Opinion: There are Too Many Colleges of Pharmacy

October 17, 2018

Dean emeritus and Remington professor emeritus of the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy, University of the Sciences, discusses why he believes students and alumni deserve better and should demand more.

During most of the 1970s and 1980s, there were 72 colleges of pharmacy. Today, there are more than double that number of college of pharmacy campuses.

At the recent annual meeting of the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP), the meeting program was impressive and extensive. There were dozens of pre-sessions, general sessions, mini-sessions, delegate/committee meetings, and roundtables, and hundreds of posters on just about every topic imaginable pertaining to academic, practice, and scientific interests.

Except one.

In searching the 85 pages of the program book, there was no topic/discussion identified with respect to the number of colleges of pharmacy, and the implications and consequences of the rapid increase in their numbers that has occurred in recent years. In contrast, there were numerous “hallway” discussions regarding this topic among individuals, and from which no follow-up action resulted.

Flooding the Market

In even sharper contrast are the frequency and intensity of the concerns regarding these issues voiced by many pharmacists who are not in “the academy.” There are allegations that the colleges are flooding the market with pharmacy graduates and that the number of pharmacists exceeds the number of positions available in many parts of the country.

Some employers are exploiting these circumstances to cut hours, reduce salaries, and eliminate positions (e.g., often of experienced pharmacists with higher salaries). Tens of thousands of pharmacists are employed in understaffed and stressful practice environments characterized by “more prescriptions faster” metrics. Many are burned out and highly critical of their employer and the profession of pharmacy, a situation which is a disincentive for college-bound young people who are exposed to it to consider a career in pharmacy.

If anything can urge AACP to give attention to these challenges, it is the latter situation which is of great importance with respect to the association’s highest priority of increasing the number of applicants to Doctor of Pharmacy programs.

My Recommendation

So why do AACP and colleges of pharmacy ignore and refuse to consider these issues?  Are we too timid?  Are the issues too sensitive?  Might some in the academy be offended?  Rather than speculate on the reasons for the current silence, I will make a recommendation. AACP, as well as other national pharmacy associations such as APhA, ASHP, NCPA, the American College of Clinical Pharmacy, the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, and the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy should include presentations and discussions on these issues as a featured topic in their next annual meetings.

Those who do not share my concerns will respond that, if pharmacists were providing the medications, counseling, and services for which their knowledge and skills prepare them, there would be a significant shortage of pharmacists and no concern about the number of colleges of pharmacy.

I fully concur with this observation, and would be very pleased if that represented the present experience or it could be anticipated in the near future. However, this response ignores the reality of the pharmacy practice environment which, in my opinion, is rapidly declining while advances in practice are occurring far too slowly.

Colleges of pharmacy and AACP have enabled the occurrence of the current concerns and have an important responsibility to address them.

Some colleges of pharmacy appear to take the position that their responsibility to their students is completed with the celebration of their graduation. However, individual colleges of pharmacy and AACP must make a strong commitment to provide resources, programs, and time that will result in many more graduates being “happy at work” (the message of AACP meeting keynote speaker Annie McKee), and able to assume professionally fulfilling responsibilities in maintaining and improving the health of their patients.

To not do so will result in a continuing downward spiral in the number of applicants to Doctor of Pharmacy programs, increased competition between colleges for the smaller number of applicants, and the closure of some colleges.

Our students and alumni deserve better and should demand more.