All good things must come to an end, and so goes the pharmacist shortage

The pharmacist shortage was both good and bad for the pharmacy profession. On one hand it created demand which drove up salaries and improved work environments for some. On the other hand it created an environment of apathy where competition to become better dipped because frequently all you needed was a pulse and a license to get hired and/or keep your job.

Well, times are changing. I noticed a slight change in pharmacist demand during my last two years in the hospital and many people that I’ve talked to across the country confirm what I’ve been thinking – the pharmacist shortage is over.

Today I received my weekly Coumpounding Today newsletter that says much the same thing. In it Loyd Allen, the editor says “Consequently [for the reasons cited above], many pharmacists are staying in the workforce longer than anticipated and some have returned to the workforce that have already retired because of increased costs and the lack of adequate finances for their retirement. This may be full-time or part-time employment.

The end result is that the workforce in pharmacy is becoming overpopulated and new graduates are having trouble finding jobs. This is further complicated by fewer new chain stores being built and a significant increase in the number of colleges of pharmacy (from about 80 in the 70s to over 140 currently), that are now churning out more pharmacists.

A reversal in this trend will probably not occur until the US economy changes with an increase in new pharmacies opening, retirement becomes more “profitable”, closing of some colleges of pharmacy or other activities that impact pharmacy practice. Retirement age of pharmacists may increase from 62, to 65, to 70, to 75…it’s hard to tell what is going to happen but the topic needs to be discussed at the national level.”

This all equates to good news for hospitals, retail chains, long-term care pharmacies, etc. Unfortunately I can’t say the same for the new grads coming out of school and entering the workforce. I remember how hard it was for me to get my first hospital job after pharmacy school. I didn’t have a residency under my belt – considered blasphemy by UCSF – and had it not been for the pharmacist shortage I would have never been given a chance. It took a phone interview, two personal interviews and letters of recommendation before the hospital I went to work for agreed to “give me a three month evaluation.” I shudder to think where I would have ended up if there would have been no shortage; I was working for a chain pharmacy at the time.

What’s this all mean for the profession? I don’t know, but it’ll be interesting to watch it develop over the next decade or so.

13 thoughts on “All good things must come to an end, and so goes the pharmacist shortage”

  1. The majority of the workforce is women, they are turning in more hours due to recession which could change with better times. Also, consolidation in the market (closure of independent pharmacies and regional chains) have given rise to a larger pool of pharmacists. Then there are lot of Pharmacists who have come from other countries. The change is definitely welcome for chains and patients….

  2. Interesting perspective Santhosh. You’ve made some valuable points regarding women in the workforce, the increase of pharmacists secondary to independent closures, and pharmacists from other countries. Even though I think the chains welcome the increase in numbers, I don’t think many pharmacists feel the same way. Have you ever met a pharmacists that likes working for a chain? That’s not a sarcastic question, it’s sincere. There may be some, but I have yet to meet one. I hope patients are benefiting from the additional pharmacists in your model, but I have my doubts. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. “Have you ever met a pharmacists that likes working for a chain? That’s not a sarcastic question, it’s sincere.”

    Working the front lines in hospital pharmacy isn’t such a joy either, especially if you work for a “for profit” hospital chain. It’s definitely better than chain retail, but it’s got it’s downsides too.

  4. TCP –

    Interesting take on the hospital gig. I’ll admit that the hospital has its issues; spent 14 yrs in acute care pharmacy myself before deciding it was bad enough to get out. With that said, I’d take hospital pharmacy over retail any day of the week. Of course that’s just my opinion and mileage may vary. Thanks for stopping by.


  5. I have a different perspective about the changes. I see the chains overreaching with their newfound power and the pharmacists who are not willing minions will run to buy up existing independents. Customers will be left to choose whether they wanna be served by unmotivated overworked uncaring staff or by the independents who treat them with respect. And the cycle begins again. As they say, buy low and sell high. I look for independent pharmacies to rise again!

  6. I have been recruiting Pharmacists for 16 years. Obviously, these are challenging time for the Pharmacy profession. Bad Economy, Poor Housing Market, Too many schools, and older pharmacists working later in life have all contributed to a perceived overage in the market. I still notice that openings do exist in the rural areas for those pharmacists who are willing to leave the larger Metro areas. Employers however are more picky as the average number of resume’s per opening has increased. We still highly recommend all new graduates obtain inpatient Hospital Experience early on to open up future opportunities.

    Mark Cochrane
    National Recruiting Director
    RPh Professional Search

  7. I considered becoming a pharmacist. Then it struck me on how “computerized” the profession can become. By the end of the decade, we should have chips smart as a human brain and maybe in 15-20 years, the chip will be smarter than all the human brains in the world. There is a big push for computers to be involved more active healthcare and honestly, replacing pharmacists seems to be one the easiest healthcare professions to replace. This is because pharmacy involves no “joint movements” (family practice doc at least does some procedures) and pharmacy is quite an “objective” job.

    I think many pick careers based on “now.” What they forget to see is what computers can do in the inevitable future. When I picked my career, I made sure there were no leaps in innovation by computers (AI still struggles with independent movement).

  8. I don’t necessarily disagree with your conclusion, but I’m unclear what you mean by “computerized”. Most everything is computerized, pharmacy no more than anything. The profession still relies on a fair amount of human thought and decision making ability.

  9. I have recently read that 38% of pharmacy schools have or are planning a 7-year program. We all know that the chains have gone way too far with their power. I think they will soon regret what they have done and continue to do. There is no shortage now but I give it 4 years and it will be worse than early 2000. I think the 7 year schools are going to prevent new school opening and deter students from entering. The horrible retail conditions are moving more grads to clinical. The economy will rebound and older pharmacists will choose to retire. After all that what will happen when these chains start to expand again. I know of only one new chain expansion over last 4 years. They where building all the time back in 2006. These chains want u to believe they are in competition with each other but the work together when it comes to legislation. All the dm’s and directors now each other within the varies chains in a region. What goes around will come around. They keep pushing and some day they will get pushed.

  10. I know this may seem like heresy, but do you truly need a PharmD to work at a Walmart Pharmacy? No, I don’t mean the legal framework; obviously, all new students “need” a PharmD in order to get their license. We know, factually, that there are still plenty of BS pharmacists out there, and they count pills as good as the PharmD’s do. Errors are equal opportunity, and there is no indication that a PharmD is more or less likely to make an error than the BS. Seriously, in most busy chain pharmacies, the techs do virtually everything. The pharmacist is as much a manager/auditor of the techs than anything else. demitri’s comments about automation make sense. How long will it be until pharmacy’s version of a nurse-practitioner will start handling routine dispensing of retail medicines, with a PharmD on call to handle the unusual questions as they come up. A few changes in your state’s laws, and bam, a $50,000 a year tech-practitioner will be running the pharmacy in place of the $140,000 pharmacist. Better make sure you pay your association dues, so they can keep paying the lobbyists to keep your state legislatures on the straight and narrow.

  11. I agree with pretty much everything you just said. If you read through posts on this site you’ll realize that I believe pharmacy is likely headed for extinction. Walmart doesn’t need a pharmacist with a Pharm.D. I’d argue that they don’t need a pharmacist at all for 90% of the work. Legal obligation keeps pharmacists employed, nothing more. It’s a good time to consider another career choice in my opinion.

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