What should be done about the oversupply of pharmacists?

March 10, 2016

For years, anecdotal evidence suggested the increase in pharmacy schools and resulting spike in new graduates, as well as the slow track toward provider status, might be creating more pharmacists than available jobs.

For years, anecdotal evidence suggested the increase in pharmacy schools and resulting spike in new graduates, as well as the slow track toward provider status, might be creating more pharmacists than available jobs.

Recently, the Pharmacy Workforce Center (PWC) released its November 2015 Aggregate Demand Index. The report added fuel to those arguments, revealing that the nationwide supply of pharmacists outnumbered available jobs for the first time in recent history.

Pharmacists from throughout the country swiftly responded to the PWC report.

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Stopping the pharmacy-school train

Dan Brown, Palm Beach Atlantic University’s director of faculty development, said the oversupply identified in the PWC report would most likely increase.

“What people need to realize is that since the increasing number of new graduates continues to surpass the increase in new pharmacist jobs, pharmacists find themselves in a situation analogous to increasing the dose of a drug. It takes time to reach a new steady-state equilibrium,” Brown said.

“Unfortunately, despite the obvious signs of a gradually weakening job market, especially for new graduates, new PharmD programs continue to be established and existing programs continue to expand,” Brown said. “It’s as if a patient were beginning to show the early signs of toxicity but the prescriber continues to increase the dosing regimen.” 

 

Bruce Kiacz, a retired former director of pharmacy of a community hospital in Ohio, said the oversupply of pharmacists would lead to increasing unemployment and declining salaries.

“At some point, the financial benefit of a pharmacy degree will exceed the cost to acquire it, followed by lower enrollments that will close marginally profitable schools,” Kiacz said. “In 20 or 25 years we may be back to the pharmacist shortages of the 1970's.”

Provider status, unionization part of the solution?

Some pharmacists, such as Jordan Fogel, a compliance pharmacist with Linden Care LLC in New York, believe gaining provider status will open more job opportunities for pharmacists.

“There are so many pharmacists graduating with advance degrees who are underutilized and over trained to work in the current pharmacy model settings,” Fogel said. “When pharmacists are recognized as healthcare professionals and provider-reimbursable by insurance companies, more jobs will open up. But not until this is reality.”

Cortney Mospan of Asheville, N.C. added: To solve our oversupply, pharmacists must become politically and legislatively active advocating our knowledge and ability to care for patients in these expanded clinical services. We must also become better at documentation and research within the community pharmacy setting to deliver data on cost savings and outcomes improvements for these programs.”

Terry Glatzhofer, a semi-retired pharmacist from Illinois, said reversing the conditions that have devalued pharmacists as members of the healthcare team is part of the solution.

“The satisfaction once derived from the passion that drove us is fading, if not gone for most. That causes many to retire early or sell out and work for others,” Glatzhofer said. “Money as a motive for work is fine, but this once great profession is having the heart torn from it by demands that it sacrifice patient interplay and adopt the role as insurance adjudicator for as little as a 34-cent dispensing fee.”

 

“The answer is unity through a guild or professional union mandatory upon graduation,” Glatzhofer said. “If electricians, plumbers, carpenters, pipe-fitters etc. can organize, so can pharmacists!”

Less chains, more independents

In addition to the increase of pharmacy schools, independent pharmacist Jerry Callahan of Missouri said the trend of chains buying independent pharmacies has also contributed to the problem.

“[One solution] is for the current independent pharmacy owners to not sell out to the chains and be willing to take less for the business in order to keep the pharmacy business independent,” Callahan said.

“They could possibly work with a young pharmacist and create a junior-partnership agreement,” Callahan added. “The other option is for an entrepreneurial pharmacist to pursue a location near the pharmacy that sold out to a chain and open a new independent pharmacy. There is, and will always be, a need for independent pharmacies, and anyone who speaks of the demise of independent pharmacies is sadly mistaken.”