The job market for pharmacists has taken an ugly turn

There was a time when I could have found half a dozen pharmacist job openings in one afternoon. Now I find myself in a position where I can’t even find one.

It’s no secret that I was laid off several weeks ago; July 25th to be exact. I don’t know why I was laid off, only that my position was eliminated. I didn’t really think to ask any questions at the time as I was in a state of disbelief. I’ve been a pharmacist for just over 16 years and during that time I had never been laid off, fired, or “let go”. This is officially uncharted territory. I’m told that this kind of thing “happens in business”. Sucks anyway.

Several people reached out with condolences and words of support, but it came from people that I didn’t expect. The people I thought I’d hear from I didn’t. I suppose it’s time like these when you separate out the pretenders from the real thing. I digress.

After allowing myself a few days to get past the anger and disbelief, I started the task of finding a new job. First I had to decide whether I wanted to continue to do something similar to what I had been doing for the past 32 months, or simply go back to practicing as a real pharmacist. I liked being a product manager. I enjoyed applying my pharmacy knowledge to technology. It was a no-brainer, I would try to stay in the same field and get a job doing the same thing with a different company.

I reached out to all the companies in the pharmacy automation and technology space I could think of. Some had positions, some didn’t. Some wanted to talk, some didn’t. One wasn’t “the right fit”. One wanted more experience in “marketing”. And so on down the line. Short answer, I couldn’t find anything similar. I’m sure there’s a position out there somewhere, but like the first job I took as a product manager it won’t likely be on a job board anywhere. It’ll come through someone who knows someone. That seems to be the way things work.

With my primary objective fading, I decided to call all the pharmacy directors I knew in the area and ask for a staff position. Staff positions are easy to come by, right? Not so. There are no hospital staff pharmacist positions within 50 miles of my home. So I expanded my search grid and still came up empty. Moving on.

With a full-time position as a hospital pharmacist looking less and less likely, I decided to take some part-time or per diem work. Plus it would be a good way to get my foot in the door at one of the local hospitals. Unfortunately my timing appears to be bad. As one of my friends that works as a pharmacy operations manager in the area said, “this has never happened before, but <hospital name redacted> has nothing, not a single opening”. This is unheard of in the Central Valley of California.

With my hopes of picking up some work in a local hospital shattered, I decided to move on to something less desirable; retail pharmacy. I’m not a fan, but bills don’t pay themselves. I checked with the big chains in the area and found that they had no open positions. Unbelievable, literally. I thought there was an anti-Jerry conspiracy in play. Retail pharmacy has been the fallback position for pharmacists looking for work for years.

So now I’m looking into alternatives. I’ve started looking at positions out of state, which is complicated because: 1) I’m only licensed in California, and 2) my daughter has two years left in high school. I would hate to uproot her now. I’ve considered doing some consulting. Someone recommended it because of my background. The idea has turned into an enigma. Consulting work sounds great because it offers potential variety, but how do you get started? Seriously, it doesn’t just walk up and knock on your door. Or does it? Doubtful.

So the bottom line is this, it’s not a great time to be a pharmacist out of work. I never, ever thought there would come a time when finding work as a pharmacist would take anything more than a quick phone call. I wonder what all the new grads that just got out of pharmacy school are doing.

23 thoughts on “The job market for pharmacists has taken an ugly turn”

  1. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The PharmD has become the new Jd. Too many schools opened up as diploma mills and ACPE did nothing but accredit them. The market will correct itself, but not after lots of hardship from people with 100k in loans with no job to pay them off. Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts thousands of new jobs by 2020, but they are not coming to fruition. Sad day for the profession.

  2. I am a halfway reader of your blog and didn’t know you had been laid off. That is awful. It seems with the push to CPOE, it should be easy for someone with your background to find consulting work.

    That being said I know two new grads who have been out of school for two years and still don’t have full time pharmacy jobs. It makes me so mad. Where were our organizations and boards when they were opening up pop-up pharmacy schools? My market is small, and they opened a new school right when the “bubble burst.” The old schools increased class size too. Of course jobs are going to be hard to find. I was a student when they started the new school and the feeling in the pit of my stomach was that I had chosen the wrong profession if ours was so shortsighted.

    There was a shortage, true, but there is a shortage of MDs too and you don’t see them over saturating the market in the same way.

  3. What you’re saying seems to ring true for a lot of areas around the country these days. It appears that we’ve shot ourselves in the foot.

  4. Have you tried consulting? You seem to travel a lot so you could try the big IT companies? Email me and I will hook you up.

  5. Glad to hear you got back to work! Great news!
    I’m still worried if I can find a job when I graduate! Sad to see this profession to go downhill.

  6. hi Jerry,

    I am a P4 will be graduating next year and with the limit pharmacist position really got me worry. I had background in engineering before pharmacy school. I am interesting in looking for position where I can applied both knowledge and you seem like a perfect person to ask for advice/questions. If you could shoot me an email I am greatly appreciate.

  7. I am in your shoes but on the opposite side of the country in RI. I am licensed in 2 states and am currently getting licensed in a third with the hope I can find another position anywhere. It’s unbelievable considering 7 years ago I was job hunting for a better retail position and was offered $20,000 sign on bonus.

  8. I’m beyond frustrated. I have a Pharm.D. and an M.B.A and I am unemployed. I was recently let go for not being a good fit as well as attendance problems due to sick children and no support system. Now that the situation is resolved I am over qualified for some,don’t have enough RECENT clinical experience for hospital, and have no experience to be a MSL or Consultant. This is so discouraging!!

  9. Wow, sorry to hear about your situation, Kathy. I never did find another “traditional” pharmacy job. I ended up going to work for myself as a “consultant”; basically piecing a bunch of little jobs together to create full-time work. I wish you luck in your endeavor. – Jerry

  10. I would love to do something like that because it might allow me the time I need to be a great Mom and Pharmacist. If you have any pointers on how to get started I would be grateful.

    Kathy

  11. Hi Kathy – I don’t know what to tell you. I made some great contacts over the years. When people heard I was out of a job I simply started talking to people in the industry. It was a slow process. Took me about 4 months to get my first gig, which was only 10-20 hours a week. Then another 10-20 hour a week gig a month later, and that’s it. Nothing since then.

    If you’re not already doing it, you need to get yourself on LinkedIn, Twitter, etc. Engage with people. Find yourself a nice. That’s all the advice I have. Good luck, I hope everything works out for you.
    Jerry

  12. Though I would not consider myself that old (55)to be a pharmacist, I feel the jobs are going to younger folks. PharmDs. We did not have that in our time and having left work to raise children and working part time I now find myself with no position. Biasness exists though not on paper or applications.

    I never thought that it would come to this. Right when you are in your middle age. The enthusiasm of being a pharmacist was at its peak at graduation and now is a very distant and not so real any longer

    How would one be a consultant or an MSL?

  13. Not sure how one becomes a consultant. I just fell into it out of necessity/survival. I’d say find something that you like, and are very good at and start promoting yourself. Get on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media sites and start conversations about your topic of interest. Sorry I can’t be more specific, but as I said above, it just happened for me.

  14. Jerry,

    Your situation strikes a familiar chord with me. I’m not old (49, soon to turn 50), licensed in four states and DC and getting my BCPS back in the fall. But I’ve put in over 400 applications spread out over eight states and DC. I’ve had 16 interviews with no offers!! Even per diem work is harder than finding a “purple squirrel”!!

    Time is now my enemy….unemployment has run out. I’m ready to sell health club memberships to keep food on the table, but even that won’t come close to what a pharmacist makes.

    I’m only saddened that our so-called leaders in the profession are not asking the hardest questions of those who allow for sweatshop conditions in the chains while at the same time fostering those very same conditions by turning out so many pharmacists which drive down salaries AND not giving our BOPs the enforcement tools (and members) needed to get the conditions to at least safe and tolerable AND making post graduate training a viable option for those who are seriously interested in it!!

    Credo Ergo Loquor!

  15. My cousin is a pharmacist works for 9 years, including 2 years of part time jobs. She keeps looking for job in both hospital, independent, LTC and insurance company. She even applies for Federal Bureau of Prisons, VA hospitals, all Universities, City and County pharmacist jobs. She is either “Over” qualified or dismissed due to lack of residency for Clinical Pharmacist.

    Even for Clinical Pharmacist, most are Per DIEM or Part time. They demanded a lot of responsibilities with minimal help or no help at all from Pharm. Techs.

    Many Pharmacist jobs she applied do not offer full time jobs as they said in interview no matter how long you work with them. She just accept anyway. Still they disregard her candidacy. Found out, most were filled by family members of friends of current employees.

    She is so depressed that even openings for clinical counselor jobs for drug abuse treatment center rejecting her app. Well, her Pharm. D program does not match with BS degree in Sociology WHICH dealing with drug treatment!!!!!

    She depends on her low paying part time Pharmacist job to get by. Her boss, pharmacy owner has a side job as real estate to pay for Rx business!!! Her husband, a very experienced car mechanic and business owner also has to close his family business after 12 years in his career.

    House market is sky high in CA. Apartment buildings are everywhere. Cities and Counties just hand out all building permits to land developers and investors. Traffic is nightmare. Small business owners are struggling to get by. But, WATER is huge problem. No longer you can get rental with H2O coverage!!! $500 fine with you get over H20 allowance!!!

    People keep coming to CA. I see a lot of CA leave state for jobs, for opening businesses with flexible city and state regulations, cheaper housing, water and air quality.

    What is going on? What happen to this CA state? I pull my hair out already.

  16. I have been a for 23 years and it’s an absolute nightmare,a low demand and massive supply.Shame on the academia and the dopey kids for falling into the trap of being a pharmacist.I lost my job and couldn’t find one,any full-time job for 3.3 yrs,I was just hired for a position,let’s see how that goes.The bottom line it’s a thankless profession with absolutely no job security at all.I was earning $58.35 3.3yrs ago,my new position is paying $53,I wish i was a lawyer but i’m too honest for that profession.

  17. Thank you for providing this article. When I first graduated from pharmacy school in 2005, I got hired as a pharmacist. I am 38 and a pharmacist for over 11 years and currently work 45-50 hours a week at a mail order pharmacy. I have savings of about 250,000. With the overtime I make close to 200,000 a year due to an hourly rate of 78 an hour. My friends and family keep criticizing how I am working so much and trying to pay off my mortgage and stockpile savings. None of my family or friends understand that pharmacy is a job that is not stable and you should milk the hell out of it when its there. In 10 years when I slow down, they will lay me off and hire some new kid and give me the boot. I keep telling my friends and family the demand is low and I am lucky to have this job. I will show them this article to shut them up.

  18. Hello Mr Quillen: I am an unemployed RPh with 25 years experience. Can you provide me with any advice or direction regarding pharmacy consulting? I live in NH.
    Thank You,
    Andy

  19. There’re no Pharmacist Jobs, extremely over-saturated all over the country, but people still go to pharmacy schools and buy what they sell. It’s amazing, no one talks about this on national media, academia and pharmacy boards. I wonder what Thousands of other pharmacists going to do as time goes by and jobs are scarce?

  20. Graduated in ‘78, never saw this coming. Licensed now in 5 states. Willing to relocate, and take whatever is available is humiliating and depressing. But still continue to pay my yearly dues and obtain the necessary CE to keep licenses active and current, just in case I get a call for an interview. Then when I do, it’s to the point of ‘why put myself through this again’? March I was able to enroll and take early retirement. Cancelled cuz I got a job at an ICE facility. 2 months later walked out and asked to continue my early retirement. Retirement funds, or what is left after the crash, is sad. This December I plan on not renewing all of my licenses. Three armed robberies over the years, totally destroyed my outlook on dealing with the public, plus all the crap you deal with on an everyday basis. I’ll enjoy what life I have left, and never look back. A pack of nabs and a coke, (as Chris Farley would say “ living in a van down by the river”, ) is not so bad. Thanks Pharmacy for screwing me over, and yes I won’t look back.

  21. I have a New Jersey license 3 years ago
    I can’t find a job until now.
    Do you have any suggestions for other alternative jobs?
    I want to work something related to Pharmacist career

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