Do new pharmacists face a joblessness crisis?

October 21, 2013

An overestimation of future pharmacist jobs plus too many pharmacy schools will lead to a joblessness crisis for new pharmacy students, predicts a recent report in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education.

An overestimation of future pharmacist jobs plus too many pharmacy schools will lead to a joblessness crisis for new pharmacy students, predicts a recent report in the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education.

The report was written by Daniel L. Brown, PharmD, professor of pharmacy practice at the Lloyd L. Gregory School of Pharmacy at Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida. 

“The PharmD degree became a hot commodity, generating a seemingly inexhaustible supply of applicants to colleges and schools of pharmacy. Inevitably, higher education came to see pharmacy as a golden goose,” the report said.

“But no goose harbors an infinite supply of golden eggs, and the inordinate rate of academic growth that ensued has put the academy at risk, along with its students,” the report said.

Brown attributes the start of the predicted crisis to the 2001 Pharmacy Manpower Project, which estimated a shortfall of 157,000 full-time pharmacists by 2020. He said that analysis assumed the addition of only 3 new PharmD programs every 10 years.  

“In 2000, there were 80 colleges and schools of pharmacy in the United States. Since then, 48 new programs have been established and 2 schools combined into 1 college, bringing the total to 127 accredited colleges and schools as of fall 2012-a 60% increase from 2000,” the report said.

It continued: “By 2016, when the graduates of these colleges and schools are included in the count and when the recent expansion of existing programs has taken effect, the number of PharmD graduates will range between 14,000 and 15,000 per year, more than double the number in 2001.”

Brown said the 2001 job projections report also assumed an increase in pharmacist jobs due to a shift away from dispensing toward primary care services. “This role transformation is simply not happening, at least not at the rate or extent predicted,” the report said.

Brown’s report cites the 2009 National Pharmacist Workforce Survey, which said 70% of pharmacist time in the community setting is devoted to dispensing, with just 10% spent on patient care activities. In hospitals and other patient care settings, 43% of pharmacist time was allocated to dispensing activities, compared to 27% allocated for direct patient care, according to the 2009 report.

“There is no disputing that direct patient care jobs for pharmacists outside of acute care facilities have been slow to develop. Furthermore, not much has changed in community pharmacy practice to enhance the level of direct patient care services provided with every prescription,” the report said. “Community pharmacy jobs are still more closely linked to prescription volume than to the demand for patient care services.”

Brown predicts a stark market correction. “New PharmD and/or residency graduates will not be the only victims of academic overgrowth. The academy itself will suffer repercussions. Awareness of new graduate joblessness will eventually lead to a decrease in applications to pharmacy colleges and schools, making it more difficult to meet enrollment targets,” the report said. “Risks of diminished enrollment will jeopardize anticipated tuition revenue that has been counted on to fund faculty positions and/or new facilities. Economic pressures may inevitably force downsizing of programs, if not outright closing of some colleges and schools. If that occurs, some faculty positions likely will be lost.”

The report recommends tough medicine for pharmacy schools and the pharmacy industry. “Growth of the academy needs to cease forthwith. Institutions considering establishment of a new PharmD program should be discouraged from doing so by all sectors of the profession. Existing programs contemplating expansion should seriously consider putting their plans on hold,” the report said.

It added: “All of the profession’s organizations need to focus more heavily on establishing new pharmacist roles and activities that will create sustainable jobs as rapidly as possible.”

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