By: David D. Trang, PharmD, MBA
Drug Topics.com (Article used with permission by Dr. Trang)
Events of the past year, as well as my recent attendance at the ASHP mid-year meeting in Las Vegas, have caused me to wonder about the state of the pharmacist shortage in the United States.
I bring to this subject a few different perspectives. In my present capacity as a faculty member at University of the Incarnate Word Feik School of Pharmacy in San Antonio, Texas, I planned the Career Fair/Interview Day for our first graduating class. When I was director of professional recruiting and college relations at Walmart, I was responsible for recruiting and staffing more than 3,600 stores, which gave me a unique opportunity to develop a national perspective on pharmacist staffing. And during my time as a pharmacy district manager, I faced the challenge of recruiting graduates who received offers from just about every company they interviewed with, typically at least five or six. In addition, at that time incentives such as sign-on bonuses and relocation assistance were more widely available.
Companies generally recruited aggressively, on a daily basis as well as at campus interview days. However, at Feik’s interview day in October 2009, I did not feel that sense of urgency from employers. Company representatives stated that compared with previous years, fewer employers were attending career fairs. Job offers were much more selective, and some of our students, who had worked with their respective companies for several years, were not offered a position even with their own employers. Sign-on bonuses were available only for select positions, and the interviewing process was much more rigorous.
After hearing a few months ago about employment challenges for 2009 Rutgers graduates, I followed up with colleagues in the industry to gather more information about the job market. I learned that graduates from pharmacy schools throughout the United States were having difficulty in securing positions. An association leader stated that the pharmacist shortage in hospitals has improved significantly. The director of a national staffing company for hospital pharmacists observed that some hospitals are even laying off pharmacists. Colleagues working for national pharmacy retailers stated that pharmacist openings were at the lowest level they had been in the past decade and that pharmacist salaries had stabilized. Finally, the CEO of a leading national company that posts jobs for pharmacists declared that “the pharmacist shortage is over.” It appears that increasing enrollment in pharmacy schools has eased the shortage.
In addition, the economic downturn has impelled some retired pharmacists to reenter the workforce in an effort to augment their retirement income or bolster their savings. I am working now with two pharmacists who came out of retirement this past year; both are over 80 years of age.
Although I am fully aware that there will always be certain areas of the country that face shortages, I do not know whether the national pharmacist shortage is over, since there are unknown factors such as healthcare reform that must be considered. What I do know is that in order to plan appropriately for all stakeholders, we need to quantify the numbers when we talk about a pharmacist shortage.
David D. Trang, PharmD, MBA, is assistant professor of pharmacy practice at Feik School of Pharmacy, University of the Incarnate Word. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com