Pharmacy Times

Job Search Navigation Skills: Understanding Today’s Economic Lay of the Land

Author: Eileen Koutnik-Fotopoulos

Ms. Koutnik-Fotopoulos is a freelance writer based in Keyport, New Jersey.


The days of cherry-picking jobs are no longer an expectation among graduating pharmacists; however, this does not translate into a bleak future for a career in pharmacy. “

The increasing number of pharmacy schools that have emerged, resulting in more graduating students and the shortage of pharmacists that existed 3 and 4 years ago has shrunk,” explains James A. Owen, BSPharm, PharmD, BCPS, director of professional practice at the American Pharmacists Association (APhA). “This has resulted in more competition instead of just slots to fill jobs.”

As of July 2009, there were 111 United States– based colleges and schools of pharmacy with accredited professional degree programs and 5 schools with precandidate status, according to the American Association of Colleges of Pharmacy (AACP) Web site. The number of schools of pharmacy has gradually increased in recent years, though—the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education’s Web site stated that there were 99 programs with accredited status in 2006—an increase of 12 programs in just 3 years.

“Major metropolitan markets are becoming saturated,” says Jennifer Athay, director of student affairs at AACP. “However, it does not mean that jobs are not available. The job prospects are expected to be good. Deans are telling us that students are finding jobs, but they may not have gotten the exact job they wanted.”

“Students are going to have to put a lot more effort into finding a job,” she adds.

The current economic climate is a major factor in the number of jobs available. Industry experts are reporting that the days of retail pharmacy chains recruiting student pharmacists with sign-on bonus incentives have fallen by the wayside. Preliminary data from the not yet released 2009 National Pharmacist Workforce Survey (results will be released at the 2010 APhA annual meeting) found that 27% of respondents reported the restructuring of pharmacist work schedules at their place of employment to save labor costs, followed by mandatory reductions in pharmacists’ hours (15%), layoffs (6%), and early retirement incentives (3%). In both urban and rural areas, pharmacists working in chain and hospital pharmacies were more likely to report “mandatory reduction in pharmacists’ hours” and “restructuring of pharmacist work schedules to save labor costs.”


Think Outside the Box
What does the current economic recession mean for graduating pharmacists? Students are pursuing careers in academia, postgraduate studies, and residency programs. The AACP reports that in 2008, there were 4957 full-time and 525 part-time faculty members at 111 schools of pharmacy.

The increasing number of pharmacy schools has helped fuel the growth of careers in academia. Owen says that opportunities in academia have expanded over the last 2 decades. “We are seeing an increase in applicants for our AACP–Wal-Mart Scholars Program,” says Athay.

AACP and Wal-Mart share the commitment to help colleges and schools of pharmacy ensure that there is an adequate number of well-prepared individuals who aspire to join the faculties at the growing number of institutions across the country. The goal of the program is to strengthen the students’ skills and commitment to a career in academic pharmacy through their participation at the AACP Annual Meeting and Seminars. Funded by Wal- Mart, the program provides $1000 scholarships to 65 student-faculty pairs from AACP member institutions to attend 2 AACP seminars.

Dachelle Johnson, PharmD, 2009 graduate from the Medical University of South Carolina, is currently a postgraduate year-1 (PGY-1) pharmacy practice resident at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, and will continue on to do a PGY-2 specialty residency in critical care. She chose this particular career for the multiple opportunities to which it lends itself in pharmacy. “Ultimately, I plan to be a clinical specialist in an ICU [intensive care unit] setting, conduct research, and precept students,” she said.

“A residency program gives me the tools to accomplish these short-term goals while allowing me the flexibility to pursue other opportunities, should they present,” Johnson explains. “There is a lot of competition for residency positions. Unfortunately, the amount of individuals applying for residency positions is increasing at a much greater rate than the amount of available positions.”

Kyleigh Estler, PharmD Candidate 2010, attending the Ernest Mario School of Pharmacy at Rutgers University, is in the process of joining the Navy Medical Service Corps as a pharmacist. Having lived in New Jersey her entire life, Estler sees a pharmacy career in the military as a way to see other parts of the country and the world.

“The military provides a lot of benefits for a recent graduate, including loan repayment, which will allow me to pursue life experiences without worrying about financial problems. I have nothing but respect for the members of our military, and being able to give back to my country is something that has always appealed to me,” says Estler.

“The competition is really for the scholarship program, which is a great program. You are commissioned in your third year of school and have your last 2 years paid for. It is a very competitive scholarship to get. The Navy, and the military in general, has the most up-to-date facilities that a new graduate could hope for, which makes it an attractive position to have,” she explains.


Start the Job Process Early
Future pharmacists need to start thinking about their career track in their third and fourth years of pharmacy school.

Johnson started looking into specific residency programs during her fourth year of school. “I spoke to current residents and professors for their advice and used the ASHP [American Society of Health-System Pharmacists] Web site to narrow my search.” Attending ASHP’s midyear clinical meeting is also useful. Johnson said it “was a major factor in the process. It allowed me to meet with different program directors and ask questions that could not be answered by just looking at their respective Web sites.”

The idea of joining the military first presented itself in Estler’s third year of pharmacy school. “It seemed like something different that would open up a lot of opportunities for me in the future. After speaking with a Navy recruiter, I knew it was what I wanted to do. The process has been long, but is up to the individual. There are many steps along the way and lots and lots of paperwork to fill out.”

Athay points out that securing a job after graduation takes more than just getting good grades. “Students need to take advantage of leadership roles within professional organizations, do more volunteer work, and consider residency programs to help differentiate themselves from their peers.”


Take Advantage of Available Resources
Pharmacy schools and professional associations offer resources to help students find employment. Both Johnson and Estler took advantage of these opportunities.

The Medical University of South Carolina hosted a career day, where different retail chains visited the school on designated days to set up interviews or answer questions. The school also had a seminar that offered help with CV [curriculum vitae] and an elective for individuals interested in residency training. “This elective, called the clinical track, allowed me to pick up an extra rotation to make me a more competitive candidate, offered insight into the National Matching Service, expanded upon benefits of pursuing postgraduate training, and gave many helpful tips about applying for residency,” says Johnson.

“Throughout our fourth year, especially, there have been networking events, interview days, and showcases,” says Estler. “There were opportunities to check out almost any area of pharmacy that may interest you. The resources are definitely there; the students just have to use them.”

“If they do not choose to engage, they will not be able to take advantage,” concurs Owen. “The resources are there if they want them.”


Career Connections
The APhA Annual Meeting and Exposition, scheduled for March 12-15, 2010, is well-attended by pharmacy students. During the 3-day meeting each year, students can attend the APhA Career Connection. The career exposition will expose pharmacists and student pharmacists to career opportunities by connecting them with employers as well as representatives from advanced education programs. In addition, students can register for the Student Information Showcase. This showcase provides an opportunity for community pharmacy residency programs and other postgraduate training programs to exhibit program materials and to interact with students.

The APhA Web site also has a careers link offering helpful tools from choosing the right employer to networking to job interviewing tips.

In addition to the Residency Showcase at ASHP’s Midyear Clinical Meeting, the December 2009 meeting offered student programming with workshops and roundtables geared toward helping students hone their skills for finding a job. The meeting also staged CareerPharm’s Personnel Placement Service—a national pharmacy recruitment event.


Network, Network, Network
Networking is becoming an increasingly popular and important component for seeking employment, and it is a job skill that students need to hone.

“Networking is huge, especially in the profession of pharmacy where everyone seems to know everyone,” comments Johnson. “Keep in touch with your contacts—send them an e-mail every now and then to see how they are doing or just to update them on what you are doing. This way, when you contact them to write a recommendation letter on your behalf, you are memorable and they can write a meaningful letter, rather than inserting your name into a template.”

“Networking helps to get you in the door for interviews, but it will not do the job for you,” cautions Estler. “The best way to network is to just take part in the events that are offered to you.”


Polish Your CV and Interviewing Skills
Aside from having an up-to-date CV, Estler adds, “Do not be afraid to say what you did. As students, we have the tendency to downplay our roles, and that is reflected in how we describe them on our CVs. It is basically an advertisement of yourself, and you have to make yourself look good.”

Job interviews can be stressful. “Be yourself—just a more professional and well-spoken version of yourself,” advises Estler. “You cannot sell something you are not, and you should not try—it will only make you nervous. Remember that the person sitting in front of you has been in your seat and knows what it is like.”


Johnson offers these tips:
Always remain professional.
Research the institution and the people you will be interviewing with before the interview.
Never speak badly about another institution while on an interview.
Make business cards and send thank you cards.
Practice good dinner etiquette for dinner interviews.
Have follow-up questions prepared.
Interview your possible future employer by asking thoughtful questions.
Take notes after each interview so you can remember your likes and dislikes about each institution.

Choosing a career path is a learning experience for any future pharmacist. Johnson and Estler’s top-line advice for future job seekers is to start early, keep an open mind, and do not limit yourself.


The Global Pharmacy Workforce: Key Findings

One of the most pressing issues facing health care worldwide is the need to determine the exact nature of the pharmacy workforce and the factors contributing to its growth, shrinkage, or decline. A recent review of the literature from January 1998 to February 2008, both peer- and non–peer-reviewed, was conducted by Nicola Hawthorne and Claire Anderson, Division of Social Research in Medicine and Health, School of Pharmacy, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom (www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/ PMC2706790). Although it covered the pharmacy workforce on a global scale, it revealed some “take-aways” that are relevant to the changing American pharmacy marketplace. Here are some of the key findings:

• More Women Are Practicing Pharmacists—In the United States, as well as the United Kingdom, Canada, New Zealand, and Ireland, the proportion of women within the pharmacy workforce predominates. Reports of women comprising approximately two thirds of all pharmacy graduates were not uncommon.

• Pharmacists Are Less Than 50 Years Old—The largest proportion of pharmacists in these countries is between the ages of 30 and 45 years.

• Male Pharmacists Tend to Be Older—The majority of male p h a r - macists tend be older than their fe-male counterparts, with an average age above 50 years.

• Job Satisfaction Is Important— Job satisfaction was seen as an important indicator of staff turnover and retention. In the United States, factors identified as increasing pharmacy retention include good remuneration, good relationships with coworkers, and flexible schedules.

• Part-time Workers Are Usually Women—Across many countries, including the United States, the prevalence of part-time work among female workers was found to be greater than that of their male counterparts.

Response to Pharmacist Shortage—Pharmacist shortages have been reported in many countries since the early 1990s; this review revealed that the response in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, and Ireland was the planned expansion of the number of pharmacy graduates through an increase in the number of pharmacy schools or increases in the enrollment in existing schools.

• Where Do Pharmacists Work?—Fewer pharmacists worked in rural or remote locations, compared with urban environments; public or federal sector posts were less likely to be filled, compared with private sector positions; and, on the international level, there was greater migration from less developed countries to more developed countries.