Doctor shortage should present R.Ph. opportunities

October 10, 2005

Ten states have the lowest level of pharmacist shortage in this country. At the top of the heap is Hawaii, followed by Rhode Island, South Dakota, North Dakota, Delaware, Nebraska, New Jersey, Vermont, Idaho, and Montana. Most of these states, with the exception of New Jersey, have fairly small populations.

Ten states have the lowest level of pharmacist shortage in this country. At the top of the heap is Hawaii, followed by Rhode Island, South Dakota, North Dakota, Delaware, Nebraska, New Jersey, Vermont, Idaho, and Montana. Most of these states, with the exception of New Jersey, have fairly small populations.

At the other end of the spectrum, states with the highest rate of pharmacist vacancies include the following: California, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Kentucky, Texas, Maryland, Virginia, Michigan, Tennessee, and West Virginia. A new entrant to this list is North Carolina.

These were some findings Katherine Knapp, Ph.D., dean of Touro University College of Pharmacy, Vallejo, Calif., reported at the recent National Association of Chain Drug Stores Pharmacy & Technology Conference in San Diego. She has been tracking pharmacy manpower trends for the past six years.

However, with the Medicare drug benefit starting up next year, Knapp expects to see a bump in prescriptions filled, albeit not as marked as many people have predicted. This development may once again drive up the bid for these professionals.

Although more pharmacy schools are springing up, with the count soon to exceed 100, and more graduates are entering the marketplace now than ever before, they are not enough to offset the appetite for pharmacists. Several factors account for why we're losing more pharmacists than we're gaining, Knapp noted.

For one thing, the workforce is increasingly female, and women tend to work fewer hours than men. Knapp's research shows that male pharmacists, on average, work 44 hours per week while women practice only 36 hours. What's more, new data show that both male and female pharmacists are working less than before, Knapp added. This could be a generational change, with Gen X pharmacists having different values about work and play, she observed.

Against this backdrop, there is an impending paucity of physicians and many young doctors are putting in fewer hours than before, Knapp continued. One estimate places the physician shortage at 200,000 by 2020. At the same time, the nursing shortage has become a chronic problem. With a short supply of pharmacists, physicians, and nurses, she said one result could be less competition for turf among the disciplines. Instead of clashing with one another, they might work more collaboratively to get their jobs done.

This is, in fact, what's happening in Europe and Australia. Because there is a scarcity of physicians there and the frail elderly constitute a large segment of their populations, those countries have mobilized other health professionals, including pharmacists, and empowered them to treat patients. The same thing could happen in this country as our baby boomers age and our physician supply is unable to keep up with patient demand, Knapp speculated. She urged pharmacists to be ready to expand their roles if a demand such as that seen in Europe and Australia develops here.

This is where pharmacy faculty would come in handy. Just as there is a shortage of pharmacists, there is currently a dearth of pharmacy faculty to man the new pharmacy schools that have sprung up, Knapp said. More teachers are needed to provide advanced training to pharmacists so that they can seize any opportunity that opens up for expanded clinical roles. She suggested that the profession explore other strategies, such as certification programs, to help plug the void.

Knapp's findings are obtained from a panel of retail and hospital pharmacists who are polled regularly to determine how difficult it is for them to recruit new hires. She added that the panel also includes search firms and large employers, such as the military. So it's a strong data set, she commented. Since the survey was initiated in 1999, she has collected more than 20,000 ratings of the severity of the pharmacist shortage.