There's no quick fix for community R.Ph. shortage


An NACDS study projects modest increases in the number of community pharmacists through 2006.



There's no quick fix for community R.Ph. shortage

Like farmers scanning the cloudless skies in vain for signs of rain, employers looking for an end to the community pharmacist drought are going to be disappointed for at least the next five years.

The ranks of community pharmacy nationwide will grow by an average of only 1,250 pharmacists annually through 2006, according to a recent analysis by the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. The projected total of only 6,250 additional community pharmacists over that period is about equal to the number of current R.Ph. job openings in chains alone, according to recent estimates.

Massaging the data supplied by pharmacy schools, NACDS senior economist Laura Miller arrived at the estimates by first concentrating on 60% of the total grads—the percentage that traditionally heads into community pharmacy. Toward a more realistic picture, she then subtracted the number of pharmacists who will retire or leave the field (she said the labor economist's rule of thumb is that 1/35 of a workforce will leave each year), to arrive at the net total of additional community R.Ph.s that would be available annually.

The numbers tell only half the story, said Miller, who is "guardedly optimistic" about what her analysis reveals as the chain drugstore industry responds to the challenge of maximizing the pharmacy workforce it does have. NACDS, for example, continues to spearhead several regulatory initiatives and partnerships with other pharmacy organizations to smooth out workflow behind the counter.

"There's a lot of progress being made," Miller said. "Our successes include increased technician ratios and the uniform prescription card adopted by half the states. There are also electronic transmission of claims and central fill operations for enhanced efficiency. In addition, manufacturers are realizing they can help by redesigning packaging and labeling. All of these measures are needed to help the pharmacy workforce do what it needs to do. We're also optimistic that pharmacy schools will, in fact, increase class sizes and that the federal legislation with tuition assistance will make pharmacy school more affordable."

The NACDS analysis of the pharmacy school projections underscores the reality that there is no quick fix for the pharmacist shortage, said Lucinda Maine, senior v.p.-professional affairs, American Pharmaceutical Association. The rising number of prescriptions, the increasing complexity of drug therapies, and the growing demand for clinical patient care services is a real challenge for pharmacists and employers, she added.

"We've got to figure out how to make the best use of what we have and those we are training today," Maine said. "Hopefully we can stimulate some productive dialogue as it relates to automation, technicians, and how to manage all these component parts."

There's another message for employers related to the continuing pharmacist shortage, said Maine. "Employers have to take a hard look at the environment in which they're asking pharmacists to practice to make sure it's a practice environment designed to support the services they're asked to give, whether that's safe high-volume drug distribution management or direct patient care," she said. "Management—chain, independent, or hospital—has a responsibility to make sure the environment supports the delivery of the service the pharmacist is on the line to deliver."

Carol Ukens

Projected increases in number of community R.Ph.s

New graduates
Graduates entering community pharmacy
Retirees/exit from community pharmacy
Projected net gain for community pharmacy


Carol Ukens. There's no quick fix for community R.Ph. shortage.

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