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Chain pharmacies have long been luring many of the best and brightest pharmacists with lucrative salaries and other perks, much to the chagrin of hospitals. But that situation is changing as salary and perk wars become more competitive. Manpower shortages are forcing hospitals to find new ways to attract top-tier pharmacists.
One tactic that seems to be working is the offering of hefty signing bonuses. Even the U.S. Air Force has jumped on the bonus bandwagon, recently announcing that it's dangling a $30,000 signing bonus in front of pharmacists in return for a 48-month commitment to active duty.
Tired of watching good pharmacists bolt to higher paying chain or industry positions, Huntsville Hospital in Huntsville, Ala., decided to offer a $25,000 signing bonus for pharmacists in exchange for a three-year employment pledge. In addition to the hefty bonus, the 901-bed facility is offering a starting salary of around $79,650 (including shift differential) and increases to approximately $86,650 for pharmacists with more than 10 years of hospital experience.
A pharmacy supervisor at Huntsville Hospital confirmed the bonus and salary amounts but told Drug Topics that she couldn't elaborate on the specifics of the hospital's total compensation package.
While Huntsville's generous bonus is the exception rather than the rule in the hospital sector, some industry observers believe there is an increase in health systems willing to up the ante in an attempt to address a nationwide hospital pharmacist shortage.
"It doesn't surprise me," said Ron DeChant, R.Ph., executive director of Illinois-based Management Recruiters of Lincolnshire. While acknowledging that not every hospital is in a position to offer that high a carrot, DeChant told Drug Topics that it makes a lot of sense in a very competitive market. DeChant noted that Huntsville's generous offer not only confirms the staffing problems that many hospitals face, but it also indicates to what extent hospitals are willing to go to attract talented pharmacy personnel.
Some industry observers caution, however, that while competitive salaries and hefty signing bonuses are a great way to get pharmacists in the hospital door, it may not be enough to guarantee that they'll stay for the long haul. "A great bonus is short lived; the key is keeping them," stressed Doug Scheckelhoff, R.Ph., director of the division of practice leadership and management at ASHP. Scheckelhoff said that the Huntsville bonus is substantially above the industry average. He added that he's not surprised given the current 12.7 % pharmacist vacancy rate.
Nevertheless, he noted that ASHP generally recommends that hospitals focus their efforts on retention and that they try to promote the positive aspects of the health-system practice environment and general job satisfaction as a way to attract as well as retain pharmacists.
"Getting them in the door is only a small part of it. If people take the job because of the signing bonus and salary, sooner or later there's going to be a competitor who'll beat that, and they won't stay," Scheckelhoff explained. He added that hospitals might also want to consider offering extras such as paying for the cost of professional meetings or paying association membership dues. He said that while those things may be small in dollar amount, they add up in terms of job satisfaction. Offering pharmacists a significantly higher shift differential so most of the staff gets to work the hours they want while off-shift employees get well compensated is also a good idea. "The key," he emphasized, "is creating an environment that people find rewarding and desirable."
Tony Vecchione. Hospitals raise the stakes in R.Ph. compensation.