area, such as oncology; pursuing a fellowship or a dual degree.

Students need to find schools that has tracks, specialties, and dual degree programs like a PharmD Plus. They need to explore research, biotechnology, pharmacogenomic, or informatics tracks, she says.

Pharmacy schools need to have something extra to offer students, too.  They should ask the school what makes it one-of-a-kind. If the school does not have a program that offers something that other schools do not (entrepreneurship, media communications studies, or a healthcare policy center), Albert says to choose another.

And time is money, says the author. A student can always go back to get another degree after he or she has a job and money to pay for a graduate program.